How To Care For Landscape Trees During Drought Conditions

Growing landscape trees is a challenge during drought conditions. The increased lack of rain and water use restrictions, creates dry soil, and places added stress on trees. But, you can extend the life span of your trees by recognizing the signs of drought stress, and properly caring for them during drought conditions.

The Signs of "Drought Stress"

Symptoms of drought injury can occur suddenly, such as wilting and falling leaves, or take years to appear, such as stunted growth. Pay attention to your tree's appearance and learn the signs of stress for your particular tree species.

  • It can be difficult to notice when leaves start to wilt in mature trees, because wilting tends to begin in the upper canopy leaves. Therefore, be sure to pay attention to the appearance of falling leaves. If they're curled, scorched, or brown between the veins, your tree is likely suffering from drought injury.
  • Evergreen needles may turn yellow, purple, or red. They may also brown at the tips.
  • Leaves may be relatively small and take longer to leaf out.
  • Insect infestation may also signal drought stress. Drought stressed trees are in a weakened state, and are therefore more susceptible to insect infestations and damage.

How to Water Your Trees

Watering trees can be tricky during drought, especially when restrictions are put in place. Proper watering techniques will maximize the effectiveness of limited waterings.

  • Trees absorb water through their roots. Be sure to water the roots slowly, and deeply, within the drip line, and get the water down to at least 12 inches deep. Watering at shallow depths only encourages shallow rooting, which can lead to further damage.
  • Use a soaker hose to water your trees to ensure every drop of precious water gets to your trees' roots.
  • Don't water the trunk if the tree is more than five years old.
  • Watering leaves creates an environment ripe for disease. Just don't do it.
  • Make sure your trees receive enough water during waterings. Use about ten gallons of water for each inch of trunk diameter at knee height. Multiple the total diameter by five minutes to get the recommended watering time.

How to Save Your Trees During Water Restrictions

These simple rules will help protect your investment during extreme drought conditions.

  • Wield the power of mulch. Spread a two to four inch layer of wood chips on the bare ground surrounding the tree. Keep the mulch six inches from the tree trunk. The mulch will reduce water evaporation, insulate the roots, and encourage microorganisms beneficial to the tree's health.
  • Don't over-fertilize your trees, which can burn roots when water is scarce. Excessive fertilizer can also stimulate top growth, resulting in too much leaf area for the root system to maintain.
  • Avoid heavy pruning which causes added stress, and prevents trees from making food and properly absorbing water.

Though water use restrictions may reduce the days and amount of time you can water, by following these tree care tips, you should be able to help your landscape trees survive present drought conditions.