How Much Water Does a Young Tree Need?

young treeIf you were one of the homeowners or tree enthusiasts who planted a tree this spring, you might be wondering now, in July, how much water that tree will need to make it through the hottest part of the annual cycle. Just how much water does a young tree need?

Fortunately, drought is pretty rare in Michigan, and this year, with the slow warm up and frequent rain pattern, the ground has continued to be moist, so any new trees and shrubs should be doing well so far. But in the absence of regular rain, regular watering is key. During dry periods, keep the soil moist around the base of the tree. Even a few months after planting, most of a tree’s root system remains within the original root ball, so that is where you should concentrate your water stream. Avoid watering the trunk directly, however; it might cause rot.

Consider your soil, as well. If, when you planted your tree, you added compost and mulch, that will aid in retaining water in the soil long enough for the tree’s root system to absorb it. If you have sandy or non mulched soil, water over longer periods. Using a soaker hose, a treegator, or a gallon jug with small holes poked in the bottom will help keep a young tree alive and thriving. There’s little point in watering if your tree doesn’t have time to take it in!

While watering is important, moderation is the key. You want to mimic the rain pattern of your area under regular conditions, not trick the tree into growing beyond what your regular water cycle can support. If you want to know how you’re doing, get your hands a little dirty – if the soil around your tree is moist, but not wet, that’s optimal for a young tree with a transplanted, immature root system. Another easy way to test the moistness of the soil is to poke a long screwdriver into the ground. This will be simple to do when the soil is moist enough, and impossible when it is too dry.

On average, it takes about two years for that root system to develop beyond the area of the original hole, so keep any trees or shrubs you planted last year in mind as well. And, as the root system grows, so should the circle of soil you water underneath the tree.