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The 7 Mistakes You're Making When Watering Your Trees

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Did you know Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Orange, and Durham counties are all experiencing abnormally dry conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor?

During dry conditions like these, it's important to make sure your trees are still getting the moisture they need. But if you're making these seven tree watering mistakes, you may be doing more harm than good.

A Hydrated Tree is a Happy Tree

Before we get to the mistakes, let's talk about the basics of tree watering. Do you even need to water your trees? Under normal, non-drought-like conditions, no. Mother Nature will do that work for you. It's when those rain drops stop falling on our heads that supplemental watering is needed to maximize the growth of young trees and keep mature trees healthy.

The amount of water your tree needs depends on a lot of things - how old your tree is, its health, its species, and the type of soil it's planted in, not to mention the time of year and weather. a mature tree reaching up toward the sky with twisty branches

Your young trees will need more watering than your mature ones - as often as three times a week when the weather is hot and dry. Mature trees will do well with a good soak every 7-10 days, depending on rainfall, of course.

The goal is to keep the soil around your tree consistently moist. If the soil is completely dry or way too soggy, your tree will become stressed. And a stressed tree is more susceptible to diseases and infestations.


How can you tell if the soil around your tree is moist? Well, if you happen to have a soil tensiometer on hand, you can use that to get accurate readings on soil water tension. If not, try this screwdriver test:

  • Find a screwdriver that's at least 10 inches long.
  • Push it through the soil.
  • If it goes in easy, the soil is moist.
  • If you can't push it in at least 4 inches, it's watering time.

There's a Right and Wrong Way to Water Your Trees. Who Knew?

Well, we knew, but it's OK if you didn't. We're happy to pass on some tips.

If dry weather calls for supplemental watering, avoiding these tree watering mistakes will ensure you're helping, not hurting, your tall green beauties!

water falling on green plants from a watering can

1. You're watering your tree too often.

The point of supplemental watering is to mimic what Mother Nature would naturally give your tree. If you water too much, your tree could become dependent on irrigation instead of Mother Nature's usual amount.

Watering too much could also lead to more canopy growth than the soil, climate, and tree species can support under normal conditions. Another worst-case scenario: all that water you're giving your tree could start to fill spaces that are usually filled with oxygen. That may cause root suffocation and root rot - neither of which are good for your tree.

2. You're not watering deep enough.

A tree's fine absorptive roots run about 3-12 inches deep. So, you'll need to get about 8 inches of soil moist each time you water. Use the screwdriver method we mentioned earlier to track the progress.

3. You're watering foliage instead of the soil.

Watering leaves and needles could lead to fungus diseases. Keep the water at soil level instead so it can be absorbed by the roots. Slow and steady is the way to go when watering a tree.

4. You're not using mulch, or you're putting mulch right up against the trunk of your tree.

What's that? You don't have mulch around your tree? Big mistake. Mulch can cut down on evaporation from the soil, leaving more water in the ground for your tree. Your tree also won't have to compete with turf or other plants for water and nutrients - mulch will keep all that from growing too close.

Put down a layer of mulch that's 2-4 inches deep to take advantage of these benefits. Just make sure to leave some space between the trunk and the mulch layer.

5. You're hoping your lawn's irrigation system will also take care of your trees.

Nice try, but no. The water output from your lawn sprinkler probably isn't enough to water your tree to the proper depth. Plus, a lot of that water is lost to evaporation.

A soaker hose is a good way to water your mature tree because it's porous and releases water slowly. Lay the hose in a spiral pattern around your tree and let it run long enough to moisten about 8 inches of the soil.

6. You're watering around the trunk of your tree.

There's no need to water close to your tree's trunk. In fact, doing so could cause rot.

Instead of watering directly around the trunk, soak the entire area beneath your mature tree's canopy and beyond the edge of the canopy, or drip line.

For young trees, it's OK to water closer to the trunk for the first few months after planting since most of its roots will still be in the original root ball. After a couple of months, the roots will venture outward, so your watering zone should follow suit.

7. You're watering your tree during the wrong part of the day.

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. are the hottest parts of the day. If you water within that time period, you'll lose a lot of water due to, say it with us now: evaporation. The best time to water your trees and conserve water would be outside of that window.


Want to learn more about taking care of your trees and shrubs during these hot summer days? Take a look at our Summer Tree and Pest Manual now!


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