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Gardening & More: Thanks to the warm weather, it’s time to water those trees

PARCHED — These arborvitaes have been damaged by drought. Do not wait until your trees look like this, to take action. This year’s spring has been dry enough that you should already be watering your trees, especially the very young and old. Photo courtesy of The Tree Doctor.
SPRINGVILLE — During a hot, dry summer, you may be careful about watering your window boxes and tomato plants, but do you water your trees?

This spring has been dry enough that you should already have been watering your trees, especially the very young and very old.

“People should already be irrigating, this year,” said Jeremy Sayers, president of The Tree Doctor and a board-certified master arborist. “We’re averaging less rainfall than is considered normal and healthy, for trees.”

If it has been three days since a good, soaking rain, you should irrigate.

Sprinkler systems are fine for grass, but they are not great for trees, because they do not allow enough water to soak, deep into the soil.

Trees need moisture 4 inches below the sod. Not 4 inches from the top of the grass; 4 inches from the bottom of the grass roots. To provide your trees with deeper watering, remove your hose’s nozzle and run the water at moderate speed. Soak the root zone of the tree. You can also use a soaker hose.

To make sure you are watering effectively, dig a hole 4 inches below the sod. If the soil is damp, you are in good shape. If it is powdery and dry, you are not getting enough moisture into the soil, to help the trees.

Much of the water will be absorbed by the roots, at or beyond the drip line, not at the base of the trunk. A mature tree’s root system can spread out, one to three times the width of the canopy, so that is the most efficient area to water.

When you have newly-planted or young trees that have yet to attain much of a canopy, apply water closer to the trunk area. New trees need more water than established trees. As the tree matures and the canopy spreads, widen the watering area. Once a tree is established, reduce the watering frequency.

Fertilizing can help a drought-stressed tree, but read up on fertilizers, before purchasing. You do not want a high-nitrogen fertilizer that will encourage leaf growth. A fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphorous will stimulate root growth.

The Tree Doctor has a new kind of fertilizer, which was developed especially for drought-stressed trees. It helps the trees bounce back, if they have already been damaged, and makes them more tolerant to drought.

This fertilizer must be applied by the company’s professionals, but it is not as expensive as lawn fertilizing treatments. It costs $5 – $50, depending on the size of the tree. Trees are expensive plants, so this is a good investment. The fertilizer can be applied through mid-June, or in the fall.

A tree can show you that it is thirsty, but the tree may be suffering from drought stress, without showing any symptoms at all. The tree can live off stored energy and look fine, but the tree may fail, one or two years down the road.

Symptoms of drought stress include curling leaves, leaves with burnt edges, wilting leaves and premature dropping of leaves, especially interior leaves.

These symptoms could be signs of other problems, such as insect damage. That could be tied back to drought stress, too, because drought stress can leave trees more vulnerable to insect damage.

Contact Sayers at The Tree Doctor, if your tree is showing symptoms of drought stress or disease. You should begin watering your trees, before they appear to have problems.

“You can hire the greatest arborist in the world, but all that money goes right out the window, if you don’t tend to the tree’s water needs,” Sayers said. “It’s like a person. You can give them the greatest medicine, but it’s not going to help, if they’re not drinking fluids.”

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email

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