water on leavesWe’re often asked for details on watering trees. How often should you water them? How much water do trees need? How do you ensure your trees get enough water?

The answers depend on several factors, including these three –

  • How long it’s been since the tree was planted
  • Soil conditions around the tree
  • Recent weather conditions

How do soil conditions affect tree watering?


Knowing what type of soil you have will help you determine how much water is needed

How often and how much water you give a tree depends on the type of soil it’s planted in.

Soil with a high clay content will hold more water and drain slowly. Trees generally need to be watered less often in this situation; overwatering can lead to root rot and other problems.

In contrast, sandy soil drains very quickly and doesn’t retain moisture. A tree planted in sandy soil will require more frequent and/or longer watering.

In the Dayton area, we mostly have clay-based, alkaline soils that don’t drain well. However, there can be regional differences so it’s worth taking a close look at your soil before deciding on a watering regimen. One easy way to do that is with a “mason jar soil test“.

How should I water a recently planted a tree?

Planting a tree on your property is an exciting step. You not only get to watch it grow over the years, but soon you’ll be reaping the benefits that trees provide, such as shade in the summer or a windbreak in the winter, decreased stress levels, a higher property value, and more!

Here’s what you need to know: if your tree survives the first two years after being planted, it has a better chance of thriving over the long term. That means a newly-planted tree needs a little extra TLC during the first few years, which mostly involves watering, mulching, and keeping an eye out for any issues.

Aside from watering your tree, there are a few other things to do after a tree has been planted.

  • First, ensure that the tree is planted correctly (we share details in this article). If you can’t see the root flare (the very top of the roots), remove soil from around the trunk until you can.
  • Add 2 – 4 inches of organic mulch to help moderate temperatures and to retain moisture. Add a flat layer of mulch out to the drip line (usually a 3 to 4-foot circle for new trees) but make sure that it is several inches away from the base of the trunk. It’s tempting to add a thick layer of mulch but more is not better. And avoid mulch “volcanoes” at all costs.
  • Check for any noticeable signs of stress, disease, or broken branches. If you’re not sure what something is, send us a picture for a diagnosis.
mulch volcanoes

This is a perfect example of what is referred to as a “mulch volcano,” where the mulch is piled up against the tree. Don’t do this.

Watering Instructions for Newly-Planted Trees

  • Water slowly and deeply. A sprinkler or lawn irrigation system is not going to do this. Not only does it waste water through evaporation, it also puts water where it’s not needed (like the leaves, as well as too far from the roots).
  • Place a garden hose or a soaker hose near the base of the tree (where the edge of the rootball is, not right up against the trunk) and ensure a slow trickle of water reaches the roots for 2 hours.
  • When you first do this, dig down to the rootball to see if the water is reaching it. Depending on your soil type, you may need to adjust the length of time you let the hose run.
  • Do this every 7 to 10 days from June to October. If the ground is saturated from recent rainfall, skip the watering until the ground is dry.
garden hose watering tree

A garden hose on slow drip can be used to water newly-planted trees

What should I do if my tree isn’t new but was planted in the last two years?

Note: If your tree was purchased and planted by Arbor Experts and it did not survive the first year, contact us.

  • If your tree was staked, remove the stake after the first year. Here’s why that’s important.
  • Replace the mulch, if needed, and widen the area it covers as the roots will have grown outward.
  • Continue inspecting your tree for any signs of disease or pests. The sooner it is caught, the faster we can treat it. Here are some of the most common insect and disease problems in the Dayton area.

Watering Instructions for a Tree Planted Within the Last 2 Years

  • Continue watering the tree as above but move the hose further out to encourage root growth. As the tree grows, roots will spread at least as far as the edge of the tree canopy. That’s where the hose should be placed.
  • Dig down about 24 inches to make sure water reaches that depth. If not, water for longer each time.

How should I water a tree that was planted more than two years ago?

After the first two years, your tree is considered to be “established” and should be able to survive on natural rainfall (unless it’s unusually hot and dry – see below for details). If it’s planted in or near your lawn, it will get more than enough water from lawn irrigation. Likewise, if it’s near a garden bed that’s regularly watered, the tree will draw moisture from that.

A layer of organic mulch will always be helpful for your tree. Just remember that the roots will continue growing outward so you should widen the circle of mulch each year to keep the roots covered.

What additional steps should I take if we haven’t had rain for a while?

browning leaves from dry weather in Dayton, Ohio

Browning on leaf edges caused by lack of water.

During periods of drought or unusually hot, dry weather, it’s even more important to keep young trees well hydrated. If you see them wilting or leaf edges turning brown, increase the frequency of watering.

Extended periods without rain aren’t unusual during summer and an established tree should be able to cope with the lack of moisture – at least for a while. But if the drought continues, even they will need supplemental water.

If the dry spell occurs in autumn, ensure that your trees (even your mature trees!) have enough moisture to sustain them through the winter months. This may mean increasing the frequency of watering to prevent stress caused by lack of water.

If the drought has been happening for several months, you may also want to add supplemental watering throughout the winter. When doing this, be sure that the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and that there is no snow cover.

Because mulch retains moisture, it’s even more important to keep a good layer over tree roots during periods when there is not much rainfall. Ensure that your trees have 2-4 inches of organic mulch in a flat layer. Again, make sure the mulch is not touching the trunk of your tree.

In Summary

Monitoring the health of your tree and keeping up with routine maintenance, such as proper pruning and arborist inspections, will help to keep your tree healthy and strong for a long time. But without proper watering, a tree isn’t likely to survive.

Contact us if you have any questions about watering your trees or if you’d like to schedule a professional inspection for your trees.