Trees in the desert are amazing. Native varieties are able to withstand drought conditions, microbursts, monsoon winds and rains, a variety of wildlife, and more. They not only survive, but thrive enough to produce incredible blooms, abundant foliage, and seeds and fruit for animal or even human consumption.
Trees planted in the Phoenix and Anthem areas, however, need some assistance to get to the point of thriving, especially for the first few years after they are planted or transplanted.
In this article, you’ll learn how to water your young desert trees, a vital step to help your newly planted trees grow and thrive. We will cover:
- Proper watering methods, including what to use and how much water to give to your tree
- How long to water after planting
- How mulch can help or hurt young trees, depending on how it is applied
- And more
Why You Should Water Young Trees
Trees have amazing resources underground that we rarely get to see. The roots spread far, allowing the tree to receive not only water but also nutrients and oxygen. The root system also helps a tree to stay upright during particularly windy conditions.
A young or newly-planted tree doesn’t yet have that root system though, so it needs some supplemental water to help it grow.
Trees are most likely to die during the first 3 years after being planted. While some of that has to do with proper planting, much of it is because a tree is planted and then forgotten about.
If you need a refresher on proper planting techniques, check out these articles:
- Choose and Plant the Right Tree for Your Phoenix-Area Home
- How Deep Should You Plant a Tree?
- How Wide Should the Hole Be When Planting a Tree?
- How and When to Stake a Tree in Your Desert Landscape
- Most New Trees Don’t Need Support: What’s at Stake
Ensuring that your young trees have sufficient (but not too much!) water is one of the best things you can do to guarantee their survival.
What Does it Mean for a Tree to be “Established”?
Conventional wisdom says that you should water your tree until it is established. But what does that mean? In general terms, it means that the tree has settled into its new location, has created a sustainable root system, and is producing healthy new growth.
Trees are generally considered “well established” three years after planting. After that point, a tree will need minimal care and just ongoing maintenance such as watering during droughts or regular pruning.
Now that we’ve determined why you should water young trees and for how long, let’s get into the specifics of watering.
Which Watering Tools to Use
What you use to water your young trees doesn’t have to be complicated. You can use:
- A garden hose
- A bucket or other container
- A soaker hose
We don’t recommend using irrigation unless you set it to water slowly and deeply at the tree’s drip line, ideally in more than one spot. Lawn irrigation, especially, is programmed to only water the surface and shallow roots of turf grass. Sprinklers don’t work for watering trees either, as most of the water is lost to evaporation and water ends up on the leaves or trunk of the tree, rather than reaching the roots.
If you’re watering with a garden hose, set the water to slowly trickle from the end. Place the hose so the water reaches the drip line. Move the hose several times to ensure that water soaks into the soil all around the circumference of the tree. You may want to set a timer for a specific amount of time (such as an hour or two) and move the hose several times during that time.
Watering with a soaker hose is a bit easier, as water will drip from several spots in the hose. Lay the hose around the tree’s drip line and turn the water on. You may have to keep the drip hose on for longer, as less water is released than from a regular garden hose. Check for your tree’s specific needs and the amount of water that the soaker hose releases.
If you are using a bucket, watering can, or other container to water your trees, you may want to create a berm or basin to contain the water. While using a container can help you ensure the right amount of water is being given to your tree, you will have to wait for the water to fully drain into the soil before adding more.
Where to Water
Trees should always be watered at the drip line, not at the trunk. You want to encourage the roots to branch out, and watering at the trunk will tell the roots to double back to the trunk, which can cause girdling roots or even root rot.
The drip line is the edge of the tree’s canopy, or where the branches and leaves end. This edge of the tree is where rainwater would naturally drip off the tree.
When a tree is very young, you might also create a basin (almost like a moat) around the tree. This helps the water stay in the spot where you want the water to go, especially if you’re watering using a bucket or other container.
As you continue watering for two years, you’ll need to gradually widen the circle where you water. You want to move out from the tree as the roots spread. As the tree grows, the roots will spread to the edge of the tree canopy and beyond. Water where the drip line is for the best results.
How Often to Water
When a tree has just been planted, it will need extra water.
For the first two weeks, water every two days.
For the next two weeks, water every three days.
For the two weeks after that, water every four days.
Follow this pattern until you are watering your tree around once a week or once every 10 days, depending on the time of year. If your tree goes dormant during the winter months, it may require less water then.
Don’t forget to adjust if your tree receives enough rainfall during that time! Overwatering can do just as much harm as underwatering.
How Much to Water
The amount of water is not as important as making sure the water reaches the correct place. If you are watering slowly, using trickling water from a garden hose or using a soaker hose, you’ll probably want to water for about 2 hours.
Ensure that water is reaching the rootball by digging down or by skewering the ground to check for moisture.
It’s important to know what kind of soil is on your property, as that can impact how fast the water drains.
If your soil has a lot of clay, it will drain slower, while if your soil is sandy, it will drain quickly.
With soil clay, you’ll need to water less to prevent overwatering, but sandy soil generally requires more water.
To find out what kind of soil is in your yard, you can test your soil using a mason jar.
Remember that if there is any caliche in your soil, you may have to create a way for water to escape from the soil so that you don’t drown your tree. Learn more in our article on caliche.
The Importance of Organic Mulch
Hopefully, mulch was correctly applied when the tree was planted, but if it wasn’t, apply some organic mulch no more than 2-3 inches thick around the base of your tree, being careful to avoid getting too close to the tree’s trunk.
Organic mulch will prevent some of the moisture from evaporating as you water your tree. It will also regulate the temperature around your tree and, as the mulch decomposes, add nutrients to the soil.
Watering Established Trees
If your tree was planted more than two years ago and was properly watered and cared for during that time, you can taper off the regular watering.
However, your trees may still need supplemental watering from time to time, including during times of drought or if your tree is suffering from anything else that may cause the tree stress.
How Trees Help You Save Water
While it may seem like a lot of water is being dedicated to your young trees in their first few years, the investment now will pay off later. Our desert trees can withstand many adverse conditions that trees native to other areas would not be able to survive. Watering your newly planted trees for an hour or so each week for the first few years will help them grow and acclimate and should give them a great start to their life on your property.
If you water your trees correctly, the amount of water you use shouldn’t add up to much, and you’ll notice that your water bill barely changes. Just ensure that you’re not wasting any water to evaporation or to watering the trunk or leaves rather than the tree’s roots.
In the long run, planting desert trees are worth the water it takes to give them a good start.
For more information, check out:
And if you have any questions about your trees and how to properly water them, contact the professionals at Titan Tree Care.