Water – the most important ingredient

an image of a tree with a green bag at it's base
No Matter How It Is Accomplished, Proper Watering Is Essential to Successful New Tree Establishment

Water is perhaps the most important ingredient needed by a newly planted tree.  Water is also the item most over-looked by homeowners as they prepare to get a tree established in their landscape.  How can we best succeed in providing a tree the best start possible for a long and healthy life ahead?

Newly plants trees are very needy and dependent on their planter.  Even in the “rainy season” there may not be sufficient daily rains to meet the water demand.  It is really the power of frequency over the actual volume of water that makes the difference.  The amount and the frequency depend on the size of the tree. According to the American Standard for Nursery Stock ANSI 60.1, and Florida Grades and Standards for Nursery Stock, trunk caliper (diameter) is measured six-inches from the ground unless trunk is more than four-inches in caliper. If more than four-inches, measure trunk caliper twelve-inches above ground.    For instance, for a tree with a caliper measurement of two inches or less, water the tree daily for two weeks.  This schedule is followed by watering every other day for two months.  Then, water weekly until established. You should adjust your watering as needed if it rains.   Rule-of-thumb for the amount of water per irrigation would be to apply two gallons per inch trunk caliper/diameter.  For a tree to become established, it will take three to four months per caliper inch of trunk for the roots to sufficiently grow out into the surrounding soil and be able to be on their own (depending on the time of year and the type of tree) without additional establishment irrigation.  Proper mulching will help the tree retain moisture and suppress resource-stealing weeds.  After one year, most trees will have grown new roots out three to ten feet.

Often, a newly planted tree will be much bigger than two inches in diameter and watering will have to be extended for successful establishment.  As an example, a two-to four-inch caliper trunk tree will require watering daily for one month, three months of every other day, and then weekly until established.    An even bigger tree at four inches or greater will need to be watered daily for a month, and every other day for five months, and so on.  Many people do not follow this schedule and do not experience vigorous tree establishment.  The result – minimal survival or worst!

Typical lawn irrigation systems will not provide sufficient water to newly planted trees.  You may need to retrofit your system to service trees making sure that the proper amount of water is provided.  Hand watering may be necessary as it provides a more accurate delivery method.  There are a number of bag collar watering systems available on the market that can supply the water needed for tree establishment.  Attention is still needed to make sure the bags are refilled with water regularly.

Why not plan for success when you plant your next tree?  Proper watering is the answer!  For more information on all types of plant care topics, or to ask a question, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov. Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.

Gilman, E. F. & Sadowski L. (2017) Planting and establishing trees.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Florida Grades and Standards for Nursery Plants 2022 https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/hillsborough/docs/pdf/environmentalhort/grades-and-standards-for-nursery-plants-2022.pdf FDACS.


ralph mitchell
Posted: February 14, 2024

Category: Home Landscapes
Tags: Irrigation, Proper Watering, Tree Planting

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