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Caring for trees in dry weather

Man holding garden hose with water spraying out

As of July 1 2021, approximately 80% of Minnesota is experiencing at least a moderate drought. Severe drought conditions are prevalent in several western and southern Minnesota counties. Coupled with the month of June 2021 being the second hottest on record in Minnesota, trees are facing difficult conditions to survive and thrive.    

Homeowners and woodland owners can ensure that trees survive through dry periods by watering them. However, it is important to be strategic in how much and how often you water trees. 

Established trees can better withstand dry periods than newly planted trees. More developed roots on established trees allow them to reach greater depths for moisture in the soil. If the top nine inches of the soil are dry near established trees, you can use an overhead sprinkler to water them. Be sure to cover the spread of the tree roots when watering.

Newly planted trees and shrubs require more frequent watering than established ones. This is ideally a weekly watering schedule for seedlings that may have been planted in the spring of this year. 

Here are a few tips on watering newly planted trees in dry weather.

  1. First, understand how moist the soil is around your seedlings. Inspect the soil in an area near the tree by digging down approximately nine inches into the soil. Even in extended dry periods, water may be available in rooting zones this far into the soil.
  2. Remove weeds around the tree. Weeds compete with the tree for moisture. 
  3. Mulch around the tree with wood chips to reduce weeds. Mulching helps to keep soil temperatures low and retain soil moisture.  
  4. Ensure that newly planted trees receive 20 gallons of water a week for the first three to five years. When watering, do so in a way that allows the water to penetrate and wet the soil to below the existing root depth. There is no need to water if it’s rained more than one inch in the last week. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a great video with tips on how to water newly-planted trees:

  5. Don’t overwater. Frequent watering can create trees with shallow roots. Trees will be less able to survive when you stop watering and the soil dries out.

For more details on watering trees, see Extension’s Water Wisely webpage to learn how to keep trees and plants healthy.

Matt Russell,  Extension forestry specialist

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