Best Practices for Watering Trees and Shrubs

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Proper watering practices should not be dismissed when considering the health of your trees and shrubs. After all, water is the elixir of life! Here we explore the best means by which to water and soak your trees, while also considering methods for determining just how long you should water them for. So next time you start watering, consider these tips and tricks from The Homeowner’s Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook to keep your trees healthy and properly hydrated!…

Adequate water helps newly planted trees and shrubs recover from transplant shock so their roots can establish in the soil, a process that may take up to three years. If a tree is large at planting time, it will take longer to become established than a small tree does. Unless you plant drought-tolerant varieties, it’s especially important to water established plants in stressful times to help them maintain their vigor. Keeping them hydrated and healthy reduces the chances of stress-related pests and diseases.

Transplants need water on a regular basis when the top couple of inches of soil feel dry but before the deeper planting soil completely dries out. Water trees deeply at least once or twice a week with an irrigation bag (such as a TreeGator, a low-cost plastic bag that dispenses water automatically out of holes in the bottom) or a soaker hose, or leave a dribbling garden hose at the base of the plant. Continue watering long and deeply throughout the growing season and repeat the following year until the plant is well established and growing at a relatively constant rate. Establishing a newly planted tree depends upon both climate and planting conditions.

Soak It to Them!

A soaker hose is the most economical and efficient method for delivering moisture to transplanted trees and shrubs. Water seeps through tiny pores along the hose, penetrating the soil around the roots where the plant needs it most. Soaker hoses reduce the likelihood of transmitting disease by water splashing from one plant to another. Moreover, you can hide a soaker hose under a thin layer of mulch or topsoil, although clogs are less likely above ground.

A well-made hose resits cracking, clogging, decay, and frost damage, though you may want to check for clogs if you move the hose frequently. A high-quality, 60-foot black soaker hose with a 5/8 inch diameter sells for as little as $13. If your plant is at a distance from the source of water, attach a garden hose to your faucet and a soaker hose as the end of the garden hose. For large areas, you can attach a second soaker hose to the first, but make sure that water reaches the end of the second line. Fitting a Y-joint to your faucet lets you install a second hose to the water’s source.

Consider installing an irrigation system in order to automate sprinklers and soaker hoses. This way, you will know when you can deep-water a particular bed on a hot, droughty day in five minutes. For example, a second franklinia planted 10 feet from the first in a mixed border and never irrigated will survive as a small multi-stemmed shrub.

How Long to Water? It Depends…

The duration of watering also varies with root depth and composition. A tree planted in porous sandy soil may need more frequent watering than the same tree planted in slow-draining heavy clay where water pools on the soil surface. Gauge how much water your plants need by digging a small hole with a narrow trowel in the watering zone and checking after 15 minutes to see if water has reached the deeper roots. Note that most tree roots occur in the top 12 inches of soil. Check every few minutes to see if you need to keep watering for full saturation. Determine how long it takes for moisture to reach the entire root zone, then water your garden for that amount of time or set your automatic timer to run for the duration. Depending upon your region and the weather, you may want to water established trees as much as twice a week or as little as once every two weeks. Once established, trees planted in a moist open environment probably don’t need watering except during dry spells.

Water Efficiency

Planting the right plant in the right place is the first step to water efficiency. If you group plants requiring little water in one area and plants that needs lots of water in another space, then wasting this precious natural resource is less likely. Once trees and shrubs are established, they usually survive without extra moisture.

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