How to Properly Water Newly Planted Trees

In the next 30-45 days, many people will head to their local nursery and buy new trees to plant this spring. Have you ever bought a new tree only to watch it die a slow death, never taking root and establishing itself? “But I watered it! Why did it shrivel up and die?!”

Unfortunately, this is an all too common tale because most people are not aware of what the proper steps are to take care of their trees so that they take root, grow, and thrive. Watering is one of the most important parts of helping newly planted trees get established. However, if done wrong, it will do more harm than good.

When watering, you don’t want to spray water from a sprinkler or hose attachment. It is best to let the water slowly drip near the base of the tree. If it is a larger tree you can use a soaker hose that wraps around the whole tree but while it is small you can just leave the hose on a slow trickle.

Every tree has a root ball that, when removed from the bucket, needs to be appropriately watered. The key is to keep it moist, but not drenched. Too much water will drown the root ball preventing it from growing deeper into the soil. Therefore, take an extra minute to gauge its moisture content. A good rule of thumb is to remember that moist is different than soggy. Damp soil that dries for a short period of time will allow adequate oxygen to permeate the soil.

To test the soil, use a garden trowel and insert it into the ground to a depth of 2”. Move the blade of the trowel back and forth to create a small, narrow trench. Use your finger to touch the soil. If it is moist to the touch, you don’t need to add water.

You can also buy an inexpensive soil moisture gauge to help you understand how wet the ball and soil really are. Overwatering also causes problems because it trains the roots to stick toward the surface solely depending on irrigation instead of growing deep to nourish itself with natural water sources found farther into the soil. This helps tremendously during the hot, summer months.

How much water is enough? Good question. Plan on watering every two to three days and giving the tree at least ten to fifteen gallons of water per week. Larger trees with trunks bigger than two inches in diameter that are at least chest high will need around eight to ten gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter per week.

As it starts to heat up, plan to check your soil moisture and water more often. Cooler months will require less water.

Another way to help your trees survive the hot months is by using a tree bag. These special bags are easy to install and help funnel the water down to the roots during a rain helping to collect and direct water in a more efficient manner. (Treegator is a good option:

After a few months, expand your watering to the entire area under the canopy or the extent of the outer layer of leaves. Watering under the full tree canopy will entice the root ball to continue to expand as the roots venture farther away and grow deep into the soil.

A final help when watering newly planted trees is to ensure you have a thick, fresh layer of good quality wood-chip mulch. This step cannot be overlooked. Mulch provides three main advantages:

  • Suppression of weeds
  • Conservation of moisture in the soil
  • Moderation of soil temperatures by keeping it warmer on cold nights and cooler on warm nights.

Most nurseries will have multiple mulch options. Pick the color and quality that best meets your needs.

In the end, we want your new trees to establish healthy root systems and thrive during the most adverse conditions. If you need further assistance or are having problems with your newly planted trees, we would be glad to assist you in growing world class foliage that will add value to your property. Give us a call to learn more.

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