Do Mature Trees Need To Be Watered?
The short answer is: yes.
While mature trees have enough root spread and depth of growth to survive droughts and dry seasons, they could still use your assistance. If it has not rained for a month or more, even your oldest trees depend on you for supplemental moisture.
A few things to keep in mind with mature trees, as opposed to younger trees:
- Younger trees have their roots closer to the trunk, even still enclosed in the root ball. While a younger tree wants water near the trunk, a more mature tree wants more water around the perimeter of its canopy. The edge of the canopy is called the “dripline,” and you want to water even beyond that dripline. The roots will extend out even further than the canopy on a mature tree.
- You do not want the trunk to rot. If you can put mulch around the trunk, three or four inches deep in an even layer, that is healthier than having grass growing right up to the edge of the trunk. Grass growing right around the trunk can intercept the water. Keeping that turf-free circle around the trunk will help it survive and thrive.
- You do not want to fertilize drought-struck trees. Adding fertilizer will encourage a rush of new growth, and it is new growth that the tree is too thirsty to maintain. The tree would then need more water than it can find. Also, the salts in fertilizer will exacerbate the difficulties the mature tree is already having in the dry weather.
Keeping Mature Trees Healthy
What you want to do is to provide enough extra water to keep the mature healthy through the drought. However, you do not want to over-water. If you over-water, the tree will be fooled into thinking it is a rainy season, and will sprout new canopy growth. The dry soil cannot support this additional canopy growth, so this mature tree would now be dependent upon your irrigation, rather than just relying on its natural surroundings as we would prefer.
Most of a mature tree’s roots stay relatively shallow below the soil between a foot and 18”. We want to encourage those roots to extend deeper into the soil. This way, they are finding the deeper soil that is less susceptible to the vicissitudes of seasons and topsoil moisture. Therefore, it is better to provide a deep soak once a week than several lighter-watering periods throughout the week. When the water you provide has the chance to soak down several feet into the soil, the tree’s roots are encouraged to grow deeper in, which is healthier for the tree in the long run.
Best Way To Water Your Trees
A smart strategy for tree watering is to use a soaker hose. These hoses are designed to be laid out in a spiral around the tree trunk, extending out to the edge of the canopy and beyond. These soaker hoses slowly disperse the water over the course of an hour or two. This slow release of the water is better for the tree, and the porous nature of the soaker is much more efficient in terms of the amount of water you will use.
To test the soil around your mature tree, poke into the soil with a long (over eight inches) screwdriver. If the screwdriver goes easily into the soil, your soil is moist enough for your tree. If it is more difficult to push the screwdriver in, then chances are good that your soil is dry. If you cannot push the screwdriver all the way in those eight inches, then it is safe to say you should be watering more.
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