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 Watering Trees
By Emsud Horozovic, Forestry Manager for City of Round Rock

This is the time of year, temperatures usually go sky high and I write articles to remind citizens to water their newly planted trees. According to the weather man we had only one rainy day in June and seven somewhat rainy days in July. It is the month in which all of us snowbirds rethink our moving to Tejas. It is the month of three digit temperatures and when most of us pull out hoses to water our yards and plants that turn brown. It is the month in which I usually feel obligated to write an article on tree watering. Rain is reminding me how funny our plans for the day are. Never the less, here are few tips on tree watering because I am sure we will continue with these baking temperatures.

While attempting the near impossible task of maintaining a green yard in the middle of a Central Texas summer, it is important not to neglect your trees when watering your yard. Frequent drought conditions and the Texas heat can take a toll on any shrub or tree, but it can be especially damaging to newly planted trees. The most limiting factor for newly planted tree growth and survival is a lack of adequate water. Without enough water, young trees experience slowed root and shoot growth which can cause the tree to become stunted. Once stunting occurs, it is very difficult for a tree to make up the lost growth. Drought injury on tree leaves include wilting, curling at the edges, yellowing; leaves might be smaller size drop early or stay on the branches even though dead and/or brown. Drought stress might not kill trees immediately but it might set them up for decline, insects and diseases and other problems in following years.

In order to ensure healthy and sustained growth, newly planted trees should be watered consistently for the first two to three growing seasons. Depending on soil conditions and rainfall, newly planted and young trees should be watered once a week. Weekly watering should continue throughout the summer and fall months, or until the tree is well established in the landscape.

So, what are some of the watering guidelines? Keep the soil moist but not soaked. Too much water, especially in heavy clay soil, can severely damage the tree by eliminating air from the soil and suffocating the roots. The soil should not stay saturated, but should have time to dry out between watering. A good indicator is the mulch around the tree. If the soil is dry below the surface of the mulch, it is time to water. If the mulch is still moist, do not water. This time of year, the standard rule is to water at least once a week at the rate of ten gallons for every diameter inch of the tree. For example, a two-inch diameter (caliper) tree will need twenty gallons per watering.

I often see people watering leaves and tree trunks. There are two problems with this. The first problem is that the tree gets most of its water through the roots, not the leaves and bark! The second problem is that water on the leaves may result in sun damage to the leaves and diseases due to insects. Water the ground within the drip line (the outer edges of the tree’s branches) to disperse water down to the roots. 

A soaker hose is ideal as it can water a greater area at one time and does not need to be moved as often. Also, a soaker hose allows for gentle watering. Blasting water under the drip line may remove nutrients, washing away useful soil. Other good thing is using watering wand to water trees. If you have an irrigation system, create separate zones for trees and grass as watering frequency and volume is different among trees, the beloved St. Augustine, and other summer color, deer-candy plants. During long dry periods, trees must be given top watering priority over your lawn because your brown grass might green up and come back but your brown leafed trees will not survive.

The five-gallon bucket method (or watering bags) provides another easy and effective way to water your trees. Simply drill one-quarter inch holes in the bottom of five-gallon buckets of water and place them beneath the drip line of the tree. The gradual release of water will effectively soak the critical root zone of the tree and provides an inexpensive alternative to sprinklers or other watering methods.

In Central Texas you should continue watering weekly during the winter if there is no rain. Newly planted trees should be watered regularly, particularly April to September, for 2-3 years so that they may have the best chance of surviving and becoming well established.

You do not generally need to water established trees. However, observe your older trees to see if they need additional water. The need for watering will most likely occur during periods of extended drought. If you do water an older tree, you can either water the entire area under the crown or foliage, or concentrate water on 1/3 of the area.

The best time to water in this blistering heat is between 10 pm and 8 am. Trees relieve water deficits overnight. There is also less evaporation during the late night hours, providing more water in the soil. Finally, pest problems are minimized when watering during the night. To conserve water you could drain your kid’s pool and pour water under a tree or redirect your rain gutters toward your trees. If you really want to save, reuse the water you save waiting for the shower to warm up (or would that be being too radical!). Plant drought tolerant species so they have better chance for survival and need less watering. Forget your desire to plant water loving trees (such as magnolia, bald cypress, pecan and some other trees) on rocky shallow soil because they will not do well. Rather plant oaks and elms unless you have rich deep soil.

Nourishment during the hot summer months is crucial to the survival and growth of a young Texas trees. Always remember to mulch, water, and care for your trees so that you may enjoy the beauty, and the shade, of your trees for many summers to come.

City of Round Rock | 221 East Main Street, Round Rock, Texas 78664 | Phone: (512) 218-5400
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