The long hot summer is over, so now it’s time to think about planting trees. In Central Texas, the perfect time to plant trees was 20 years ago, but the next best time to plant trees is in the fall. Prime planting season runs from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day — and fall is the very best time.
Planting trees in fall allows the tree more time to become established before another hot summer starts. As trees go dormant, they send a signal to their roots which causes the roots to have a surge in growth. That surge happens again right as they come out of dormancy. Planting in fall will result in the tree having two surges of root growth before the long, hot summer.
“But wait,” you say, “we’re in a drought, should we be planting new trees? Shouldn’t we save the water to take care of the trees we already have?” While it’s true that newly planted trees will need to be watered more often than established trees, they don’t require as much as you might think. Estimates range from 6 gallons to 25 gallons per week during the active growing season. Contrast that with other common uses of water – 3 gallons to flush a toilet, 30 gallons to take a bath, 10-20 gallons to run the dishwasher – and you see that the amount of water required to take care of a newly planted tree is actually quite negligible. Because we are in drought, it is crucial that we continue to plant trees. Trees have a finite lifespan and this drought is causing many trees to go into early decline and die. Unless we continue to plant trees, we will see a huge loss to our urban canopy. The Texas A&M Forest Service estimates more than five million community trees died due to the 2011 drought.
“Okay, so I’ve planted my tree, but how much water should I be giving it now that it’s winter and the tree is not ‘actively growing’ because it’s in its dormant phase?” While your tree will need less water once its leaves have fallen off, it will still need some water. During dormancy, we recommend that you water:
- a couple of times each week for the first two months;
- once each week for the next month; and then
- twice each following month until summer.
When summer comes, you’ll want to water your new tree once each week that it doesn’t rain at least one inch. As always, check to see if your tree even needs water before putting on the hose. Pull back the mulch (you did mulch your tree, right?) and put your finger down into the soil a couple of inches to see if the soil is dry. Too much water is just as bad for trees as too little water.
A few final words about mulch: Always water your tree before you apply mulch, never apply mulch more than 2 inches thick, never allow mulch to touch the trunk of the tree, and remember to rake it back at least once each year to break up matting and allow water to penetrate. Minerals can collect on the top of the mulch and cause it to repel water, so it’s very important that you perform this maintenance at least annually.