Spring / Summer

Watering Trees During Drought Conditions



Summer is the most stressful time of year for trees, which is why it’s critical to make sure they’re adequately hydrated, especially during drought conditions common on the west coast.


When the soil around trees becomes extremely dry, developing roots systems are often killed, which limits the plant’s overall ability to absorb sufficient moisture. Additionally, the harder and dryer the soil becomes, the less oxygen root systems can extract from the ground for optimal development. All of this lessens the tree’s overall vitality, causing it to become more susceptible to insects and diseases.


How can I tell if my tree is drought stressed?

Drought stress is not always apparent and can take up to two years before the damage is revealed. However, immediate signs of drought stress include wilting, curling, and yellowing leaves on deciduous trees, as well as scorching or browning along the edges. For conifers, needles may turn yellow or brown at the tips, along with wilting or drooping leaders (the vertical stem at the top of the tree). Additionally, leaves may grow abnormally smaller or start falling off prematurely to retain moisture for the tree’s survival.


How often should I water my trees during a drought?

Trees most at risk during droughts are often newly planted trees not yet established (or transplanted from another location). If your trees are well established and mature, they can typically survive drought conditions with a proper monthly watering.


The Arbor Day Foundation recommends that established trees receive 10 gallons of water for every inch of a tree’s diameter – only applied when the soil is dry to the touch to maintain a moist (not soggy) growing environment.


Because newly planted trees do not have a well-developed root system, they require consistent watering during droughts. Water directly next to the tree’s stem as root systems are still small. Watering the surrounding soil will prevent the water from being accessible by the roots. 


Newly planted seedlings need between a pint and a quart of water per day, while ornamental trees (6-8 feet tall) need about two to three gallons. This watering should be done for the first several weeks after planting and then monitored daily depending on the severity of the drought. Overwatering can do as much harm as underwatering for a newly planted tree.


To help new trees better retain moisture, adding mulch or wood chips around the base will reduce evaporation.


If you suspect drought stress on your property, it’s best to have a professional arborist assess it. Give us a call today for a complimentary consultation.


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