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Keeping trees hydrated through drought
Published: 6/6/2023
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Plants need water to survive and there’s been a historic lack of rain coming from Mother Nature this spring and summer. Less than 1” of rain fell in much of southeast Michigan in May 2023, marking it as the fifth driest month of May on record in the area. So far, June 2023 is looking similarly parched.

Such drought conditions can severely impact trees and shrubs—especially those that are newly-planted. Proper watering practices can go a long way toward keeping trees healthy through drought. Trees planted within the last few years should be watered once every 5-10 days, depending on how hot, dry, and windy the weather is in that span. If heavy rain falls (fingers crossed), then there’d be less need to water in that given week.

The best way to water a small tree is by running a hose at about half of its max flow all around the root area for 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of the tree. Larger trees may need more water spread across a wider area, whereas smaller trees with more limited root systems will require a little less water in a more concentrated area. If a hose does not reach the planting site, then a large bucket can be filled and slowly poured around the roots.

Alternatively, holes can be drilled in the bottom of the bucket, then the bucket can be left near the tree for gradual watering. LAWN IRRIGATION SPRINKLERS ARE INSUFFICIENT FOR TREES – Lawn sprinklers are generally set up specifically for lawn turfgrass. The roots of these grasses are dense, fibrous, and are concentrated within the top few inches of soil. Many common turfgrass species are also not particularly drought tolerant. Ergo, many lawn sprinklers are programmed for frequent, but brief, bouts of watering. The roots of many woody plants prefer slower and deeper watering at a less frequent interval.

(PROPERLY APPLIED) MULCH HELPS KEEP MOISTURE IN THE SOIL – A 2-3” layer of mulch spread around the tree aids growth and conserves water in several ways. It can reduce competition from other plants immediately around the tree, it regulates soil temperature, and helps hold more moisture in the soil. It will also gradually break down to add nutrients and organic matter to support healthier soil. Be careful not to add too much mulch and avoid volcano mulching trees, though, as this can lead to complications that can eventually kill trees and shrubs.