Watering Drought Stressed Trees

The Twin Cities are experiencing a fifth year of drought conditions. That means our trees have been receiving less than adequate water for five straight years.

Five years of significant summer drought conditions will weaken even the hardiest of trees. Without enough water, trees are unable to create new growth. When this happens, root development is reduced and wound formation restricted. As trees reach this stage, they start to shut down and become targets for diseases and insects that can kill them.

margin: 6px 10px 10px 0px;">Drought stressed tree

So what can a homeowner do?

Water your trees! All of your trees, including the big ones! Even mature trees need watering.

Over the last decade significant changes in climate patterns are impacting entire ecosystems. Our urban landscapes are not immune to these changes. In fact, trees in urban areas are more prone to drought damage and death than natural stands of trees.

The City of Saint Paul’s Forestry staff asks people to water their trees [watch their video] (requires Windows Media Player)

Recommended Tree Watering Techniques

There are two soaking techniques that are recommended when watering with a hose.

margin: 2px 16px 10px 10px;">Soaker hose

The first method is to use one of those nifty soaker hoses.

  1. Wrap the hose around the base of the tree at least 1-2 feet from the trunk.
  2. Turn the water on in the morning when you leave for work and turn it off when you get home.
margin: 2px 16px 10px 10px;">Hose Set To A Trickle

The other method is to turn your hose on to a trickle.

A trickle is more than a drip and less than a gurgle.

  1. Visually divide the area around your tree into 4 sections.
  2. Place the hose about 2-3 feet from the trunk in section one and let the water soak into the ground for about two hours.
  3. Move the hose to another section until you have fully watered all four quadrants over the period of a day.

More Tips for Watering Trees Impacted by Drought Conditions

If you have in-ground irrigation, let it run an extra hour in the zones where you have trees and shrubs. This will allow the water to penetrate through the turf roots and thatch and allow more water to soak down to the roots of the trees.

All methods should be done once a week, through the end of September, while we are experiencing drought conditions.

margin: 8px 10px 10px 0px;">A well hydrated tree

Sprinklers are not recommended!

Sprinklers work best for watering grass, not trees. By using the soaking techniques you saturate the grass in the spot where the hose is so that the water will move beneath the root zone of the grass and get to the tree roots where it is needed.

Trees can die even when the grass is green, because grass is the better competitor for water.

Fertilizing with nitrogen fertilizers is also not recommended.

Fertilization can worsen drought conditions by forcing plants, especially trees, to grow despite not having enough water to support that growth. During a drought we want to encourage trees to conserve energy rather than expend it.

7 Responses to Watering Drought Stressed Trees

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  3. Van Farinola says:

    I have post oak trees all over my 4 1/2 acre homesite. many have died. i am trying to save one in the front yard. What do you suggest. Someone told me if you water post oak trees, they will die!! we are in the savannah region, in College Station, Texas.
    I always thought a deep watering for a stressed tree was the solution

    • The Tree Geek says:

      I have never heard that about post oaks. In the absence of rain, we recommend watering at least 2 inches of water once a month, or as much as 1 inch of water once a week. Infrequent, deep watering is best for trees.

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