Drought and Tree Watering

Drought and Tree Watering

By Justin Evertson, NFS Green Infrastructure Coordinator

The drought across our region, especially here in eastern Nebraska, is intensifying and quickly becoming one for the record books. Both the Lincoln and Omaha areas are experiencing one of the driest stretches on record, at a time of year that is normally our wettest. This one is shaping up to be worse than 2011-12 which was a horrible tree killer. Ironically, drought conditions have lessened in western Nebraska with some recent rains. Yay! Let’s hope that pattern continues.

This dry spring follows a dry fall and winter putting many of our trees under severe stress. So wherever we can, we should be working to help trees and other landscape plants survive the drought. Of course, when we’re in a drought, water conservation is also an important topic. So how do we help trees and other important plants survive with water conservation in mind? Here’s a good web document from NFS on the topic: https://nfs.unl.edu/publications/watering-trees. Also, here are a few online videos that give good advice on tree watering:

And here are a few quick but brilliant suggestions I would offer for helping trees and other landscape plants during drought:

  • Water young and newly planted trees first. Even if you have to water from a bucket, every little bit helps. Try to water once a week until the rains return.
  • Established trees that are more prone to drought are the next priority for watering. Using a soaker hose is a good idea for watering the broader-stretching root zones of established trees. Perhaps try to water every other week for established trees.
  • Know the species! Some trees are amazingly drought tolerant including bur oak, red cedar, hackberry, honeylocust, coffeetree, elm, linden and silver maple. Other species are wimps including red maple, birches, magnolia, tuliptree, white pine and serviceberry.
  • Location can make a big difference. Trees on north facing slopes or at the bottom of slopes or in irrigated landscapes will likely need less water than those at the top of slopes or those facing south or west.
  • Trees planted in association with other things like shrubs or groundcovers that help shade the ground will dry out much more slowly than those surrounded by unirrigated lawn.
  • Mulch helps a lot to make young trees more drought resistant.
  • Shifting to a more drought tolerant landscape is a good idea and plant selection and management is critical to this effort. We don’t have time for it here, but lawn type and management is a big factor in this. Also, it’s easier to reinvigorate a lawn after a drought than to replace important trees or shrubs. When drought kicks in, worry less about the lawn and more about the trees!

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