July 2020 – Selecting & Planting The Right Trees – Part 12

Cycle watering. Another gardening recommendation is to water intermittently — sometimes called “cycle watering.” Intermittent watering is a method whereby water is applied twice or more in one day to the same area, thus allowing time between irrigations for the water to penetrate deeper into the soil. This method works especially well on slopes or compacted soils where water has a tendency to run off. To mimic flood irrigation using the intermittent system, plan to water to a minimum depth of 12 inches with however many cycles it takes, without allowing water to run off. Once the 12-inch depth is reached, do not water again for a week. A soil probe will be useful for checking moisture depth.

Because there are site variables like soil texture and structure, slope, compaction, tree spacing and plant competition, and different irrigation systems to consider, it is difficult to give one recommendation that fits all situations. Therefore, any recommendations given in this publication are strictly suggestions. Combining timed irrigations, regular observations of your trees and other landscape plants, and checks of soil moisture through probing (discussed below) will provide a more complete picture regarding water requirements for keeping your landscape healthy.

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July 2020 – Selecting & Planting The Right Trees – Part 11

Watering deeply once every month may work for some trees, but it might not be frequent enough for other landscape plants. Consequently, a compromise needs to be reached when recommendations are made for watering trees in landscapes.

How much water to apply? Rules of thumb. Homeowners often use rules of thumb or time-honored gardening recommendations when irrigating landscapes. “Water a tree with 2 inches of water per week” is a commonly heard rule of thumb. This suggestion is useful, but only if you add the words “over the entire tree’s root system.”

It is also important to note that during the growing season, the tree’s need for water is determined by the weather, with the highest amount of water (2 inches per irrigation) being needed during the heat of summer. Less than an inch of water will be needed during cool or wet conditions such as early spring or late fall. Suggested minimum watering requirements for specific trees appear in the table on pages 6 and 7.

Seasonal and weather-related effects on watering. The amount of water applied should fluctuate with time of year and weather conditions. All too frequently, however, irrigation settings are timed to apply small amounts of water several times per week. This shallow watering may keep turf alive, but longer periods of watering with larger amounts of water are usually necessary for water to penetrate deeper into the soil profile to reach tree roots. The goal for tree watering is to irrigate to a depth of 12 to 15 inches with however much water it takes. Deep watering helps roots develop to a proper depth to promote better drought tolerance in the future.

July 2020 – Selecting & Planting The Right Trees – Part 10

Timing of irrigation

Morning watering. Irrigating in the early morning limits evaporative water loss. Irrigating early in the morning before sunrise, instead of late in the evening, is also considered best for reducing the risk of disease since plants will dry off during the day and not remain wet and surrounded by high humidity all night long.

Watering evergreens. We usually think of watering in summer, but lack of water in winter can be destructive to evergreen trees and shrubs since they do not lose their leaves in the fall like deciduous trees. Evergreens will continue to lose moisture from their needles or leaves (on broadleaf evergreens) all winter long, especially on the sunny southern side and windward side of the landscape. Consequently, watering late into the fall will benefit evergreens. Taking the time to water during a January thaw may also help reduce the foliage drying that often shows up in spring.

Frequency of watering. Tree selection and size will determine the frequency of irrigations. For example, for the first 3 years after planting, new trees (even water-thrifty ones) will need to be irrigated weekly to encourage the development of healthy root systems, while an established tree may thrive with a deep irrigation every other week. In addition, a high or moderate water-use tree with a 2-inch diameter trunk may need an application of water every 2 weeks, while a low water-use or xeric tree with the same trunk diameter may need an application only once a month.

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