How to Water Your Tree During a Drought

How to Water Your Tree During a Drought

Droughts can be a challenging time for trees, as they struggle to access the necessary moisture to sustain their growth and health. As a responsible tree owner, it’s crucial to understand the best practices for watering your trees during these dry periods.

In this guide, we’ll explore the key strategies and techniques to ensure your trees not only survive but thrive, even in the face of prolonged drought conditions.

Determining the Right Amount of Water

The amount of water your tree requires during a drought can vary depending on several factors, including the tree’s size, age, and species. As a general guideline, a good rule of thumb is to provide two to three gallons of water per one inch of trunk diameter. This ensures that the water reaches the tree’s roots and provides the necessary hydration.

For mature trees, it’s recommended to water them deeply and slowly 1-2 times per month. This allows the water to penetrate deep into the soil, reaching the tree’s extensive root system. On the other hand, young trees need more frequent watering, requiring 5 gallons of water 2 times per week. Their smaller root systems require more consistent moisture to establish and thrive.

It’s important to note that the specific water needs of your trees may vary depending on the local climate, soil conditions, and the tree species. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and rainfall patterns can all influence the amount of water your trees require. Regularly monitoring the soil moisture and observing the tree’s response can help you fine-tune your watering schedule and ensure your trees receive the optimal amount of hydration.

Effective Watering Techniques

When it comes to watering your trees during a drought, there are several techniques you can employ to ensure the water reaches the roots effectively:

  1. Soaker Hose:
    • Wrap the soaker hose around the base of the tree, extending it out to the drip line (the outermost reach of the tree’s branches).
    • Water deeply once a week during summer droughts, allowing the water to slowly soak into the soil and reach the tree’s roots.
    • Soaker hoses are an efficient way to deliver water directly to the root zone, minimizing evaporation and ensuring the tree receives the necessary moisture.
  2. Hose Set to a Trickle:
    • Divide the area around your tree into sections, such as quadrants or eighths, depending on the size of the tree’s canopy.
    • Water each section over the period of a day, allowing the water to slowly soak into the soil and reach the roots.
    • This technique helps to ensure even distribution of water and prevents runoff or pooling, which can be detrimental to the tree’s health.
  3. In-Ground Irrigation:
    • If you have an in-ground irrigation system, set it to run an extra hour in zones with trees and shrubs.
    • This ensures the water penetrates down to the roots, where it’s needed most during drought conditions.
    • Regularly inspect your irrigation system to identify and repair any leaks or malfunctioning components, as this can help optimize water usage and delivery.
  4. Sprinklers:
    • Avoid using sprinklers for watering trees, as they are more suitable for watering grass and other low-growing plants.
    • Sprinklers tend to lose a significant amount of water to evaporation, and the water may not reach the tree’s roots effectively.
  5. 5-Gallon Bucket:
    • Drill small holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket.
    • Place the bucket near the tree, ensuring the holes are positioned over the root zone.
    • Allow the water to slowly flow out, delivering a deep, targeted watering to the tree’s roots.
    • This method is particularly useful for young or newly planted trees, as it helps establish a strong root system.

By employing these diverse watering techniques, you can ensure your trees receive the necessary moisture, even during periods of drought, while minimizing water waste and maximizing the efficiency of your watering efforts.

Monitoring Soil Moisture

Regularly testing the soil moisture is crucial to ensure your trees are receiving the right amount of water. Before watering, use a screwdriver or soil moisture meter to check the soil. If the screwdriver doesn’t go easily 6 to 8 inches into the soil, or the moisture meter indicates the soil is dry, it’s time to water deeply.

Monitoring soil moisture can help you identify any issues with water penetration or drainage, allowing you to adjust your watering practices accordingly. It’s important to check the soil in multiple locations around the tree, as soil moisture can vary depending on factors such as sun exposure, root density, and soil composition.

By staying vigilant and regularly assessing the soil moisture, you can ensure your trees receive the optimal amount of water, preventing them from becoming stressed or suffering from drought-related damage.

The Importance of Mulching

Applying 2 to 3 inches of mulch under the canopy of the tree can be highly beneficial during a drought. Mulch helps reduce moisture loss by creating a barrier that slows evaporation from the soil surface. It also protects the roots from the harsh effects of the dry conditions, insulating them and maintaining a more consistent soil temperature.

When applying mulch, be sure to keep it a few inches away from the tree’s trunk to prevent moisture buildup and potential fungal growth. Replenish the mulch layer as needed, as it can break down over time and lose its effectiveness.

In addition to conserving moisture, mulch can also improve soil structure, increase nutrient availability, and suppress weed growth, all of which can contribute to the overall health and resilience of your trees during a drought.

Water Conservation Strategies

To maximize the efficiency of your watering efforts and conserve water, consider the following strategies:

  1. Time of Day:
    • Water your trees in the morning or evening to reduce evaporation losses.
    • Watering during the hottest parts of the day can result in significant water waste due to increased evaporation.
  2. Watering Methods:
    • Use a hose, bubbler, or drip system instead of a sprinkler to reduce water waste.
    • Sprinklers tend to lose a significant amount of water to evaporation and can be less effective at delivering water directly to the tree’s roots.
  3. Soil Amendments:
    • Avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost to improve water availability and soil health.
    • Compost helps to retain moisture in the soil, reducing the frequency of watering required.
  4. Household Water Reuse:
    • Re-use shower, bath, or cooking water to water your trees.
    • This “gray water” can be a valuable resource for supplementing your tree’s water needs during a drought.

By implementing these water conservation strategies, you can ensure your trees receive the necessary moisture while minimizing water usage and reducing the strain on local water resources.

Adapting to Drought-Tolerant Species

If you’re planning to plant new trees or replace existing ones, consider drought-tolerant species. These trees are better equipped to withstand dry conditions and require less water to thrive. Some examples of drought-tolerant tree species include:

Tree SpeciesDrought Tolerance
Live OakHigh
Crape MyrtleHigh
Bald CypressModerate to High

Drought-tolerant trees have evolved adaptations that allow them to conserve water, such as deeper root systems, waxy leaves, or the ability to shed leaves during periods of extreme dryness. By choosing the right tree species for your climate and soil conditions, you can reduce the amount of water required and ensure your trees’ long-term survival during drought periods.

When selecting drought-tolerant trees, consider factors such as mature size, growth rate, sun exposure, and soil preferences to ensure they thrive in your specific landscape. Consulting with a local nursery or arborist can also help you make informed decisions about the best drought-resistant species for your area.

Monitoring Tree Health

Regularly monitoring the health of your trees is crucial during a drought. Look for signs of stress, such as:

  • Wilting or drooping leaves: This can indicate the tree is struggling to absorb enough moisture from the soil.
  • Discolored or curling leaves: Leaves may turn yellow, brown, or exhibit signs of scorching, indicating water stress.
  • Premature leaf drop: Trees under drought stress may shed their leaves prematurely in an effort to conserve resources.
  • Dieback of branches: Branches may start to die back, often starting from the tips and working inward.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s essential to adjust your watering practices accordingly and consider seeking the advice of a certified arborist. They can help you diagnose the issue, identify the underlying causes, and recommend the appropriate course of action to help your trees recover.

Regular monitoring also allows you to catch problems early before they become more severe and potentially irreversible. By staying vigilant and addressing any issues promptly, you can help your trees weather the drought and maintain their overall health and vigor.

Protecting Young and Newly Planted Trees

Young and newly planted trees are particularly vulnerable to drought conditions, as their root systems are not yet well-established. To ensure their survival, it’s crucial to provide them with extra attention and care. Consider the following tips:

  1. Frequent Watering:
    • Water young trees 2 times per week with 5 gallons of water per watering.
    • This consistent moisture supply is essential for the tree’s establishment and growth during the critical first few years.
  2. Mulch Application:
    • Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base of the tree, but avoid piling it against the trunk.
    • Mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and protect the roots from the harsh effects of the drought.
  3. Shade Protection:
    • Consider providing temporary shade or wind protection to reduce stress on the young tree.
    • This can be achieved by using shade cloths, burlap screens, or strategically placed structures.
  4. Staking and Guying:
    • Use stakes or guy wires to support the tree and prevent it from being uprooted by strong winds.
    • This helps the tree establish a strong root system and maintain stability during the drought.

By dedicating extra time and resources to your young and newly planted trees, you can help them establish a robust root system and increase their chances of surviving the drought, ultimately ensuring their long-term health and growth.

Seeking Professional Assistance

If you’re unsure about the best course of action for your trees during a drought, it’s always a good idea to consult with a certified arborist. Milwaukee Tree Care can assess the specific needs of your trees, provide personalized recommendations, and help you develop a comprehensive plan to ensure their long-term health and survival.

Arborists have extensive knowledge and experience in tree care, and they can offer valuable insights into the unique challenges your trees may be facing. They can help you identify any underlying issues, such as pests, diseases, or structural problems, and provide tailored solutions to address them.

Additionally, arborists can advise you on the most appropriate watering techniques, soil amendments, and other management practices to help your trees thrive during the drought. They may also recommend the use of specialized equipment, such as soil moisture sensors or deep root feeders, to optimize the delivery of water and nutrients to your trees.

By seeking professional assistance, you can gain confidence and peace of mind that you are taking the right steps to protect your trees and ensure their long-term resilience in the face of challenging drought conditions.


Keeping your trees thriving during a drought requires a multi-faceted approach that combines proper watering techniques, soil management, and water conservation strategies. By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can help your trees weather the dry conditions and emerge stronger and more resilient. Remember, the health of your trees is not only important for their aesthetic value but also for the overall ecosystem and the well-being of your community. With the right care and attention, you can ensure your trees continue to thrive, even in the face of challenging drought conditions.