The Plant Man column
for publication week of 06/12/05 - 06/18/05
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Your young trees will need TLC and water this summer
As spring turns to summer, your trees could need some special TLC.
Young, newly-planted trees require attention like newborn infants, but
don't overlook the needs of your mature trees either.
In many parts of the country, a summer drought is something gardeners
and landscapers have come to expect, and even a mild drought can have a
detrimental effect on young trees.
How much water does a young tree need? A good rule of thumb is the
equivalent of about one inch of rainfall a week. If you don't own a
rain gage, local news sources often provide information about current
rainfall conditions, and you can compensate for shortfalls simply by
You might be surprised to know how much water you will need to provide.
A brief sprinkle isn't going to cut it!
Landscapers use the term "caliper" when describing the size of
trees, particularly young ones. The caliper of your tree is the
diameter of the trunk close to the base. If you have a tree with a one
inch or two inch caliper, it will need approximately ten gallons of
water per week. That amount of water comes as a surprise to many
Dumping ten gallons of water around your tree all at once is definitely
NOT the way to go. The water needs to be applied slowly, the way
Nature would do it. I found an excellent tip online, provided by Jay
Banks, the town arborist in Leesburg, VA. You can read the entire
article on tree care at this Web site:
http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/greenline/98v3/gl9807.03.html or go to my
Web site www.landsteward.org and you can easily click on a live link
when you find this column under The Plant Man heading.
Jay has this suggestion: Find a five-gallon bucket and punch a very
small hole (1/8" or less) in the bottom. Put the bucket next to the
tree. Fill the bucket with water and simply leave it for gravity to do
its work. For the sake of safety, remember to cover the bucket if there
is a risk that small children or animals might fall in. When the
bucket is empty, you move it to the other side of the tree and repeat
As with your shrubs and flowers, watering trees in the early morning or
late evening will help reduce loss through evaporation.
Is it possible to over-water a young tree? The answer is certainly YES.
You might see the leaves of your new tree begin to droop in the midday
heat, but resist the urge to turn on the faucet. As the day cools
down, the leaves should begin to perk up. If the tree has sufficient
water resources the leaves should return to normal in the cool of the
Check the leaves in the evening, then again in the early morning. Only
then, if the leaves still seem droopy and listless, should you
A good way to reduce evaporation and to protect the root system of
young trees is to add a layer of mulch. You'll find that cypress or
hardwood mulch tends to last longer than pine mulch. Spread a layer
about 3" deep around your new tree. Extend the mulch wide enough to
cover the entire root system, but pull it back slightly from the base
of the trunk to prevent the possibility of rot.
Which trees are best suited to your landscaping needs and your growing
zone? If you e-mail some basic information to me about your specific
situation, I'll respond with some suggestions. You can reach me at
The first summer is the most challenging for your new young tree. Apply
some TLC in the next few months and you'll enjoy it for years to
Mature trees have watering needs, too. In my next column, I'll
review some tips for keeping established trees lush and green.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org