Water Your Trees Like Mother Nature Would Water Them

Posted on Aug 6, 2015
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Two weeks ago, I wrote in this blog about our drought and the importance of preserving our trees. Go ahead and let your lawn turn brown. If you can only afford to water one thing in your yard, water your trees.

One of my Good Earth Plants blog readers (thank you!) asked, “What is the best way to water my trees so they get the most water? Is there a trick to it?” We love smart questions and we will answer it here.

Since we can’t always count on Mother Nature watering our trees in a Mediterranean climate during a drought, we need to help. The more we can mimic the way Mother Nature waters, the better.

Nature designed trees so rain would fall on the leaves, and run off to the sides of the tree. Think of the way rain hits an umbrella, and rolls down off the side. It falls in a circle around you. This is how trees need to be watered. This outer edge around a tree where the rain falls is called the drip line, and it is where the tree sends out its strongest feeder roots to soak up this moisture.

Water your tree at the drip line, not at the trunk.

Water your tree at the drip line, not at the trunk.

You need to water in this circle around the tree. If you are using a hose and watering right at the trunk of the tree, you’re not reaching a lot of the roots with the irrigation. Avoid watering like this.

When it does rain, Mother Nature’s rainfall is usually steady and slow. You need to water the same way, mimicking a long, slow soaking. Trees prefer infrequent deep watering. Once a week or less for more established trees is just fine. Water in a slow drip away from the trunk, long enough to soak the top 12 inches of soil in the drip line. You can use a hose on a very slow trickle, a soaker hose, drip irrigation in the proper areas, or this clever method. Buy some five gallon buckets, and poke several holes in the bottom. Put the bucket on top of the soil along the drip line. Fill it with water. The water will seep out slowly and deeply into the soil. When it’s empty, move the bucket about three feet away, and repeat the process. Do this until you have made a circle in the drip line around the tree.

This is a great use for the water you gather in the morning with the bucket in your shower. You DO have a bucket in your shower, don’t you? In a household with several people, you should be able to fill that five gallon bucket easily.

Using water from your morning shower or a nighttime shower before bed is perfect. Water early in the morning or after sunset so you lose less water to evaporation. This is when trees gather moisture naturally.

SPECIAL NOTE: Buckets full of water are drowning hazards to small children. Even if you don’t have small children, you don’t want to harm a neighbor’s curious kid. If you use this method anywhere a child could get to the bucket, be sure the bucket has a lid on it. If you want to use a hose to fill it, cut a hole in the lid just large enough to fit the hose. Leave the lid on at all times. The lid will also prevent evaporation and will keep debris from falling into the bucket and clogging it.

Using a bucket as a drip irrigation system works well with trees. Be sure to cover the bucket to prevent accidents with children. Photo: Courtesy Goleta Water District

Using a bucket as a drip irrigation system works well with trees. Be sure to cover the bucket to prevent accidents with children. Photo: Courtesy Goleta Water District

If you have hard, rocky ground in San Diego (and who doesn’t?), you can drill holes one foot deep every three feet around the tree along the drip line. Fill the holes with compost, and then pour water into them. This vertical mulch will encourage the roots to grow.

Speaking of mulch, spread organic mulch around your trees like wood chips, bark, straw, or compost, or leave the fallen leaves or needles on the ground around the tree. Spread it in that drip line. Think of creating a doughnut shape. Mulch too close to the trunk may cause it to rot.

During a drought, avoid pruning or other routine maintenance, and avoid fertilizing the tree. You don’t want to encourage too much growth. And if you are letting your lawn die around your trees, great! Lawn competes with your trees for water. In fact, it’s a great idea to take the lawn out around your trees, and replace it with something more drought tolerant anyway.

Thanks to the website SaveOurWater.com for some of these great tips!