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Keeping Outdoor Plants Alive During Winter

Keeping Outdoor Plants Alive During Winter
Winter in Colorado can be tough on outdoor plants

When most people imagine Colorado, they picture cold, blustery winters filled with snow and ice. There’s no doubt that Colorado gets plenty of snow and ice through the winter but if you lived here for a year you know that sunshine is more prevalent than snow even in December and January.

Outdoor Plants

Colorado is traditionally known as a cold weather state but many parts of Colorado including the Denver metro area are home to surprisingly mild winters filled with cool but not cold temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Many Colorado residents continue to enjoy their outdoor space well into the winter but that means landscaping and plant maintenance doesn’t stop during the coldest months.

If you want to enjoy your outdoor space year-round, you need to take care of the plants in it. Let’s learn more about keeping outdoor plants alive during winter in Colorado including how to water them, what types of plants might need protection, how to find the best plants for Colorado winters, and more.

Keeping Outdoor Plants Alive During Winter

Keeping plants alive in winter starts with the right plant selection for your Colorado garden. Some plants like container plants require more maintenance and most of your plants will require watering through the winter if it gets too dry. Let’s learn how to select and take care of those plants over winter.

If you plant a ton of tropical plants in your Colorado backyard, you’ll be scrambling all winter to keep them alive, even with Colorado’s mild winters. If you want to enjoy your landscaping during the winter it all starts with smart plant selection.

Ideally you want to pick plants that can handle local temperatures without dying, which is easily accomplished with the USDA hardiness zone map that matches plants to suitable outdoor habitats. Most of Colorado falls in zones 4 through 5 though it can go as low as 3 and as high as 7. Use the zone map to find your zone, then read plant tags before purchasing. All reputable plant dealers will include tags on their plant that show what zones the plant will thrive at. Match the tag to your zone and it will do well over winter.

Before you purchase a plant make sure you read over its watering needs to be sure you can provide that over winter. Does the plant require moisture round the clock? It’s probably not the best plant for Colorado winters. Again, a plant’s tag should give you moisture needs.

Caring for Dormant vs. Evergreen Plants

Colorado is home to plants that stay green all through winter and plants that go dormant but pop back up once the spring thaw arrives. It’s important to know if your plants are evergreen or if they go dormant for the best care.

Evergreen plants are among the hardiest of all Colorado species. They’re built to handle the cold, snow, ice, freezing winds, and lack of moisture while still looking great. While potted evergreen plants might require extra care over the winter, most other evergreen plants on your property will require little maintenance outside extra water during dry times.

Plants that go dormant die off during the winter and might turn yellow or disappear completely. Perennial plants with a dormancy period will require little maintenance over the winter save for extra watering if the soil begins to dry out. Non-evergreen plants without a dormancy period besides annual flowers are not recommended for Colorado gardens.

Colorado Blue Spruce Closeup
Perennial Flowers

How to Keep Outdoor Potted Plants Alive During Winter

Because potted plants are self-contained in a smaller volume of soil, they’ll dry out more quickly and can be more prone to cold and ice. Take care not to let the plants go completely dry and make sure they are draining efficiently when you do water them.

If you want to unburden yourself from the worry of your potted and contained plants, re-plant them in the ground for the winter. Plants in the ground have much more access to moisture and won’t require as much care compared to potted plants. When spring rolls around simply pop the plant back in its container, give it a good watering, and enjoy all over again.

Should You Water Outdoor Plants in Winter?

Precipitation comes and goes during the Colorado winter, but Colorado winters are generally very dry. Even if it looks like plants are completely dormant its important they get the moisture they need or they might not come back when spring rolls around.

How Often Should You Water Outdoor Plants in Winter?

Most outdoor plants require little moisture over the winter thanks to dormancy or protective evergreen features but how often should you water outdoor plants in winter?

It’s tough to say since every plant has different moisture needs but you should aim to not let any plants, especially container plants, remain bone dry for days on end. There are moisture readers available at nearly every home improvement and gardening outlet, or you can chat with a landscape professional about when you should water your outdoor plants. Most zone-appropriate plants will get by on their own with regular winter rain and snow and a small amount of supplemental water.

Other Tips for Keeping Plants Alive in Winter

Temporary Greenhouse / Covering – You can use a temporary greenhouse or landscaping tarp to protect plants over the winter though the hassle is not worth it for most homeowners. Coverings might only warm the plant 3-5 degrees and won’t save anything from deep freezes.

Bring it Inside – Instead of covering and babying more temperate plants, bring them inside during the winter. Make the transition slowly over a period of several days to avoid shocking the plant. Toss them back outside once things warm up for the year.

A Little Work Equals a Better Spring

If you’ve selected the right plants, it won’t be difficult to keep them alive during Colorado winter though some plants require more care than others. Choose native and zone-specific plants, watch moisture levels over dry periods, take extra care of containers, and keep up a dialog with your landscaper.

If you take a small amount of time to care for your plants over winter, you’ll be rewarded with a big bloom when spring rolls around.