Water is life – for us and trees! Water is an essential component for photosynthesis and plant growth and is a required base element to put all other elements into usable form. Sometimes, though, trees need a little extra help from us during hot days, droughts, or when the trees are young, and their roots aren’t deep enough yet to find groundwater.

When watering trees, avoid light and frequent watering as this encourages the roots to stay on the surface. Giving trees a slow, deep watering with extended intervals between, such as once per week,to encourage the roots to grow deep, where they can find water even when it’s dry.

Water is indispensable for photosynthesis, the vital process by which plants synthesize food using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. It also serves as the primary medium for transporting nutrients and minerals from the soil throughout the plant, a process essential for growth known as “mineral nutrition.”

Additionally, water facilitates temperature regulation within plants, enabling them to release excess heat through transpiration to avoid overheating. Without adequate water, plants cannot grow, bloom, produce fruit, or even sustain life, as evidenced by wilting and browning leaves, precursors to plant death if the deficiency persists.

Best Watering Methods

Tree Watering Bags

Tree watering bags are designed to be filled with a hose and slowly release water directly into your tree’s roots. These bags wrap around the base of a tree and provide a slow and continuous water source that can be a handy way to get the right amount of water to the tree’s roots.

Tree watering bags offer a convenient slow-release watering solution that provides consistent hydration over several days, minimizing the need for frequent hose or sprinkler relocation, especially if you’ve planted many trees.

Watering bags should not be used long-term and should be removed after a few seasons. They might require maintenance to keep them clean inside and out to ensure good water flow.

Tree Watering Ring

Tree watering rings provide consistent hydration to trees from two valves for even water distribution. They are crafted from heavy-duty PVC material that can naturally withstand UV light.

Tree watering rings encircle a tree’s base to form a reservoir for slow soil seepage, ensuring deep watering and reducing water waste from runoff or evaporation.

A tree watering ring can hold up to 15 gallons of water with a drip time of 4 – 6 hours for deep soil saturation.

Soaker Hose or Sprinkler

Soaker hoses are a flexible and inexpensive alternative to drip irrigation systems. They are easy to use, moved around like garden hoses, and adjusted to the desired length. They have thousands of tiny pores that trickle water slowly and evenly at low pressure. This enables the water to seep directly into the soil and water the roots, where the tree needs it the most.

Tree Irrigation

Tree irrigation is a deliberate method of supplying water to trees to reach the tree’s roots, particularly in environments where natural rainfall is insufficient to meet the tree’s water needs.

There are different methods of tree irrigation to cater to various needs, settings, and tree species. Drip irrigation, tree watering rings, and soaker hoses are commonly used tools. For instance, drip irrigation allows water to drip slowly to the roots, minimizing runoff and evaporation.

How to water Evergreen Trees Vs. Deciduous Trees

Understanding how to water evergreen and deciduous trees ensures they can survive and thrive in their respective environments.

Evergreen Trees

As evergreen trees don’t lose their leaves during winter, they photosynthesize all year round.

During spring and summer, evergreen trees have high watering needs to support new growth under increased temperatures and sunlight, necessitating regular checks to ensure the top 2-3 inches of soil are moist. As fall approaches, these need to be moderated in preparation for winter, when the trees’ dormancy leads to lower water requirements.

New evergreens, vulnerable to stress, should be watered 2-3 times per week initially, with less frequency as they stabilize. Mature evergreens, with their robust root systems, typically require watering only during extended dry spells, focusing on deep irrigation to sustain them.

Season/TypeWater NeedsReasons/Instructions
Spring and summerModerate to HighRegularly check soil moisture and water when the top 2-3 inches of soil are dry.
FallModerateTree prepares for winter; water needs decrease.
WinterLow to ModerateDormancy reduces water usage.
Newly planted evergreensConsistent and MindfulSusceptible to stress; water 2-3 times per week initially, then gradually reduce frequency.
Mature evergreensAs Needed During Dry SpellsAdaptable due to established root systems; water deeply only during prolonged dry periods or drought.

Deciduous Trees

Deciduous trees, which shed their leaves in winter to conserve water and survive on stored summer energy due to decreased photosynthesis, have seasonal watering needs: ample in spring and summer to support growth and combat heat, less frequent but deep in fall to prepare for dormancy, and minimal in winter. Newly planted ones require consistent watering to establish roots, which lessens over time, while mature trees need less frequent but vigilant watering, especially during drought, with deep watering and mulching to aid root health.

Season/TypeWater NeedsReasons/Instructions
SpringAmple WateringSupport growth after dormancy.
SummerAmple WateringCounteract effects of heat and potential dryness.
FallLess Frequent but Deep WateringPrepare for dormancy and leaf shedding, conserve resources for winter.
WinterMinimal WateringTrees rely on stored energy, minimal photosynthesis.
Newly planted deciduous treesConsistent and ThoroughEstablish roots; start with high frequency, reduce over time.
Mature deciduous treesLess Frequent but Attentive During DroughtEstablished root systems; deep watering and mulching to maintain moisture and support health.

Deep Root Watering

Deep root watering is an irrigation method to achieve water penetration to a depth of at least 3 feet or more rather than just the topsoil. Deep root watering helps to promote deep rooting, which makes plants more drought-tolerant and resistant to pests and diseases.

There are several benefits to deep-root watering:

  • It helps plants develop deep roots, which makes them more drought-tolerant and resistant to pests and diseases.
  • It can help improve the soil quality by increasing the water infiltration and reducing erosion.
  • It can help to reduce the amount of water used for irrigation.
  • It can help improve plants’ appearance by making them greener and healthier.

Best deep water methods

  • Using soaker hoses or sprinklers for deep irrigation can lead to shallow flooding that hampers soil gas exchange and suffocates roots, while “feeding” tubes may cause soil vacuoles, resulting in root death.
  • For effective deep-watering, place the bare end of a garden hose at the tree’s drip line and adjust the flow to match the soil’s absorption rate, preventing runoff or puddling.
  • The ideal time for deep watering should be in the morning because it allows more water to remain in the soil instead of evaporating. Watering in the morning refreshes your trees during the heat of the day.
  • Slow, steady watering ensures deep soil penetration and healthy root growth, effectively quenching a tree’s thirst better than quick watering.
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Watering Shrubs Vs. Trees

Shrubs and trees have distinct watering needs due to their different root structures and physiological makeup, necessitating tailored approaches to maintain their health. Mature trees possess deep root systems that enable them to withstand drought by reaching subterranean water, while young trees with less developed roots require more regular watering for proper growth.

Shrubs, on the other hand, have shallow roots limited to the upper soil layers, making them more susceptible to drought and needing frequent watering, particularly when natural water tables are beyond reach and during periods of low rainfall.

When to Water Trees

When planting trees, immediate watering is crucial to settle the soil and remove air pockets; a consistent watering schedule over the first two years is vital for root development and establishment. Newly planted trees require watering 2-3 times weekly in summer and once weekly in spring and fall, with reduced but attentive watering in winter, especially during dry periods.

Mature trees, on the other hand, generally require less active management in terms of watering due to their established root systems. However, additional watering may become necessary to maintain their health during prolonged drought or extremely hot weather.

Signs of Dehydration

Signs of tree dehydration include discolored leaves, transitioning from green to yellow or brown, temporary wilting where leaves droop during the day and recover at night, irregular seasonal changes such as premature leaf shedding, bare branches during growth seasons, and cracking bark, all of which may necessitate an arborist’s assessment.

Watering New Trees

For the first few months after planting, most of the tree’s roots are still within the original root ball, while some roots will begin to grow beyond this area. The root ball and the surrounding soil should be watered evenly to encourage healthy root growth. After a few months, you should 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. Providing supplemental moisture in those early years is crucial if nature doesn’t provide regular soaking rains. New trees may require water twice to three times per week during hot, dry weather to ensure the root ball doesn’t dry out.

When to Stop Watering New Trees

During a tree’s first year, it’s important to water it regularly as it grows its roots. In the second year, the tree gets better at handling different amounts of water, so you can water it less. After three years, most trees can take care of themselves in normal weather, although some trees might need extra care for a bit longer.

You’ll know a tree’s roots are well-established when it doesn’t wobble, grows steadily, and has healthy leaves through the seasons. Trees in dry places or sandy soil might need more water than those in wet areas or with clay soil. Watch your tree and how it handles the weather to decide when to change how much you water it.

Watering Mature Trees

While mature trees have established roots to survive droughts and dry seasons, they still need to be watered. Compared to newly planted trees, which need to be watered between two and three days a week, most mature trees should be watered once a month when the weather is dry.

Watering Mature Trees During a Drought

Generally, mature trees can survive drought with monthly watering. The trick is to water deeply and slowly one to two times a month, ideally using a soaker hose, to help the water reach a depth of 8-12 inches. A rule of thumb is water 10 gallons monthly per inch diameter of the trunk at 4.5-foot height.

Don’t water too close to the trunk. Instead, you should focus on the circular area under the farthest reaches of the tree’s canopy.

Depending on the health and species, each tree has a different ability to withstand drought. Watch out for browning along leaf margins or the tips of needles as these plant parts are furthest from the roots and are the first to show signs of drought stress.

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Tree Watering Schedule

New trees have restricted root growth, and their roots will relax and grow as they become established. A consistent tree watering schedule will help ensure their roots are strong and grow wide and deep, acting as anchors to keep the trees erect and feed them plenty of nutrients.

First Day

Immediately you plant your tree, ensure you give it a thorough watering. Remember that most of your tree’s roots are still within the original root ball, so moisten that area and surrounding soil. Do not flood the area, as this will displace the soil. The most effective way to keep the soil evenly moist is using a slow drip system, a soaker hose, or drip irrigation.

1 to 2 Weeks

Water daily, soaking the root ball and surrounding planting area.

  • If you plant your tree in the fall when the temperatures are cooler, you can water it daily for about one week.
  • If you plant your tree in the spring as temperatures gradually get warmer, you should continue daily watering for two weeks.
  • You may not need to water on the days that it rains.

3 to 10 Weeks

Water every 2 to 3 days over the next several weeks. Climatic changes will directly affect how much you need to water your tree during this period.

  • For example, if you plant your tree in early spring and live in a climate with frequent spring and summer rain, you may not need to water as often as every three days.
  • By contrast, if you plant your tree in spring but have dry, hot summers, you may want to water every 2–3 days on the dot.
  • Allow only the first 2 to 3 inches of the soil to dry before soaking again.
  • Keep the top 12 inches of soil around your newly planted tree consistently and evenly moist as it is getting established. You can always dig around with a stick or a trowel to be sure the soil stays moist.

10 Weeks

Water your tree once a week until the roots are established. The time it takes to “establish” can also vary from species to species and climate to climate.

  • Newly planted trees and shrubs are established when their root spread equals the spread of the aboveground canopy. This may take 2–3 years.
  • You will need to water once a week during the hottest, driest times of the year for two to three years as trees become more established.
  • If you plant your tree later in the fall, it will likely be winter before the end of 10 weeks but don’t forget to water even if the tree has gone dormant.
  • Continue to water your tree until the ground freezes or temperatures drop below freezing.
TimeFrequency
First Daywater Immediately
1 to 2 WeeksWater daily
3 to 10 weeks2-3 times a week
10 WeeksOnce a week

How Often to Water Newly Planted Trees

Newly planted trees should be watered immediately after planting, then daily for the first one or two weeks. Water two to three days a week over the first several weeks. After ten weeks, water once a week until the roots are established.

How Often to Water Mature Trees

Mature trees should be watered once a month as they would benefit from deep, infrequent watering rather than frequent shallow ones.

Mature trees with deep-root systems are more drought-resistant and require less watering than young trees; however, when watering, it’s crucial to moisten the soil deeply to promote further root growth and enhance drought tolerance.

Watering frequency for mature trees should be adjusted according to the weather, with more needed during extended dry periods, particularly in summer, and less or none during the rainy season. Soil type also affects watering needs, as sandy soils dry out quicker than loamy or clay soils; check the soil moisture 6-8 inches deep to determine if watering is necessary.

Can You Over Water Trees?

Yes, you can overwater trees. Overwatering is bad because it makes it difficult for trees to “breathe.” Saturating the soil with water blocks the air pockets that normally allow for oxygen uptake by the tree roots. Less available oxygen means less photosynthesis for the tree and, thus, less growth.

If roots are deprived of oxygen for too long, they can cause fungal infection and root decay. As a result, the roots cannot take up nutrients necessary for plant growth. Unlike their normal, firm, white appearance, they will become soft, dark in coloration, and slimy.

Signs Trees Have Been Over-Watered

The signs a tree is getting too much water include:

  • Constantly wet soil at the tree’s base.
  • New growth at the base of the tree withers before fully growing.
  • Pale, yellowish new growth, especially near the tree’s base.
  • Green leaves that appear healthy but are very fragile and break easily.

Wetness at the base of your tree is the most obvious sign that you’re overwatering. But other signs, such as fragile leaves and stunted growth at the base, are a little less obvious. These issues may also arise from underwatering.

But it’s important to note that while an overwatered tree will have fragile leaves, they will still be green and otherwise healthy-looking.

You should also check the soil below the surface by digging about 6 to 8 inches below and feeling it in your hands. The soil should be cool and damp but not sopping wet. If the deep soil near your tree is noticeably soggy, you’re probably overwatering.

Tree Watering Chart

Tree Age/TypeFrequencyAmountNotes
Newly Planted 2-3 times/weekDeep watering, 2-3 inches of waterSoil should be moist but not waterlogged. Adjust based on rainfall.
1-3 Years Old Weekly during dry periodsDeep watering, 2-3 inches of waterDeep roots haven't fully developed; consistent moisture is key.
Mature Trees Once a monthDeep watering, 6-8 inches of waterEstablished roots can access deeper moisture. Monitor soil conditions.
Drought-Tolerant Trees VariesDeep watering, spaced further apartThese trees are adapted to less water but still need deep watering occasionally.
Fruit Trees 1-2 times/week during growing seasonConsistent moisture, 2 inches of waterInconsistent watering can affect fruit yield and size

Notes

  • Check soil moisture before each watering. Consider postponing watering if the soil is damp 2-3 inches below the surface.
  • Consider factors such as soil type, recent rainfall, and temperature when adjusting your watering schedule.
  • Mulching around trees can help retain moisture and reduce evaporation.
Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.