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Ask The Arborist

Tony from Lyndhurst asks :
How is all this dry weather affecting my trees? What should I be doing?

A. July 2001 has gone into the record book as the driest July in Ohio's record-keeping history, so there's no doubt that our trees may be suffering. Had we known that we would get a measly 0.68 inches of rain last month, we could have started watering from the outset, and alleviated potential problems.

Trees require 1-2" of water every 7-10 days on average. If Mother Nature doesn't provide adequately, we have to take matters into our own hands. You should water whenever we go more than 2 weeks without a good soaking rain (and none is in the immediate forecast), and if you can't water everything, try to do the most important trees in your yard.

The best way that I've found to water trees is with an oscillating sprinkler. Position the sprinkler so that it covers as large of an area beneath the tree as possible. Water from the trunk out, in every available direction, and go at least to the ends of the branches (known as the dripline).

If there is ground space beyond the dripline, continue watering further out -- tree roots can extend 2 times the tree's radius, and you want to get water to as many roots as possible. For large trees, you may need to move the sprinkler a couple times to cover the whole area.

To measure how much you're applying, place an empty coffee can (or other straight-sided container) within the sprinkler's sweep. Let it run for a while, then go out and check with a ruler. It seems to take me 30-45 minutes to get 1 inch put down, but this can vary depending on such factors as how many people in the neighborhood are using water at the time, my sprinkler's flow rate, etc.

That's why just going by how long you've been watering isn't accurate. You may actually put down more than you need to, which is why I recommend the coffee can and ruler trick I also recommend purchasing a rain gauge so that you can keep track of rainfall. This will help you determine how much to water and when. If you collect " of rain and none is forecast for a while, go out and add that other " just to be safe. If it's during the hottest time of the summer, add enough to bring that total up to 2". Plus, if you buy a rain gauge, you can use it instead of the coffee can, which may look better to the neighbors.

We know that extended dry spells or drought can severely injure a tree's root system. Mature trees may take a year or more to show its effects - others may show the effects rather quickly, particularly if they were already having some problems.

If you are not currently fertilizing at least the most important tree(s) in your yard, I recommend fertilizing annually in fall. Roots do most of their growing at that time, so fertilizing then gives them what they're looking for at the time they'll use it the most. If you have a root-damaged tree, fall is the ideal time to help it in its root rebuilding process.


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Tom Mugridge

Forest City Tree

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