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Watering Trees – How Much?

Providing adequate water for your trees can be a challenge sometimes because it means you have to:
  1. remember to do it,
  2. know when & how much to do it,
  3. and do it in a way that doesn’t discourage you from doing it.
In this post, I hope to provide you access to some good watering tips that may make irrigating your trees easier and less inconvenient to do when you do it.
First, here are links to a couple of “how-to” videos by Lindsey Purcell (Urban Forestry Specialist at Purdue University) on how to select quality trees and how to properly plant and care for them:
These videos are loaded full of the latest research and industry practices derived from decades of research (and trial & error) from the tree care industry. Notably, in the second video, Lindsey offers a tip on how you can quickly calculate how much you should water your tree. (That discussion begins exactly 5:00 minutes into his video). Additionally, you can also download the one-page document, “How to Care for Your Trees” to get simple cultural practices tips.
Watering a Magnolia Tree
Methods and opinions on how frequently and how much to water will vary a bit depending on who you ask, but I’ve found they all generally lead to about the same results and your trees won’t question you on the difference anyway! And so, whether you use an in-ground irrigation system, or attach a sprinkler head to a garden hose, or fill up buckets of water with a hole at the bottom to sit at the base of your trees allowing the slow trickle to reach a lot of the absorptive roots located there, there are many ways to get water to tree roots. Use the method that best suits your time and circumstances. Adding mulch can help retain moisture and save you a lot of repetitive watering time, but be sure not to pile up mulch against the trunk and flare to minimize decay, rot and girdling roots around the trunk and root flares.
Another watering system setup you could try is installing soaker hoses, which can be found very inexpensively in most home & garden stores, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, etc., even Amazon.
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Photo credit: This photo is from the West Sacramento City iLights website, under the article “Water-Saving Mulch available to West Sacramento Community” (July 21, 2015)

Get the length that best suits the needs of your trees. Let the hose encircle your tree, about 8″-10″ away from the base of the trunk flare. You can have it wrap around in a circle more than once, like a cinnamon swirled pastry, to provide water more quickly to the area. Secure the hose so it doesn’t bunch upon itself by using small stakes to separate each loop of the hose or try using sod staples. Leaving the soaker hose in place all season will make it so you only have to attach your garden hose to it when it’s time to water your tree(s) during the growing season. You conceal the soaker hose by simply adding a light layer of mulch atop it.
Reminders: Don’t forget that you need to check the mulch at least annually to monitor for new girdling roots, etc. Some soaker hose manufacturers may recommend removing them before winter’s freezing temperatures arrive because moisture retained in the hose may cause it to crack. Therefore, you may have to remember to reinstall the soaker hose the next spring.
I hope these watering tips help you in maintaining your landscape & property trees!
For even more great tips in managing your trees, we endorse the publication “Tree Owners Manual” made by the USDA Forest Service.
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