Here in New Jersey, we’ve enjoyed a particularly sunny, dry summer. While that’s been great for weekend barbeques and plans for the beach, the lack of rain has had its impact on our landscapes, evidenced by patches of brown, crispy grass, wilted plants, and trees with curled leaves. Drought damage to trees can be seen all over our beautiful state.
Trees are our greatest landscape investment, so it’s worthwhile on many levels to ensure they’re properly cared for throughout the year, and through environmental stresses such as drought.
Trees & Drought Damage
Young or newly planted trees are particularly sensitive to insufficient watering, as many homeowners who have added trees to their landscape learn. But what about established trees that have been around for years? How do those trees fare in dry conditions?
Healthy, older, established trees can typically withstand drought better than young trees due to their more fixed root systems, but the lack of rain we’ve experienced this summer has been severe enough to have had a significant impact on even the most robust trees.
Hopefully, you’ve helped get your trees get through the drought by providing them with adequate water. If not, now is the perfect time to address this environmental stressor so your trees can meet the winter in an optimally healthy state, strong enough to weather the effects of freezing temperatures, ice and snow. Although it may seem otherwise, insufficient water is a key winter stressor for trees—they can’t absorb and utilize water when the ground is frozen, and cold winds further accelerate moisture evaporation.
Any water is better than no water, right? Or the more water the better? Neither of these approaches is ideal. For most trees, 80% of their roots are concentrated in the first foot of soil. Too little water won’t reach all of the roots, and too much is just wasteful. Plus, if the ground is compacted from drought or other factors, flooding it with too much water too quickly will just result in runoff.
Tips & Techniques for Keeping Young Trees Hydrated
- Water slowly and deeply. Set up a drip irrigation, soaker hose, or oscillating sprinkler to run for at least 20-30 minutes.
- Trees that are newly planted need between 10-15 gallons of water, 2-3 times per week during their first year to establish a strong healthy root system, regardless of whether or not a drought is occurring.
- Established trees (those planted between 1 to 3 years) should ideally get about 15 gallons of water once a month. You can punch a hole in a 5 gallon bucket, fill it with water and let that drain slowly into the soil (repeat two more times to reach the 15 gallon goal).
- Avoid fertilizing trees during a drought. The salts in fertilizers are particularly damaging to stressed tree roots during droughts, and can cause root burn.
- Add 2-4 inches of organic mulch around your tree’s drip line; the area on the ground that receives water shed from the tree’s canopy (imagine a ring on the ground that correlates to the outermost branches of the tree).
- The purpose of mulch is to help the soil retain moisture for the tree. Make sure the mulch does not touch the tree itself—it should be about 6 inches from the tree bark to avoid encouraging rot.
A tree severely affected by drought may take up to several years to fully recover. If you have questions or concerns about your trees, call us and one of our certified arborists will be happy to guide you on how best to care for them.