Weather Stressed Plants

We are having a beautiful stretch of weather in southeastern Wisconsin. The warm days and cool nights are great for the outdoor activities and projects we were denied most of the summer due to rain and mosquitoes! The crews at Wachtel Tree Science are happy to be out working in such great weather. I do not know about you but I feel like I have earned some nice weather to enjoy my yard.

The problem is, are your trees enjoying your yard? We have now gone weeks without rain and the soil is hard and dry. The fine roots of trees need moisture. This water is not only sent up to the top of the plant for all of the life processes that are carried on in the trunk and crown but is also needed for roots to thrive and grow. A mature tree can use a ton of water a day! Do your trees have that much water? Fall is one of the most important times of the year for root growth. If we have good roots, we will have a healthy tree.

One other critical factor in tree health is soil life. What is soil; it is not just a bunch of dirt particles? No, healthy soil is a complex community of living organisms along with the soil. A teaspoon of soil can have thousands of beneficial bacteria, fungi (called mycorrhizae), protozoa and other creatures. When the soil is dry, the systems that support these beneficial organisms shut down. Not having these beneficial organisms active can lead to tree problems and diseases. We are currently seeing an increase in root rot problems due to these stresses.

The best way to water trees is with a sprinkler to wet down a large soil area. Roots can extend out four to five times the height of the tree away. While it is not practical to water such a large area, getting the entire area under the crown and a little more will have you hitting a large percentage of the root zone. In the spring and summer you do not want to water the leaves or needles, because you can encourage diseases (this is not as critical in the fall). You can set a hose at the base of the tree but this tends to be very spotty. You would be better off setting a sprinkler low (to avoid hitting foliage) and moving it around to cover the needed area.

The rule of thumb is an inch of water every ten days from either you or Mother Nature. Your watering will not totally replace the rain we are not getting but it will help the plant get by. Then when it does rain, the soil will not be so dry that the rain just runs off. So while you are out enjoying the nice weather consider watering your trees and shrubs to help keep them out of stress. The benefits your trees give you make it well worth the investment of a little bit of time and water.


Dave Scharfenberger

Board Certified Master Arborist, WI-0131B

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