July 2020 – Selecting & Planting The Right Trees – Part 9

Drip and soaker hoses. Using drip and soaker hoses are popular ways to keep water close to the ground for more efficient irrigation. On newly planted trees, soaker hoses or drip lines work well when arranged on the soil surface around the outer edge of each tree’s root ball.

Several drip lines or soaker hoses may be necessary for keeping a larger tree alive. Arrange the drip lines or soaker hoses starting halfway between the tree’s dripline and the trunk then continue spreading them beyond the tree’s dripline.

How far apart to position the lines or hoses will be determined by the soil and the distance the water moves laterally. Clay soils allow water to spread out, while in sandy or gravelly soils water tends to go straight down without much spread.

Drip and soaker hose irrigation methods are difficult to use with established large trees as part of the existing root system may be in the neighbor’s yard, and often the tree is surrounded by lawn which will need mowing. Consequently, this type of irrigation equipment is best kept in beds and out of the lawn. It is not advisable to try to convert trees that have been under a flood or sprinkler irrigation system to a drip system due to the trees’ extensive root systems.

July 2020 – Selecting & Planting The Right Trees – Part 8

Depending solely on an automated sprinkler clock to time irrigations can become an unreliable or wasteful method of watering, especially when the weather changes, bringing very hot, windy, or rainy days. Furthermore, since most clocks are set to run at night, clogged sprinkler heads, underground line breaks, or head blockages due to plant growth can be overlooked for long periods, resulting in major plant damage and water loss before the problem is noticed. Occasionally, turning the sprinkler system on during the day to check for breaks and head blockages is a good idea that may help avoid costly surprises.

Some homeowners successfully use garden hoses with attached sprinklers that they drag around the landscape. Although very time consuming, this method of irrigating is efficient in so far as water is applied only where and when it is needed. An extra benefit to this method is that the homeowner is keeping a close watch on the landscape and is no doubt aware of developing problems and can address them in a timely fashion.

Flood. Allowing enough time between irrigations for oxygen to refill soil pores encourages healthy root growth. Flood irrigation of a yard does this, as it applies an ample amount of water to the entire landscape. This method is by far the best for tree health. Unfortunately, few homeowners in subdivisions have water rights allowing them to draw from an irrigation ditch nor are their yards correctly graded and equipped for successful flood irrigation.

July 2020 – Selecting & Planting The Right Trees – Part 7

The root system of a tree changes with age. A young, newly planted tree has a limited root system that is localized around the root ball. At this stage, irrigation is best concentrated close to the trunk and slightly beyond the root ball to encourage roots to move out into the surrounding soil.

As a tree grows, the area of watering should expand. Irrigate established trees starting halfway between the trunk and the dripline and extending well beyond the dripline. In the case of very large shade trees, the entire yard may need to be watered.

Whenever possible in landscapes, plants should be zoned or grouped during planting according to similar water requirements to help make irrigation more efficient. Setting up the irrigation system to water beds separately from the lawn may be a common practice, but trees develop extensive root systems that underlie lawns as well as shrub or flower beds. As a result, it becomes difficult to water only the lawn or just the flower beds without also watering a portion of a nearby tree’s root system.

Methods of irrigation

Sprinkler. Sprinkler irrigation is the most common form of watering for homeowners and is often automated using a clock or timer. However, irrigation schedules designed for lawns are not adequate for trees. To avoid chronic water stress, trees must be watered deeply and infrequently, yet only certain grasses like turf-type tall fescue and the warm-season grasses (zoysia and buffalograss) will live under that type of regime.

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