How to Keep Your Trees Healthy During Drought

We all know that trees need water to survive, but many homeowners don’t know that watering properly can mean the difference between a tree’s life and death during seasons of drought.

Summer’s heat can take its toll even on established trees. Since trees are difficult and expensive to remove, it’s important to know when your trees are stressed, and how to manage it.

Signs of Heat Stress

Trees are amazingly resourceful and some can survive for a long time in poor conditions with little water. A tree can be suffering silently for years before it finally succumbs.

If your tree shows any of these signs, it may be crying out for help:

  • Wilting Leaves
  • Premature Leaf Drop
  • Yellowing Leaves or Early Fall Foliage
  • Sparse Canopy
  • Undersized Leaves or Fruit

Trees that are stressed are much more likely to be attacked by insects and diseases, so it’s not uncommon for trees with one of the above symptoms to also be infested.

Caring for Trees During Drought

Follow these tips to keep your trees happy, even when water is scarce:


Mulch truly is a tree’s best friend. Not only does mulch reduce evaporation and retain soil moisture, but it also helps regulate soil temperature. Mulch can be a lifesaver in the heat of a summer day, when evaporation is at its peak and the soil dries out more quickly than roots can take in the moisture.

Check the Soil

The best way to tell if your trees need water is simply by testing the soil. Insert a garden trowel about 2 inches into the soil and feel it; if the soil is dry, your tree needs water. Keep in mind, you want the soil to be moist to the touch, not soggy.

Water Slow and Deep

The most important aspect of watering your trees isn’t how much water to give them, it is how to water them. Trees like to be watered slow and deep. Remember, tree roots can extend up to four times beyond the canopy, so don’t just water at the base of the tree.

A drip irrigation system placed beyond the canopy line will allow the tree’s critical root zone to take up water before it’s lost to evaporation. Water to a depth of 10-12 inches, since approximately 90% of a tree’s roots are found within the top 12 inches of soil.


Fertilizing year round will make for stronger, healthier trees that will be tough enough to better withstand periods of drought.

Manage Evaporation

Did you know — during the heat of a summer day, up to 60% of water evaporates before it soaks into the ground? Knowing how to minimize water loss from evaporation is especially critical during times of drought when watering is often restricted and every drop counts. Using a drip line and watering first thing in the morning are effective ways to manage evaporation.

Water Throughout the Year

Trees that are taken care of throughout the year are more resilient when adversity comes. Watering your trees in the winter, as well as the summer, helps them develop strong root systems and encourages healthy growth.