Jan 07 2019Share

5 Tips: Caring For Your Desert Yard In The Winter

By Warren Tenney

It’s patio season in the desert and it doesn’t take much to put your winter yard in top form and ready for winter guests. Here are five tips from our cities’ conservation professionals for maintaining a desert-adapted yard during the winter months so it will its best all year.

1.) Winter Watering

Water your trees and plants deeply but far less frequently during the winter months. Too much water isn’t healthy for desert adapted trees and plants. The simplest rule is to water to a depth of 3 feet for trees, 2 feet for shrubs, 1 foot for ground cover, and a ½ foot for winter rye grass. You can measure the depth by pushing a soil probe or use a dowel rod sharpened a bit on the end into the ground until it meets resistance.  

It’s easy to know when to water your trees and plants. Text WHENTOWATER to 33222 and receive a text message on the first of each month that links you to a smart little chart that shows you how often to water everything in your yard that month, including grass, cactus and annuals. The chart also includes watering instructions when plants with different watering needs, such as trees and shrubs, are on the same valve. If you want to learn more, the text message also provides a link to the popular guide Landscape Watering by the Numbers.

If we’re lucky enough to get a heavy rainstorm or two, remember to turn off your irrigation timer and save drinking water for drinking.

2.) Irrigation System Check-Up

The weather is perfect for a little outdoor work, so now is the time to turn on your irrigation system and walk the yard to find and fix leaks. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help. 

It’s a good idea to still run your irrigation system for a couple minutes at least once a month to keep its mechanical parts in good shape. 

3.) Frost Protection 

It’s time to start paying attention to nighttime temperatures and have your frost cloth or sheets ready to protect your plants. Don’t tie a sheet or frost cloth around the trunk of a tree or shrub. Drape a plant with a cloth big enough to reach the ground. A sheet draped to the ground traps radiant heat still in the ground from the day’s sun and creates a pocket of warmer air. If possible, it’s best to remove the sheets during the day so the sun can heat the ground again. 

Move container plants to the patio, under an eve, or into the garage.

4.) Pruning Precautions

Cold nights and frost can turn parts of some trees, shrubs and groundcover brown. It’s tempting, but don’t clip the dead parts off the plant. Those dead parts create a shield that will help protect the plant’s tender interior from further damage. Trim the damaged parts in late February or early March when the danger of frost has passed. This is a good reason to keep frost sensitive plants in the back yard where they will not spoil your curb appeal.

5.) Hold the Fertilizer

It is not a good time of year to fertilize, including potted plants, flowering vines and groundcover. It’s best to wait until winter is over. Fertilizing will force new growth that is particularly vulnerable to cold nights. If you want to be good to your plants then lay down mulch to hold moisture and discourage weeds that can compete with your plants for water and nutrients.

Bonus Tip

Here’s a money-saving bonus tip: winter is a great season to help you lower your water bill all next year. A "sewer fee" is part of the water bill you receive each month from your city. Most cities recalculate this sewer fee each year based on a homeowner’s average water use during winter months. You can lower next year’s monthly sewer fee by cutting back on the amount of water you are using right now.

Photo: City of Glendale, AZ/Glendale Xeriscape Demostration Garden  

For 50 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

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