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University of Minnesota Extension

Watering established trees and shrubs

Quick facts

  • Water established trees and shrubs with overhead sprinklers.
  • Apply a deep watering over the entire root zone area until the top 6 to 9 inches of soil are moist.
  • Avoid light watering as this promotes shallow root systems that are susceptible to summer heat and drought stress.
  • Water early in the morning to minimize water loss due to evaporation and wind drift.
  • Mulching around the base of trees and shrubs helps them take in water and stay healthy.
mature maple trees next to a sidewalk with other plants and shrubs nearby

During periods of consistent rainfall, a well-sited and well-established tree or shrub will need little additional water. But during long periods without rainfall, established trees and shrubs can suffer or die without timely irrigation.

During periods of drought, you may need to water your trees and shrubs more often to ensure the health and survival of these long-lived plants.

How woody plants use water


How, when and how much to water

Figuring out how far a tree's roots spread helps to determine the area you need to water and how much water is needed for an individual tree. 



Mulching trees and shrubs maximizes water uptake and tree health.

When trees and shrubs are grown in turf, competition for nutrients, water and space occurs below ground between turf roots and woody plant roots. Turf wins because its dense fibrous root system prevents woody plants from producing water-absorbing roots in the top few inches of soil. As a result, woody plants grow more slowly in turf areas than in mulched or bare soil areas.


Reviewed in 2022

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