March 1st, 2024

Viva Vitality: Dealing with dry conditions in your garden

By Genevieve Mathieu on December 15, 2023.

The fall and winter seasons in the prairies can bring some troublesome challenges to the winter garden. Temperature fluctuations, low humidity, drying winds, and a lack of snow cover (which acts as both a layer of insulation and a source of water) can negatively affect plant health and survival.

It’s time to talk about supplemental water!

Here in southern Alberta the soil is not yet frozen, which means that perennial, tree, and shrub roots can still take up moisture, but without any significant rain or snow most soils are quite dry. Here are some suggestions for fall/winter watering:

– Check the moisture level of the soil in your garden by digging with a trowel. No supplemental water is needed if there is moisture six to nine inches deep.

– Choose a day that is warmer than 4 degrees Celsius to water.

– Rather than using the in-ground sprinkler system that has already been winterized, consider using a frost-free tap, hose and sprinkler.

– Newly planted perennials, trees and shrubs are more vulnerable to winter damage than their established (3+ year old) counterparts.

– Water slowly and deeply to avoid runoff and ensure moisture is penetrating beyond the surface of the soil. This is a good practice in any season.

– Consider applying a thick layer of four inches or more of organic mulch (shredded leaves or straw, woodchips, etc.) after watering to retain moisture and protect the soil. Recommended natural mulches include dry crushed or shredded leaves, arborist woodchips (the byproduct of tree care: bits of branches, trunks, leaves and bark), chopped hay or straw, dry grass (in moderation), or disease-free plant parts/crop residue.

– Tree roots can spread horizontally to lengths exceeding the height of the tree. It is most effective to apply water to the roots located beyond the tree’s dripline.

Genevieve Mathieu is the garden program co-ordinator with Community Food Connections Association. For more information, visit

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