Fall Water Your Trees

Earlier this summer we have received some excellent rains here in southeastern Nebraska, especially compared to many other parts of the state. The last 3-4 weeks have been relatively dry and also with some very hot temperatures. As we move forward into the fall and winter,  it is important to keep your trees well watered going into the winter.  The past couple of years has provided us with ample rain in most of the region for our landscape trees.   One  thing  that  is  very  important  is  to  make  sure  your  trees  have been  watered  well  going  into  the  winter  months  and  are  not  being  stressed  from  dry conditions.    Young  and  newly  planted  trees  (those  planted  within  the  last  3-years)  are  the most  susceptible.    They  do  not  have  the  extensive  root  system  of  established  trees  to  draw moisture  from  the  soil.    The extreme variability in temperatures we have had this spring and  cold temperatures in the previous winter is hard on trees and puts them under stress. When trees are under stress, there are more issues from insect pests and diseases.  The stress that is put on  trees  by  insects  and  diseases  makes  trees  more  susceptible  to  drought  stress.    While generally  healthy,  well  established  trees  will  not  be  affected  by  insects  or  a  short  term drought  for  that  matter,  watering  these  trees  will  not hurt.    You  can  water  these  trees  out to the drip line, the ground beneath the tree where the leaf canopy ends. How do  I  know  if  my  trees  need  watering?    Even  if  you  have  been  watering  your trees  on  a regular  basis  all summer,  they  still  will  need  a  good  soaking  this  fall headed  into the  winter  unless  we  receive  a  great  deal  of  natural  precipitation  (rain).    Trees  will benefit from a good soaking this fall.  If you can’t push a screwdriver in the ground around the tree, the  ground  needs  soaking.    For  newly  planted  trees, the Nebraska Forest Service recommends  soaking  the  soil  around  the  trees  about  an  hour  every week to 10 days.  For young landscape trees they recommends deep watering before the ground freezes  to  thoroughly  soak  the  soil.    Letting  a  garden  hose  run  for  several  hours  should provide  sufficient  water.   The Nebraska  Forest  Service recommends  applying  5  gallons  of  water  two  or  three  times  a  week  to  young  trees.    Deep watering  trees  this  fall  could  prevent  serious  injury  to  trees  this  winter  if  dry  conditions persist. If you haven’t done it, apply 4-6” of wood  chip  mulch  around  the  base  of  trees, especially the newly planted trees and then water the mulch.   It is also a good idea to water early in the morning which allows the tree to use the water during the day.  It is best to water slowly, but  deeply  for  newly  planted  trees.    This  helps  trees  develop  deeper  roots  making them more resistant to future drought stress. Winter is a difficult time for trees, so anything you can do to reduce the stress will be beneficial.    Throughout  the  winter  if  precipitation has  been  short,  deeply  water  trees  if  the ground isn’t frozen with a slow trickling hose or a slow running sprinkler left in place for a couple  of  hours.    Apply it slow enough that it can soak in and not run off. These are some tips that should help your trees make it through the winter in good shape. 

Gary Lesoing
Extension Educator
Nemaha County
September 2021