Issue: December 29, 2007

Winter water harvesting

Should I collect rainwater and snow melt during the winter? I think water harvesting is a good idea, but I wonder if there is a reason to do it during the winter.


Water harvesting is a good idea all year. However, since you mentioned snow, you must consider whether freezing temperatures will require a change in the manner in which you collect water in the winter. If your system uses a plastic container to hold the collected water, consider the chance that the container will burst if the water freezes inside. If there is a chance the container will burst, apply the harvested water directly into the landscape to water trees, shrubs, and other perennial plants. This water will remain in the soil longer because there is less evaporation during the winter and plants use less water during the winter. Even though the plants use less water, they still need water during the winter and harvested precipitation is good (and less expensive) water. Of course, if the ground is frozen, the water cannot be absorbed by the soil, so the harvested water must be directed to a place where it can be absorbed, or at least not create a hazard until the ground can receive it. This may be necessary even if you are not harvesting the water for your plants.

If you have houseplants to irrigate during the winter, the harvested precipitation is the best water for them. Harvested precipitation water will contain fewer dissolved minerals (salts) than tap water (or well water). This is better for the houseplants. However, be sure the container that collects the rainwater will not burst if the water freezes. If you can replace plastic containers with steel during the winter, that will eliminate the problem. You can also empty the plastic container frequently, or move it indoors during times of freezing temperatures. When you prepare to water your houseplants, it will be important to warm the water by storing it inside for a while anyway.

Winter tends to be a dry time for many parts of New Mexico, but any precipitation should be used for maximum landscape benefit. Water harvesting is a good practice.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.