How To Water Trees

On a rainy day like today, I'm thinking about watering.

I won't have to water anything in my garden for quite awhile after this rain. It is one of those slow, steady, soaking-in kind of rains that brings out the greenest green colors in every plant in the garden.

Of course, I would prefer that this kind of rain not occur during a day when I am on vacation to garden, but I don't always get my preference. I'm a middle child, I'm used to that.

My preference would be to get one of these rains in July or August.

When it is not raining like this, of course we have to water our gardens and trees and shrubs that are not well established.

The other day, I got this comment on my post from last December on Just Say No To Ice Cubes For Watering:

"Okay so I actually googled this exact topic "watering with ice" and am now quite discouraged. So all you expert gardeners out and especially May, how about some advice for a city dweller? I live in Baltimore, where the city is trying to increase the tree canopy, and have been enlisted to help water some newly planted trees near my children's school. It gets quite hot in the summer and we have had multiple summers of drought which makes tough conditions for baby trees. There is no near water supply. Just setting up the multiple hoses and getting the water turned on can take 30 minutes. I WAS hoping that dumping an entire store-sized bag of ice on the tree base in the early morning of a typical 90 + degree day would be an easy viable solution (and not torturem for me or the tree....). What do you think?"

I still think it is a bad idea to water plants with ice cubes, whether it is a poinsettia, a houseplant or a newly planted tree.

One bag of ice is not enough water for a tree on a hot summer day. What amount of water is that? A gallon or two, maybe three tops?

My advice to people on watering new trees is to water them thoroughly and deeply about once a week. You don't want to just give the trees some surface water, which will just evaporate away quickly in the hot sun and force tree roots up to the surface to find the water.

I prefer to lay a watering hose at the base of the tree and turn it on to just above a trickle and then leave it on for awhile until the area is good and soaked. I also sometimes use a Ross-type root feeder, without the fertilizer, for deep watering around newly planted trees and shrubs.

So my advice to "anonymous" in Baltimore who left this comment is to drag out those hoses and water those trees thoroughly once a week and use the ice for drinking.

What's your advice on watering those trees?


  1. Hi Carol, what good advice about tree watering. So glad you are having the slow soaking type of rain. We need any kind of rain here, the drought continues and we get just a few drops at a time. I have been watering all the newly planted things, most shrubs nearly every day. Not the right way to do it, I know, but everybody gets a little bit. The veggies are great, they never get any water except the day they get planted with the watering can. The hose doesn't reach up there!

  2. That is exactly the way I've always told my customers to water new trees! Great post!

  3. I love the tree canopy in my yard and have dozens of trees that routinely suck all the water out of the garden beds...during last years drought saving the trees was more important then saving the plants. Large trees would be too expensive to remove and one could never replace them. Carol, I water as you do...with big drinks of water...but it get difficult with so many trees...We didn't have a dry spell we had a tree killing drought. Many people lost large trees...almost all the red maples are gone in this neighborhood, along with Shag bark Hickories and many Magnolia grandifolia, The big ones with tap roots will be okay but the Japanese Maples and young trees need more. Have you used alligator bag watering bags/ I am considering them.

    Boy do I wish I had a big water storage system we are getting three days of rain.


  4. I've 'planted' a tube next to my trees and shrubs for the past couple of years. This makes sure that the water really gets down to those roots. I posted on it a while back - there's a saying 'a pint at the roots is worth a gallon at the surface'

    Can send you the link if you want it...

  5. I water my trees in the same way, only for the first summer or so. By then they are usually well enough established that they can withstand drier conditions. It doesn't get as hot up here as it does elsewhere either, so we tend to be fairly lucky when it comes to not loosing trees in drought times. The same can't be said for the grass though!

  6. One trick I've seen many people do and it works well is to get a 5 gallon bucket and drill holes in the bottom of it. Then they fill the bucket up and slowly drains into the root system of the tree. It's probably not practical for anonymous, but it works well for home gardeners.

  7. I was once told to open the hose up until the stream of water is the width of my pinkie finger - Even though pinkies vary greatly, it's still a great instruction - it gave me something measurable! Good post!

  8. We are having that rain here Carol. I hope you have a pretty day tomorrow. I want to get outside tomorrow too. I would water a tree as you advised. No ice.

  9. This has been a great rainy day. The perfect kind of slow steady rain that my grass and newly transplanted arborvitae needed. Everything does look lush and green.

    I hope we have plenty of rain this summer and not another dry one. Like Gail, I too wish I had a way to collect the rain.

  10. This is not something I know a lot about, but I have always used a soaker hose for new trees and run it for about a half an hour about 2 or 3 times a week depending on the heat. We got up to the mid-80s the other day, so it gets hot early.

  11. I agree with the hose and a slow trickle of water. We are getting the rain too, I love it!! Sorry it's messing up your week, but we really needed it.

  12. I also water my new tress by laying the hose at the base and leaving it on at a trickle. Sometimes I go and do other things in the garden, turning off the hose much later when I remember it's even on. Other times, if I'm really fond of my new friend, I attach a nozzle to the hose, set it at "gentle stream," turn the water on to medium pressure and stand there holding the hose for a good long while while I admire the intricacies of the plant. Awwww... little leaves! Ooh, cute bark! It's very meditative to stand quietly for a long while getting to know my new baby!
    ~ Monica

  13. Water is water. Americans are always told to water deeply, which is a lot of trouble and completely unnecessary. I was raised in England, where we got much less rain than in Savannah, but it rained little and often and plants flourish.

    We planted a bunch of roadside trees some years ago. In a dry spell, I would fill a dozen milk jugs with water and give one or two to trees that looked as if they needed it. We didn't lose a single tree.

    In the south, as long as you plant trees in October, and at no other time of year, they all seem to survive, no matter how dry the following summer.

  14. Excellent advice, Carol. We haven't planted any new trees or shrubs for awhile, so I haven't really worried about them. The key is to water them well as you say, and once they're established, they pretty much take care of themselves,unless it's an extreme drought.
    Like you, we are getting a good soaking of rain right now, and I'm wondering when I will get to plant all these annuals I bought. Too bad we can't save some of this rain for later this summer.

  15. Great advice! My mom says the same thing, so I know you're right! ;-) I like the idea of the Treegator, but that's not always practical with a bunch of trees. How about burying a milk jug next to each tree, with holes in the bottom for trickling water out, and leave the cap on the top. Then you could just come by (remove the cap)and fill each jug maybe 2-3 times in hot weather and the water could get to the roots. (Plus you'd know how much water you gave.) If most of the jug is buried, it won't look ugly, and with the cap on when not in use the critters won't get in either.


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