January 24, 2024
Insufficient water is the leading cause of death for new trees. Newly planted trees and shrubs need regular and consistent watering until root systems establish, typically for the first 2-3 years.
- Frequency: The frequency and amount of water needed depends on your soil, tree type, and weather. See the guidelines below. If there is significant rainfall, adjust your watering schedule.
- Check soil moisture: Use a screwdriver or soil probe to check the soil beneath the farthest reaches of the tree's branches, at least 6 inches deep. If the soil is dry, add water with a slow soak. If the soil is wet, allow it to dry before adding more water.
- Mulch: Mulch around the base of the tree, leaving a gap so that no mulch is touching the trunk. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
- 1-2 weeks after planting: water daily.
- 3-12 weeks after planting: water every 2 to 3 days.
- After 12 weeks: water weekly throughout the growing season until roots are established.
Apply 1-1.5 gallons per inch of trunk diameter* at each watering. It important to water slowly, allowing the soil to absorb moisture without runoff.
*Tree diameter is measured at 6 inches above soil.
Water should penetrate the entire area where the roots are growing and reach the surrounding soil. Ensure the water reaches at least 12 inches deep by applying the water a slow trickle over time.
Watering Tools & Equipment
- 5 gallon bucket with holes for slow release
- Upside down soda bottle
- Users can easily adjust the number of holes or the size of the holes in the bucket, tailoring the watering rate to the specific needs of the tree.
Low Cost Options
- Tree Gator, approx. $20
- Tree Diaper, approx. $40
- Easy to store when not in use, somewhat protective for the tree trunk, and effectively slow releases the water.
Large Scale Options
- Small plastic tank (35 gallons), approx. $150
- Large sap tank (330 gallons), approx. $250
- Soaker hose
- Drip irrigation system, approx. $150
- Raise watering tank on blocks or a pallet so there is room for the hose to attach, or for the valve to operate.
- Load it in your vehicle while empty, then fill it. Make sure to close the valve before you fill it.
- If attaching it to a hose, make sure the hose is long enough, and it forms a tight seal with the tank.
- Park the tank uphill of the trees you wish to water.
- Ensure that you have enough hose, connectors, and that the system is simple enough to use.
- If multiple trees are being watered on a single system, ensure they are all getting adequate water. Water traveling through hose is subject to gravity and friction, as well as losses in pressure that come from releasing water to the trees that are attached earlier in the system.
- Reduce trip hazards when the system is not in use. A hose that sits on a lawn may be fine, but across a sidewalk may not be unless special effort is made to mark, secure, or protect the hose.
Watering Plan Checklist
Watering trees at a municipal level requires careful planning and coordination to ensure the health and resilience of the urban forest. Use the checklist below to craft your tree watering plan.
Determine where you can access a water source.
- Work with municipal leadership, land managers, or property owners for permission.
- Investigate how other plants or planted beds in your community are watered; is there an active Garden Club or Master Gardener group?
- Are there fire hydrants nearby? Consider working with your water department to secure a hydrant key.
In your budget for the planting project, detail which tools or equipment will be needed to water the trees. Consider:
- Hoses and connectors
- Storage, rain barrels or rain catchment systems
- Access to a vehicle/tank
- Tree watering devices
Develop a watering schedule that takes into account the seasonal water needs of and the capacity of your project team. Consider:
- Who will coordinate the watering plan? Who will implement it?
- Create a watering route, map, or checklist to support implementation of the plan and track when trees are watered.
- Watch weather (rain counts!)
- Communicate schedule and needs.