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Watering Guidelines

During the first part of September, rainfall amounts have been below normal levels and signs of drought stress are showing up on lawns, trees and shrubs. It is important to water your plant material so you can protect your landscape investment. Here you will find basic guidelines to help you to water properly, or download our brochure for more detailed information.

Soil moisture levels, especially during sunny or windy weather, should be checked weekly. One way to check the moisture content is to remove a soil sample with a spade, a trowel or a soil probe. Do not trust the appearance of the soil at the surface, which may appear dry. Be sure to check the condition of the soil at a depth of 5-6”. If the soil crumbles, it is too dry; if it is muddy, it is too wet. If the soil is firm and moist enough to form a ball when it is squeezed and then breaks apart when poked it is not in need of water at this time but should be checked in about 3 days.

When watering, apply sufficient water so that the soil containing the roots is thoroughly moist and then allow it to dry enough so that some air can penetrate the root area. Roots, like leaves, need oxygen and too much continuous water eliminates oxygen from the soil structure and can cause rotting of the roots. Just how much water is required and how often depends upon the weather, soil conditions, and common sense.

Newly Installed Plants

If you are planting new material, all new plants should be watered immediately following installation. Initially, soil moisture should be checked every 3 days for the next 4-6 weeks. During spring and fall when the temperatures are lower and there is more rain, plan on watering 1-2 times per week. Summer plantings may require watering 2-3 times per week. Your plants must receive a minimum of 1” of rain before a watering could be skipped.

Deciduous Trees

The vast majority of a tree's feeder roots are in the top 18” of soil. With a root feeding probe, you can get water to more than just the surface roots. Plunge the probe into the root area every 3' to a depth of about 6-12” and allow it to run at half force until the water bubbles up to the surface. Move it around several times and water at 4 points inside and outside the bark ring. This will encourage rooting into the surrounding soil.

Another successful method is to place the open end of a hose against the trunk, set the flow slow enough to permit the water to penetrate the root ball and not run off. If the water begins to run off, the flow is excessive. Trees on a slope need a catch basin to hold water until it soaks in. Common sense and checking the soil will tell you if too much, enough, or too little water is being given.


If conifers do not have sufficient water in their plant tissues, their needles will be more prone to turning brown when exposed to winter sun and wind. They also have a much better survival rate if they go into winter with a reserve of water, as they continue to lose water from their needles on warm winter days. Be sure to water your evergreens in the fall. Also, it is especially essential to thoroughly water all newly planted evergreens. Follow the same method described in the Decidious Tree section above for watering evergreen trees.


Sprinklers or soaker hoses are best, allowing 3-5 hours for each setting. This method is easier, faster, and has the added advantage of soaking the surrounding soil as well as the plants themselves.

Ground Covers

Sprinklers or soaker hoses are best; allowing 1-2 hours until the water penetrates the upper 3”. The frequency of watering depends upon the weather and the sun /shade exposure. Hot windy days will require that you water frequently; cool, wet days will require less watering.


In general lawns in this area require about 1” of water per week. We recommend watering several times per week (3 to 4x) to a depth of ¼” to ½” each time.  If possible, run your sprinklers for half the time you normally would and then wait several hours to apply the remaining water.  This allows the water time to soak into the soil.

The best time to water is from sundown to sunup.  Watering during the day, especially if it’s sunny and windy can waste 50% or more of the water.  Avoid watering walks, drives and other paved surfaces – this is wasted water!

In-ground automatic systems, when properly designed and installed with weather or soil moisture sensors, will apply the correct amount of water each week-  saving you the time and trouble of setting up sprinklers and turning them on and off.  In-ground systems also avoid overspray onto walks, drives and streets.

There are also many practices you can implement to reduce water requirements. Cut you lawn at a higher level (we recommend 3”), aerate you lawn every fall or every other fall (this will increase the water infiltration rate and provide a less compact root zone). Be sure to keep your lawn fertilized properly as this promotes not only top growth but also root growth.  And, don’t wait until you lawn is brown and dormant to start irrigating – the soil is like a sponge – once it is dry it will take more water to bring it back.

Mulches can reduce soil temperature extremes, help control weeds and improve the appearance of your plants. Most mulch material should be 2-4 inches deep. Excessive mulch can interfere with the oxygen supply to the roots of some plants.

Many organic materials can be used as mulches including shredded bark, wood or bark chips, cocoa or grain hulls, and pine needles. Organic mulches are natural in appearance and add organic matter to the soil as they decompose.

Some inorganic materials that are used for mulching include crushed stone or washed stone. Weed barrier fabric is used below the stone mulches to keep the soil from washing up to the surface of the bed.


The mulch covering the plant's roots acts as an evaporation buffer, which allows the soil to retain moisture for a longer period. Mulch should not be removed, allowed to wash away, or cultivated into the soil.

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