Proper Watering and Care of Newly
Has your water bill reached astronomical proportions?
Maybe by evaluating how you water will result in more efficiently
using available water, and at the same time, reduce the amount
you are using.
First, check your application methods. There
is no use in applying water any faster than the soil will
soak it up. If applied faster than this, the surplus either
flows into the street or else floods your neighbor. Sandy
soil will usually absorb water almost as fast as it can be
applied, but tight, clay soils will absorb water very slowly.
Select the method of application that best fits your soil
type. Drip irrigation systems for shrubs make the most efficient
use of water for beds.
Second, use mulch wherever possible. A good
mulch of grass clippings, pine bark or dry leaves conserves
moisture, prevents compaction, keeps soil temperature lower
and reduces weed population. In case weeds and grass do get
a start, they are much easier to pull if mulch has been used.
Periodically, check the depth of the mulch material. Organic
mulches tend to decompose or sometimes wash away, so frequent
checks and replacement when necessary will help conserve moisture.
While night-time watering can be conducive
to development of plant diseases, watering is most efficient
in the early morning and late evening when evaporation rates
Last, but by no means least, is the practice
of doing a thorough job of watering each time it becomes necessary
to irrigate. A thorough watering at 7 to 10-day intervals
encourages deep root penetration and full utilization of the
available soil moisture. Just because plants happen to wilt
during the heat of the day doesn't mean the soil is dry. If
plants remain wilted until morning, then the addition of water
Regardless of the amount of your water bill,
don't stop watering completely as plants can die due to moisture
shortage during periods of high temperature and high wind
movement. Just remember to use this precious resource as efficiently
One of the best uses of a valuable resource
like water is to insure the survival of recently established
plants. Summer is a critical period for recently planted shade
trees and ornamental plants. Not yet completely recovered
from the effects of transplanting, they often need special
care to withstand drought conditions.
Water is the primary need of a recently established
plant. Hot summer days and drying winds take a great deal
of moisture from the leaves and stems. This water must be
replaced through root absorption of soil water. When transplanting
a balled-and-burlapped tree (roots of container grown trees
and shrubs are not removed), most of its wide-spreading, deep-growing
roots are cut. In its new location, the only water that a
newly established tree can utilize is the water in the soil
close that is to the tree. If this soil area becomes dry,
the leaves wilt, turn brown and drop. The death of many branches
or even the entire tree or shrub can follow.
For trees planted within the past year, it
is wise to water at regular intervals. IF the soil is sandy,
water once a week. If it is clay or loam, thorough watering
every 10 days or 2 weeks should suffice. Using an open-end
hose, regulate the water flow so there is no run-off, and
let it flow until the soil around the tree is saturated.
It is also extremely important to control insects.
Since even a few insects can cause severe damage to a newly
planted tree, control measures should be applied promptly
when insects are found. Applications of appropriate insecticides,
following label instructions, are useful in controlling pests.
Once the tree is established, promote steady vigorous growth
of the tree through proper use of fertilizer. If the tree
or shrub was worth planting, it is certainly worth the little
extra effort required to keep it in good growing condition.
Planting Instructions for the Newly Planted
The fact that thousands of trees die unnecessarily
each year is very disturbing. After shelling out hard-earned
cash and going to all the effort of digging and planting,
many new tree owners then throw the ball game by failing to
give proper post-planting care (pruning, mulching, fertilizing
We'll assume you've just planted, in good soil,
an outstanding, well-adapted species such as Texas mountain
laurel, Chinese pistache or cedar elm, and have avoided the
common trap of the so-called fast-growing but very troublesome
trees (those that are either poorly-adapted or subject to
many insect and disease problems - examples such as Arizona
ash, sycamore and chinaberry are but a few).
Now what are you supposed to do? What steps
should you take to ensure your tree survives, re-establishes
its root system and grows to be a beautiful specimen- Here's
a hint—the first life-saving step involves pruning.
Your main objective with a brand new tree or
shrub is to get it stabilized, keep it from going into severe
transplant shock, until it can send new feeder roots into
the surrounding soil and thus re-establish a viable, functioning
Your biggest threat to survival at this point
is that many times the top of your plant will transpire or
lose water vapor faster than the new, often severely injured
root system can absorb it ? regardless of how much moisture
is in the soil. You simply don't have enough functioning roots
to absorb the required amount of water. If this happens, the
leaves wilt and drop and the plant eventually dies if corrective
steps are not taken. The hotter, drier and windier is the
weather, the worse the problem.
To prevent this excessive water loss from the
top, prune it back to bring it more into balance with the
damaged root system. Ideally, this pruning would have been
done the same day you planted. It may also need to be done
right now for trees planted this spring that are just now
starting to wilt and/or scorch on the edges of the leaves.
Remove l/3 to l/2 of the top from bare-root trees, as their
roots are severely damaged during digging prior to shipment.
Balled-and-burlapped (B&B) and container-grown trees are
not subjected to such extensive root damage and thus transplant
much easier. But even with B&B and container stock, I
find that removal of about l/4 of the top aids in re-establishment,
particularly during hot, dry weather.
In unusual cases, like planting during the
middle of the summer, pruning and providing some form of temporary
shade and wind protection, as well as misting their canopies
several times daily, helps newly planted trees and shrubs
a great deal.
You also need to mulch immediately after planting.
Use grass clippings, leaves, straw, hay, compost, etc., to
mulch a circle 4 feet in diameter, 4 inches thick. Replenish
as required for the next 3 years.
This mulch will promote root growth, during
both summer and winter, by moderating soil temperature (root
growth slows in extremely cold or hot soils), conserving moisture,
and reducing soil crusting after watering. One very important
advantage of mulching is that it reduces grass and weed competition
- letting grass grow right around new plants severely stunts
Be aware of this important fact: Many container-grown
trees and shrubs are now grown in artificial or soil-less
mixes (peat moss, pine bark and sand are the major components)
that do a super job in wholesale nursery operations. But,
they do need to be handled differently than plants grown in
mixes containing actual soil.
First, they must be watered differently. The
soil-less root ball may dry out rapidly even though the backfill
or surrounding soil may be wet. This is a greater problem
in windy weather, either winter or summer. When watering a
recently planted tree or shrub, water slowly at the plant
trunk to wet the root ball. You may have to water weekly,
or even more often, if significant rainfall is not received.
Nutrition in soil-less growing media is often
exhausted before the tree or shrub is transplanted. So you
should fertilize at the time of planting (this is definitely
a change from tradition but one well-founded by research data).
Use about 3 tablespoons of a complete fertilizer(19-5-9 slow-release)
for each gallon of container capacity (Example: 15 level tablespoons
for a 5-gallon container). Approximately 1/3 of this fertilizer
should be mixed with the fill soil and the remainder spread
evenly around the planted tree or shrub and watered thoroughly.
Then, at monthly intervals through September,
side-dress the plant with 1 teaspoon of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0)
per gallon of container capacity. Scatter fertilizer evenly
over the soil surface around the newly planted tree or shrub
and water in thoroughly. Don't let fertilizer contact plant
stems or trunks.
This new system of plant care will yield amazing
results in terms of improved survival, root re-establishment
and overall plant growth. But it will work only if you mulch
well and water religiously. If you don't water often enough,
the roots of your plants may suffer fertilizer "burn."
Use this system correctly and you'll have the
finest, fastest growing new trees of their type in the neighborhood.