Tree Management in Drought

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Things are tough right now. If you follow the drought status updates from the National Weather Service, you know that we are already much drier than we were at this time of year in the summer of 2011. Unfortunately, we all remember how that one turned out. With the prospects of drought continuing in mind, please consider the following when caring for your trees.

Water them regularly. For new plantings, this might be twice a week. For mature, established trees, it might be every other week. When you do water, take care to wet the soil very thoroughly. Wetting the soil profile down 10-12” will be very helpful. Note: water need not be applied right at the base of the trunk. The tree’s root system can easily capture any water that is under or near the shade canopy.

It is also very important to protect the existing root system. Do not do anything that would disrupt the surface roots such as tillage or cutting the roots by trenching for an irrigation system installation. Even compaction brought on by parking vehicles under trees can cause additional stress. If you need to correct a compaction issue, using an aerator (available at rental centers) is a valid tool assuming the roots are not right on the surface.

Also be careful when applying insecticides. Many of these products are oil-based and can cause temporary damage if applied incorrectly with sunny/hot weather being one of the most common issues.

If you are considering planting new trees, please considering delaying this task until fall. Do not interpret this as saying it can’t be done, but the odds of success will certainly go up if you wait until cooler temperatures.

Lastly, be very conservative when applying nitrogen fertilizer to trees when they are under drought stress. This can force extra growth that the tree can simply not sustain. It is also important to make sure phosphorus and potassium levels are adequate so the water movement system in the plant works as efficiently as possible.

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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