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Watering Drought Stressed Trees

drought stress

Adequate water is a key factor in maintaining healthy trees. Trees need an inch of water per week during the spring, summer, and fall. If it rains less than one inch per week, trees need to be watered to help maintain soil moisture and minimize drought stress. Use a soaker hose or a trickle from a garden hose around the drip line of the tree. Watering in the evening for several hours is a good strategy because it minimizes evaporation.


Since fibrous roots are so close to the soil surface, they can dehydrate and die when the soil loses significant moisture and becomes over heated. The removal of any turf grass and the addition of 3 inches of wood chips or shredded bark under the drip line can have a very beneficial effect by holding in moisture and promoting healthy fibrous roots.

Some areas are experiencing drought conditions this summer. That means our Ornamental trees have been receiving less than adequate water.

A combination of significant summer drought conditions will weaken even the hardiest of trees. Without enough water, trees are unable to create new growth. When this happens, root development is reduced and wound formation restricted. As trees reach this stage, they start to shut down and become targets for diseases and insects that can kill them.

So what can a homeowner do?

Water your trees! All of your trees, including the big ones! Even mature trees need watering.

Over the last decade significant changes in climate patterns are impacting entire ecosystems. Our urban landscapes are not immune to these changes. In fact, trees in urban areas are more prone to drought damage and death than natural stands of trees.

drought stress

Recommended Tree Watering Techniques

There are two soaking techniques that are recommended when watering with a hose.

The first method is to use one of those nifty soaker hoses.

  1. Wrap the hose around the base of the tree at least 1-2 feet from the trunk.
  2. Turn the water on in the morning when you leave for work and turn it off when you get home.

The other method is to turn your hose on to a trickle.

A trickle is more than a drip and less than a gurgle.

  1. Visually divide the area around your tree into 4 sections.
  2. Place the hose about 2-3 feet from the trunk in section one and let the water soak into the ground for about two hours.
  3. Move the hose to another section until you have fully watered all four quadrants over the period of a day.

More Tips for Watering Trees Impacted by Drought Conditions

If you have in-ground irrigation, let it run an extra hour in the zones where you have trees and shrubs. This will allow the water to penetrate through the turf roots and thatch and allow more water to soak down to the roots of the trees.

All methods should be done once a week, through the end of September, while we are experiencing drought conditions.

drought stress
Fig. 3

Sprinklers are not recommended!

Sprinklers work best for watering grass, not trees. By using the soaking techniques you saturate the grass in the spot where the hose is so that the water will move beneath the root zone of the grass and get to the tree roots where it is needed. Trees can die even when the grass is green, because grass is the better competitor for water. Notice the tree in Fig. 3, showing signs of drought stress from prior years.


RICHMOND: 804 285 6200 | WILLIAMSBURG: 757 258 1788
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