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GardenSMART :: Keep Trees Hydrated to Avoid Early Leaf Loss

Keep Trees Hydrated to Avoid Early Leaf Loss

By The Davey Tree Expert Company
Photographs courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company

With summer heating up, it's essential to seek the shade, and there's no better place to find it than under a tree's cool canopy.

While our trees work hard to keep us cool, they need protection from the hot sun, too.

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"Recent dry conditions and abnormally high temperatures leave trees parched," says Matt Haro, a certified arborist at Davey Tree's Las Vegas, Nevada, office. "But well-hydrated trees cope better with the heat."

Haro recommends making sure mature and new trees in your yard have enough water to make it through the dry summer months.

But how much water do trees need? And when is the right time to water them?

Trees generally have enough water if the upper 12 inches of soil is moist. If it hasn't rained for several weeks, check to see if your tree needs a drink.

Follow Haro's easy tips below to ensure your trees are getting just the right amount of water.

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Check If Your Tree Needs Water

"There are a number of ways to see if your tree needs water," Haro says. Try one of the below.

  • Poke a long screwdriver into the dirt beneath the tree. If it's hard to push in, you probably need to water your tree.
  • Dig down about 6-8 inches, pick up a handful of the soil and roll into a ball. If it doesn't hold its shape, the soil is too dry.
  • Moisture meters work well, and of course, common sense. If it hasn't rained in a few weeks, it's safe to say you should water.
  • Look for tell-tale signs of dehydration. Keep an eye out for curling, wilting or small leaves that may turn brown at the tips or edges. Often, they'll change color or drop early, too.
  •  "If your area's in a drought, consider sacrificing annuals in favor of trees if available water is limited since trees take decades to replace," Haro advises.

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Tips for Perfect Tree Watering in Summer

  • Water the area beneath the tree canopy. One inch per week is usually sufficient for mature trees. For new trees, there's no specific amount of water they need. Instead, you want to make sure the top 12 inches of soil around the root ball remain well-watered.
    • "Though, that's a general guideline. It is really best to ask a local expert who knows your terrain," Haro says. "For instance, out here in Vegas, we often water six days a week, multiple times a day, to keep our trees alive in the Mohave Desert."
  • If your region's suffering from a drought, Haro recommends checking local water restrictions. Be sure to comply and plan accordingly. For more resources about watering in a drought, click here.
  • The best time to water is in the morning.
  • Tree roots are deeper than turf roots, so water about three times as long as you water your lawn to make sure enough moisture reaches the root zone.

Three Ways to Water

  • Use rain barrels and reclaimed water whenever possible. Rain barrels collect runoff from your home's gutter system by connecting to the downspout. Add a spigot or hose connector to drain water and use to refresh your landscape. 
  • Deeply and slowly water mature trees with a simple soaker hose, slow drip from a garden hose, an overhead with either a frog eye or pincushion design or root feeder probe. If you use a drip irrigation system, adjust it to increase the amount of water and disperse it further out towards the tree's drip zone.
    • Avoid directly spraying the trunk of the tree, as increased moisture can create root rot. Instead, soak the ground toward the edge of the tree canopy. Use a hose faucet timer, available at most hardware stores, to prevent overwatering.
    • Place a coffee or soup can in the drip zone, the area directly beneath the trees' foliage. Water slowly until one inch of water has collected in the can.
  • Going out of town? Fill up a reusable irrigation bag, and it'll water for you.

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Other Ways to Boost Your Trees' Health

  • Mulch, but do it correctly. "Do NOT build mulch into a volcano," Haro warns. "This can kill the tree as it cuts off the crown roots and decreases air circulation."
  • Mulch two to three inches around the tree to reduce moisture loss and moderate soil temperature. Mulch should be pulled back 6 inches from the trunk of the tree in a saucer-like fashion.
  • Fertilize trees annually (in spring or fall) to keep them nourished throughout summer's high temperatures.

Following these watering guidelines will ensure trees survive the sizzling summer heat and can continue being the most valuable asset in the landscape.

Questions? Contact your local Davey Tree arborist by visiting

With more than 9,000 employees throughout North America, The Davey Tree Expert Company provides solutions for residential, utility, commercial and government clients. Rooted in research, the company's vision is to achieve balance among people, progress and the environment. Tree experts since 1880, Davey provides diversified tree services, grounds maintenance and environmental services. Davey is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. and is headquartered in Kent, Ohio.


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