Tree Watering Guide

How much water does your new tree need?

For the first several months after planting, most of a tree’s roots are still within the original root ball, with some roots beginning to grow beyond this area. The root ball and the surrounding soil should be kept evenly moist to encourage healthy root growth. After a few months, expand the watering zone to cover the entire area under the canopy. It can take two or more growing seasons for a tree to become established and for roots to venture into the soil well beyond the planting hole.

For the first several months after planting, most of the tree’s roots are still within the original root ball.

How Much Water Does My Tree Need?
As a general rule of thumb, apply an inch of sprinkler irrigation or enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 6″ to 8″ (or more). This translates to 15-20 minutes from a normal hose or an hour from a soaker hose. A common mistake is to apply frequent shallow waterings that don’t soak deeply into the soil. For newly planted trees soak the root ball 3 to 4 times a week (depending on the season).

How to Apply Water:
Overhead sprinklers are the easiest way to cover large expanses, but they’re often inefficient for trees, losing up to half the water to evaporation. Trees are better served by watering methods that apply water slowly, right at soil level. Soaker hoses are an efficient way to water trees because they’re porous and release water slowly. Encircle a tree with a spiral of soaker hose and run it for an hour or more — as long as it takes for water to penetrate 6″ or 8″.

Once a tree is established, apply water to the area under the branches, known as the dripline.

When to Water:
It’s vital to provide supplemental moisture for at least the first four weeks following planting (6 to 8 weeks if possible). It is best to water newly planted trees at least 3 times a week. However, during hot/dry weather (summer), new trees require water as often as four to five times per week. If possible, avoid watering during the hottest part of the day – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. – to conserve water.

My irrigation system waters my lawn regularly. Isn’t that enough for my trees? Probably not. Most irrigation systems are programmed to apply frequent, shallow waterings. This type of watering is great for grass but not necessarily of trees. Trees do better with less frequent but deeper soakings — a heavy soaking a few times a week is much better than a shallow watering every day. Shallow waterings encourage tree roots to remain near the soil surface • where they’re prone to drying out. Watering deeply, on the other hand, encourages deep, drought-tolerant roots.

Should I Mulch Under My Trees?
Yes. Grass growing under trees will intercept much of the water you apply, keeping it from reaching plant roots. It’s best to keep a large (3′ plus), turf-free circle around the trunk. A 2″ to 3″ layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark or pine straw, helps conserve moisture and keeps weeds at bay. To prevent rot, don’t pile mulch against the trunk.

Take Steps to Minimize Tree Stress during Drought
Avoid digging under and around trees so you don’t disturb the roots Only do light pruning during drought. It’s OK to remove broken, dead, insect-infested or diseased branches. Keep an eye out for insects, pests, and disease. Drought-stressed trees are more vulnerable to attack then under normal conditions.

Avoid using high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers under trees, and never use weed-and-feed products, which can harm tree roots.

Watering Established Trees:
It’s a common misconception that a tree’s roots are a mirror image of the aboveground canopy. In reality, an established tree’s roots usually extend well beyond the edge of the canopy, or drip line. Although some anchor roots may reach deep into the soil, most tree roots are concentrated in the upper 12″ to 18″ of soil. Ideally, you should moisten the soil to a depth of 10″ each time you water. To prevent rot, don’t apply water to the area directly around the trunk.
Source: Gardener’s Supply Company

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