Blog Post By Jona Elwell

How (and Where) to Water Trees

Given the exceedingly prolonged dry spell we’re in, the time to water is now! If you can, give some love to a nearby street tree. Overall, the District’s Urban Forestry Division maintains more than 215,000 trees throughout the city. 

A screenshot of D.C.’s Tree Watering App that helps identify newly planted street trees (that probably need water).

You can help out by watering neighborhood street trees and check out the size, species, and watering history of street trees in the city’s innovative Tree Watering App! Just like raking leaves and shoveling snow, watering street trees is part of being a resident in our beloved, a rain thirsty, city.

Whether or not they’re a tree on private property or public property, we have some tips and advice for watering trees young and large.

For newly planted trees (planted 1 – 3 years ago):

  1. These trees are the most susceptible to damage/death due to inadequate water first. Start with those trees located in areas with limited soil – think street trees and those surrounded by/near concrete and curbs.
  2. Water slowly. The ground is hard and dry – water will run off if too much is applied too quickly.
  3. Place a hose a foot or so from the base of the tree and turn it on to a trickle. Set a timer to let the water run for one to two hours. Occasionally moving it the hose nozzle to provide water to the entire root zone of the tree. If you have a small sprinkler head you can use that to cover a wider area – but again turn it on to low.
  4. You can also water with a five-gallon bucket that you have drilled some (three is sufficient) holes in the bottom about the diameter of a pencil lead. Place the bucket at the base of the tree, fill the bucket to the top with water, let it drain, move it slightly, and fill it again – up to five times. 
  5. If you can, place a mulch ring around the tree following the 3-3-3 rule. Mulch keeps the water in the soil feeding the roots by slowing evaporation.
  6. After you’ve saturated the soil around the tree, repeat the watering process every three to four days. If you are unsure about when to water again, check our Watering Alerts.

For established trees: 

  1. All trees in this drought can use some water, especially street trees. If you have street trees in front of your home letting a hose drip onto its roots for a few hours will be a big help! Move the hose nozzle around every hour or so to water the entire area.
  2. The rule of thumb in these severe conditions is WATER!

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