Watering Newly Planted Trees and Shrubs

Andrea Burns
Special to the Globe

I have received a lot of calls lately about trees, many have the same issue…freeze damage from our late April freeze or more often, drought stress.

This past winter and early on in May was our relatively hot and dry summer. The trees are still playing catch up. When asked how much they water, many have the same reply, when the sprinkler system runs. That may be enough water for your lawn, but that is definitely not enough, nor the right kind of watering for your trees!Newly planted trees have not established the extensive root system needed to absorb enough water during hot, dry, windy summers. Even trees two or three years old should receive special care.Deep, infrequent watering and mulching can help trees become established. Newly transplanted trees need at least 10 gallons of water per week, and on sandy soils they will need that much applied twice a week. The secret is getting that water to soak deeply into the soil, so it evaporates more slowly and is available to the tree’s roots longer. One way to do this is to punch a small hole in the side of a 5-gallon bucket and fill it with water.

Let the water dribble out slowly next to the tree. Refill the bucket once, and you have applied 10 gallons. Very large transplanted trees and trees that were transplanted two to three years ago will require more water.A perforated soaker hose is a great way to water a newly established bed or foundation planting.

In sunbaked soil, you may need to rough up the surface with a hoe or tiller to get water to infiltrate easily.

It may be helpful to set the kitchen oven timer, so you remember to move the hose or shut off the faucet. If you are seeing surface runoff, reduce the flow, or build a berm with at least a four-foot diameter around the base of the tree to allow the water to percolate down through the soil, instead of spreading out.

Regardless of method used, soil should be wet at least 12-inches deep.

Use a metal rod, wooden dowel, electric fence post or something similar to check depth. Dry soil is much harder to push through than wet.There are lots of inexpensive method for easily watering trees.

Gatorbags work great, but might be kind of pricey.

You can also make your own “redneck gatorbag” by drilling holes in a five-gallon bucket.Another way is to utilize soaker hoses.

Soaker hoses are notorious for non-uniform watering. In other words, you often receive too much water from one part of the hose and not enough from another.

On small trees, circling the tree several time with the soaker hoses will even out the amount of water applied but this isn’t practical for larger trees. Hooking both the beginning and the end of the soaker hose to a Y-adapter helps equalize the pressure and therefore provide a more uniform watering.

It is also helpful if the Y-adapter has shut off valves so the volume of flow can be controlled. Too high a flow rate can allow water to run off rather than soak in.On larger trees, the soaker hose can circle the trunk at a distance within the dripline of the tree but at least ½ the distance to the dripline. The dripline of the tree is outermost reach of the branches. On smaller trees, you may circle the tree several times so that only soil which has tree roots will be watered.

For more information on caring for your trees, contact the Ford County Extension Office or find us online at www.ford.ksu.edu This column on trees is dedicated to former Ford County Extension Agent, Don K. Wiles, who passed away earlier this month.

He had a wonderful career and this Southwest Kansas girl learned a lot about trees from him.

He was a great Extension agent and great asset to this community. He will be missed.