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Keeping Trees Alive in a Drought

  • Post category:Drought

An unprecedented drought across Texas is withering young trees and saplings and is

taking a toll on large, old trees. While many people notice the obvious effects of drought—

crispy lawns and parched flower beds—trees often get overlooked until it’s too late. Early signs of drought damage include shriveled leaves and leaves which turn brown along the edges or turn yellow. As the damage worsens, leaves may curl or warp, become crinkly and scorched, and fall from the tree. Once a tree begins to exhibit signs of drought stress, immediate action should be taken to provide water. Don’t be fooled when your lawn greens up after a brief

rain. While grass can quickly recover with a small amount of rain, trees require deeper

watering and need extra care.

So how do you keep your trees alive during drought conditions like we are currently experiencing in the Houston area?

Since most of a tree’s active roots are within the top 12 inches of soil, a good way to water is to put a sprinkler beneath the tree. Place a coffee or soup can close by and run the sprinkler slowly until 2 inches of water has collected in the can. Be sure to water the entire root zone beneath the tree canopy. The best time to water is typically in the morning. For young or newly planted trees, slow, deep watering every two to three days is a good gauge. There are also a number of “soaker products available to keep newly planted trees from drying out.

A Treegator is a portable drip irrigation system. This easy-to-use watering bag will slowly deliver water to a tree’s root system, allowing for deep saturation and little to no run-off or evaporation. Installation is a breeze. Just zip it up around the trunk and fill it with water. The Treegator system is particularly effective for newly planted trees.

Similar to a Treegator or a soaker hose, an Ooze Tube is designed to slowly irrigate trees, beds, and gardens at a minimal cost. Wrap the Ooze Tube loosely around the tree and secure it with a wooden stake. Fill the tube with water and tap a starter hole in the bottom of the tube with a nail. Insert a drip emitter into the hole.

A quick, affordable solution to deep watering is to make an irrigation bucket. Use a nail or small punch to perforate the bottom of a bucket – just a couple of holes, will do. Place the bucket near the base of the tree and fill it with water. Once the bucket has drained, you can move it to your next tree. Please note, that this technique works best for younger, newly planted trees.

When determining how much water your tree needs, remember this rule of thumb:

  • If you can wrap your fingers around the trunk, then your tree needs about 10 gallons (or 10 minutes at a low flow) at least once, but preferably twice, a week.
  • If you can wrap your hands around it, your tree needs between 30 and 50 gallons (or about 30 and 50 minutes at a low flow) at least once a week.
  • If your tree is larger with a significant canopy, place the hose under the drip line and let it run at low flow for 45 to 60 minutes in that area before moving it to another section under the canopy. A complete watering of a mature tree may take several hours or more.

Will all this watering increase your water bill? Maybe a little but deep root watering generally conserves water usage by reducing water loss through evaporation and reducing water runoff. It takes about the same amount of water to flush a typical toilet once as it does to water a young tree for a week. And don’t forget, a good mulch layer beneath your trees will help retain moisture and keep your trees healthier during the drought