Help Your Trees Last a Lifetime

Healthy urban trees provide critical benefits in our Mediterranean climate.
September 22, 2016

When you cut back on water use during the recent drought, you may not have realized the impact it had on your landscape trees. Trees in irrigated landscapes become dependent on regular watering. When watering is reduced – and especially when it’s stopped completely – trees will die.

Tree loss is a very costly problem: not only in expensive tree removal, but also in the loss of all the benefits trees provide.Your trees provide an immense range of health, energy, environmental and economic benefits:

  • Trees improve air and water quality
  • Trees provide shade to the landscape and reduce water needs
  • Trees help keep your home cooler
  • Trees slow stormwater runoff and help recharge groundwater
  • Trees reduce soil erosion
  • Trees add value – sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth – to your home and neighborhood

Trees take a long time to grow. Without helping our trees through the drought, we risk losing these benefits. While the drought may not last long, it can harm or kill trees, and it will take 10, 20 or even 50+ years to grow trees and get back the benefits.

How to save your trees

    Try to save lawn trees if you can during and after a drought. What you can do:

    1. Deeply and slowly water mature trees 1 – 2 times per month with a simple soaker hose or drip system toward the edge of the tree canopy – NOT at the base of the tree. Use a Hose Faucet Timer (found at hardware stores) to prevent overwatering.
    2. Young trees need 5 gallons of water 2 – 4 times per week. Create a small watering basin with a berm of dirt.
    3. Shower with a bucket and use that water for your trees as long as it is free of non-biodegradable soaps or shampoos.
    4. Do not over-prune trees during drought. Too much pruning and drought both stress your trees.
    5. Mulch, Mulch, MULCH! 4 – 6 inches of mulch helps retain moisture, reducing water needs and protecting your trees.

      What else you can do to save water and your trees:

      • If you prefer, instead of soaker hoses or drip lines, you can put out several 5 gallon buckets with 5 holes drilled into the bottom of the buckets.
        • Set the buckets under the tree toward the edge of the canopy area and use a hose to fill with water.
        • This water will then seep slowly into the ground. The number of buckets will depend on your soil type as well as the size and species of tree.
        • Trees in sandy soils need to be watered more frequently than trees in clay soils.
      • Convert your spray irrigation system to a drip system so you do not have to depend on the manual hose timer. If you want help with converting your system, consult the manufacturer’s manuals and website for your irrigation system or talk to an irrigation specialist.
      • Remove the lawn or sheet mulch the lawn underneath your tree. Trees actually prefer wood chip mulch and the “duff” created by their own leaves. Learn how here.

      Remember to irrigate your trees and the rest of your landscape in compliance with your local water agency's water use restrictions. To locate your water agency, enter your address and zip code in the Locate your water district tool on the right side of this page.

      For more information, check out Save Our Water and Our Trees!Managing Landscapes During Drought, Trees and Drought Information Flyer and FAQs.

      Click here to download this brochure from the California Urban Forests Council on how to help your trees survive the drought.