Should you water your trees?

Probably, yes, but you'll want to do it right.


BROOKINGS — Readers call and write with all sorts of comments and concerns, gripes and the occasional plaudit.

And every once in a while, there's a really good question.

So it came to pass that I answered the office line last week and heard the voice on the other end say, “With how dry it’s been since last summer, should we be watering our trees?”

I couldn’t say for sure, but I said I would find out. And so I did.

The answer is yes.

Well. Actually. Like so many other things in life, the answer is…



If you do it correctly.

John Ball, SDSU Extension forestry specialist, explained the best time to water your trees is in the fall — especially after the dry summer we had.

But just as the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time to water — or plant — a tree is now.

“First, it just has been very dry. It was a dry summer and it’s been a dry winter. The best time to water was last September or October. But it’s still likely a good idea to water this spring,” Ball said.

But he did have a few caveats. 

First, homeowners only need to water smaller trees. Anything bigger than 6-7 feet is likely on its own. If you’re already irrigating your lawn regularly, you’re probably OK, too. And the biggest one — the ground and the tree’s trunk need to be thawed to see any benefit.

“We are likely to get a cold snap at some point in March,” Ball said. “If your soil has thawed, and thawed down a good foot. If it’s still frozen you’ll just be wasting water. So if you water one and you see it puddle, you know you’re not doing any good. But if the ground is soft it will be a little beneficial. You’ll just be trying to keep them a little hydrated.”

Watering a tree, for those who have never done it, works about like you’d imagine. Turn on the hose and stand near the tree and soak the soil around the trunk, out as far as the canopy. Give it a good soak, for 5-10 minutes. 

Ball said he expects to see plenty of trees — particularly silver maples — with dead tops this spring due to the dry conditions over the past year. And, in addition to a spring soak, he urged folks to remember to give their trees a long drink before they go dormant again next fall.

Ryan Burggraff, who is the forestry supervisor in Brookings, echoed much of Ball’s suggestions. 

Burggraff, who has been with the city forestry department for over 10 years and is a certified arborist, said the city plants between 250-300 new trees on boulevards every year — and many more in parks.

“The Brookings Forestry Department would greatly appreciate it if homeowners watered their new plantings,” he said. The city attempts to water each one each spring — they typically plant in the fall — but they are obviously busy during that time of year.

In addition, Burggraff stressed: Trees can be watered while dormant up to twice a month so long as it’s above 40 degrees and the trunks are thawed. They can be watered twice a month and approximately 10 gallons is enough for a new planting.

He also stressed to remember to water your trees in the fall before they go dormant, as that will give you the most bang for your buck.

So, there you have it. With temperatures forecast in the 60s at the end of this week, yes, you SHOULD water your smaller trees, and the four employees in the forestry department would greatly appreciate it if you did.

And you also should keep calling in with great questions like this one. We’ll find the answers for you.

Linehan is the Register’s managing editor and welcomes comments at