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Drought Tips: Trees

Why should I water my trees?

Trees may take 40 to 100 years to mature. Shrubs may take 5 to 10 years.  These plants are a long-term investment and cannot be easily replaced.  Limited watering efforts should be directed toward keeping trees and shrubs healthy.


When should I water?

On the plus side, woody plants do not need to be watered every day or even every week. A bi-weekly watering schedule should provide sufficient water as long as the watering is done properly.    Avoid watering during the hottest part of the day — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

Use a screw driver to test for moisture.  If you can insert it into the ground 6-8 inches then you don’t need to water.


8” screwdriver = Needs Water

How much should I water?

The goal is to provide at least 1 to 2 inches of water every two weeks. Water-loving trees such as birches, alders, poplars, tulip trees, pin oaks and silver maples may need at least 3 inches of water when temperatures climb above 90 degrees. These trees are best watered once a week.  To check if you should water use your screwdriver!

Where should I water?

More than 90 percent of a tree’s root system is within the top 12 to 15 inches of soil. Few water-absorbing roots are located at the trunk or under the canopy of trees and shrubs. The hair roots, which take in the water, are located at the plant’s drip-line, or outermost branches, and beyond. That layer is also the part of the soil that dries out the fastest during hot, dry conditions. So, apply water at the tree or shrub’s drip-line, not at the trunk.


What is the best way to water my tree?

Root feeders are one method of applying the water, though they require frequent moving. Soil soakers are another option, but the water does not tend to soak in as deeply in an average time period.

Soakers almost need to be left running overnight to adequately water a large tree. A garden sprinkler may be the best choice, provided the water is applied slowly so it soaks in rather than running off.

What not to do in a drought?

Don’t apply high-salt, quick-release fertilizers or dig under the canopy of a tree during a severe drought. It’s also not a good idea to prune live branches off young trees. They may need these branches once the rains return.

What if I have in-ground, pop-up, automatic sprinklers?

Take a screwdriver and poke it into the soil under the tree. If it doesn’t go 6 to 8 inches deep in the soil, give your tree more water with the outlined methods.

196 Moraga Way Orinda, CA 94563 Phone (925) 254-3713     Fax (925) 254-9168
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