The importance of watering newly planted trees

Manwearing blue tshirt holding bright green water bucket in garden with trees behind him

Watering newly planted trees is something that is often overlooked but is a key contributing factor to the successful establishment and growth of a new tree.

As a specialist tree nursery, the health of our trees is something we hold close to our hearts.  We love to hear stories of our trees thriving and flourishing in their new homes. 

In this video Philip explains our advice on first year watering:

1. Why watering a newly planted tree is crucial

Tree Establishment

Newly planted trees need time to develop their root systems in a new environment. When we lift the trees from our Devon fields, we inevitably cut some of their wider roots off, leaving them with a tight ball of core roots.  Unlike established trees, which have expansive root networks, your new trees will initially be relying on the smaller fibrous root system in the rootball we’ve supplied.  It will take time and proper watering to encourage these roots to grow outward into the surrounding soil, giving them their own ability to source water from further afield.

Stress Reduction

Transplanting is a stressful experience for trees. They are moved from the controlled conditions of a nursery to the varied and often harsher conditions of different garden/landscape. Transplant shock can manifest in several ways, including wilting, leaf drop, and stunted growth. A good first year watering routine helps to alleviate this stress, providing the tree with the resources it needs to adapt to its new environment.

You can find more information on establishment problems in this RHS Article.

2. Understanding the water needs of newly planted trees

Root Ball vs. Surrounding Soil

When watering a newly planted tree, it’s essential to firstly focus on watering the area where the rootball was planted.  It’s important to understand that British rain (unless particularly heavy) will be likely to drip from the canopy into outer soil which doesn’t yet contain the tree’s roots.  Therefore its vital that water is applied as close to the stems as possible – ensuring the root ball is watered. 

To encourage roots to grow further afield, its important not to water the wider soil area. If you supply the tree with more water outside of where the rootball was planted it will have no reason to grow the roots to find its own water.

Frequency and Quantity

Newly planted trees need more frequent watering than established trees. In the dryer warmer months of May to September, we advise 1 – 2 buckets of water 3 times a week (depending on the size of your tree).

A good rule of thumb is to water deeply and thoroughly but allow enough time between watering for the rootball to dry out. As the tree establishes itself, you can gradually reduce the frequency.

metal bucket filled with water sat on the grass surrounded by green plants

3. Best Practices for Watering

Timing

The best time to water trees is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This time of day is cooler so helps reduce water loss meaning more moisture can soak into the soil and reach the roots. We would advise against watering trees during the hottest part of the day.

Techniques

Effective watering techniques can make a significant difference in the health of your newly planted trees. Slow watering methods that deliver water directly to the root zone at a slow rate, such as using a soaker hose or drip irrigation system, are really effective. Watering bags, which release water slowly over several hours, are also an excellent option for newly planted trees. Failing that a bucket in the morning or evening as Philip describes in his video above is a good alternative.

How to tell if you’re underwatering your tree

Recognising the signs of underwatering can help you adjust your watering routine before any lasting damage happens. Symptoms include dry and crumbly soil, yellow leaves, leaf drop or more extremely wilting leaves and stunted growth. If you notice these signs, it’s essential to increase your watering frequency and ensure the water is penetrating deeply enough to reach the entire root zone.

How to tell if you’re overwatering your tree

While it’s crucial to provide adequate water, overwatering can be just as detrimental to the health of your new tree. Symptoms of overwatering include yellowing leaves, waterlogged and soggy soil, root rot, and fungal growth. In simple terms, if your tree is standing in water, the soil will become aerobic meaning there is no oxygen present. Our advice in this case would be to stop watering as soon as possible, in order to let it completely dry out before recommencing any watering regime.

4. Long-Term Watering Strategies

When to stop watering your newly planted tree

As your tree establishes itself over the first year, you can gradually reduce the frequency of watering. In the tree’s first winter, when it becomes dormant (signified by shedding its leaves, if deciduous) and the weather becomes naturally wetter, you can stop providing extra water.  Evergreen trees might need a little bit of water during the autumn/winter should there be a dry period.

During the following year, it should be established enough to sustain itself. Generally we rarely water trees in the second year after transplanting, as this encouraging the roots grow to seek their own water deeper in the soil.

Philip’s conclusion

“If in doubt, there are 3 rules when it comes to watering: 1. Water 2. Water and 3. Water!”

Philip Nieuwoudt

At New Wood Trees, we are committed to promoting the health and longevity of your newly planted trees.  If you’re unsure about what to do with your tree, we’re more than happy to provide specific advice – please contact us with and questions you have.

Watering pic 1 scaled

New Wood Trees Information

For more information about our nursery and how we grow our artisan, sculpted, multi-stem trees please head to our about us page.

To learn more about our trees and what stock we currently have available, please head to our stock pages or Contact Us to discuss your specific needs.

If you’d like to learn more about what we mean by ‘Multi-stem trees’? Check out our explainer here.

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