Is Your Tree Drinking Responsibly?

Storms, trees and the City’s role
A record-setting season!

Concerned Tree Parents of Charlotte,

We are worried about an issue that’s sweeping the nation and might be affecting the health of your young tree… Your tree could be drinking too much! Well, too much water, that is. After several days of heavy, icky rain and dramatic flooding in Charlotte, you might be concerned about how big rain events (like the one last week) affect your baby tree and its watering schedule. After all, heavy drinking is a serious issue. So, we’ve got some answers to commonly asked water-related questions:

Flooding in Freedom Park: November 12, 2020

Q: I know I’m supposed to stop watering in the fall and winter while my tree is dormant, but does that mean lots of rain harm it?

A: No! As long as your soil is well drained, fall and winter precipitation won’t hurt the tree even though it’s not “watering season.” In fact, it won’t hurt to give your tree a little water during the winter if it’s been a really long time since the last rain or snow (more than a month).

Q: What should I do after a big storm during the spring/summer watering season? Should I stick to my weekly schedule?

A: Although having a watering schedule is a helpful reminder to keep your new tree hydrated, there can be confusion about how rain might alter that schedule. Tree experts recommend giving a young tree 5 gallons of water every week unless it has rained in the past 3-5 days.  However, this formula isn’t perfect.  It changes based on how heavily it rained and for how long.  Just like you might not get thirsty at exactly the same time every day, your tree works the same way.  A good rule of thumb is to feel the moisture in the soil by sticking a finger in the dirt near the base of the tree.  If it’s bone-dry throughout, it’s a good idea to give your tree a water.  If you can feel dampness, you’ll be fine waiting a day or two.

Q: My yard has poor drainage and sometimes has standing water after heavy rain.  Will this hurt the new tree?

A: Unfortunately, this can cause issues for many trees.  If you know your yard has poor drainage or is prone to flooding, our first recommendation is to plant trees that can thrive in standing water, such as bald cypress, river birch, red maple, weeping willow, blackgum and swamp white oak.  If you already have a tree planted that cannot tolerate flooding, the best you can do is to monitor the tree and be sure not to overwater further.  Symptoms of tree trouble after heavy rains include:

  • Exposed roots
  • Loosened or unstable tree
  • Wilted leaves
  • Leaves that are delicate and fall off easily when touched
  • Premature fall color
  • Branch dieback

I will say, some of these symptoms might be difficult to attribute to water damage during the fall, since some of the symptoms are naturally occurring events.  It might be best to wait until spring or summer to really see if your tree has suffered flood damage.

We at TreesCharlotte understand that making sure your young tree gets enough, but not too much, water can feel like a balancing act. It might be comforting to know that once you get past those first few years, trees are super low maintenance and will only need watering during periods of drought.

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