Seasonal care of trees & shrubs: Watering


Providing adequate water is one of the most important things you can do to establish and maintain tree health.  Watering newly planted/transplanted trees regularly for 3-5 years is critical in establishing healthy trees.  Yearly rainfall amounts may or may not be adequate for new trees in the landscape or for established trees; therefore, pay particular attention during the summer and/or periods of drought.  Established trees only need to be watered during drought-like conditions. Water until the ground freezes to help reduce the amount of winter damage.

Unfortunately there is no recipe that can be followed with watering. Factors such as soil type and weather patterns are different for every area (Sivyer et al., 1997). A general estimate is that a mature tree can lose up to 238 gallons of water per day under warm, sunny conditions (Vrecenak, 1988). With that in mind the following recommendations should be followed.

Before watering any tree or shrub check soil moisture with a trowel or metal rod.  With the trowel, dig 6-8” deep into the soil and feel the soil moisture content.  Or, with the metal rod check for ease of penetration- dry soils resist penetration. Water the entire root system to a depth of ~12″ and be careful not to over-water in poorly drained (soggy) soils.

You can water with a soaker hose, garden hose, sprinkler, or by drip irrigation.  Make sure the entire root system is reached.

For watering, keep in mind that ~625 gallons of water reaches 1000 square feet to a depth of 1″. Hoses emit water at different rates… ~1-6 gallons per minute. To test the emission rate of your hose, fill a garden bucket to measure your particular amount per minute. Remember that percolation rates will vary depending on soil type.

For more informationWatering Trees (.pdf), How much does it cost to water this tree? and Irrigating Established Trees (scroll to “Irrigating established trees”).

More information on each step:

Authored by Rebecca Koetter, Gary R. Johnson, and Dave Hanson: University of Minnesota
Funded in part by USDA Forest Service: Northeastern Area
Chart designed by Andrew Rose:

Download & print your own poster or magnet copy of the “Seasonal Care for Trees and Shrubs in Northern U.S. Climates”

Rebecca works on urban forestry outreach education programs with the Department of Forest Resources in St. Paul.

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