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04 Oct 2017

Deep-Root Watering For Tree Service Hamptons During Drought

High & Dry

One challenge of weather is its unpredictability. Rain one day, sun the next, cool then hot and back to cool, and on and on. But if variability is challenging, consistency can be much harder to handle. Imagine life if it rained every single day. Or, even worse, if it never rained. When Mother Nature dries up and stays dry, it becomes a threat to every living thing — including trees.

In severe cases, this means a drought, which the National Weather Service says is “a deficiency in precipitation over an extended period, usually a season or more, resulting in a water shortage causing adverse impacts on vegetation, animals and/or people.” And drought conditions require a change in tree management practices.

Travis Evans, district manager in The Davey Tree Service Hampton Expert Company‘s Santa Cruz, California, office, got a firsthand look at the impact of the four-plus-year drought that California recently suffered through. “Over the first year or two, most of the mature trees in the landscape handled it. But by years three and four, we really did start to see an increase in certain trees being stressed out,” says Evans.

Lindsey Purcell, urban forestry specialist with the Purdue University Extension Forestry and Natural Resources, inspects the leaves of a tulip poplar for signs of drought stress.

Image Courtesy Of Purdue Extension


p class=”art”>And it wasn’t only hard on the trees. “The last couple years of the drought were extremely challenging as an arborist, because there were a lot of times where you had to step back and let the client know that you have to do more research,” says Evans. “We started seeing new pests as a secondary issue for drought-stressed trees — things we had never even seen before.” So scouting for insects becomes more important during drought, including looking beyond the normal pests. For example, Evans says the drought led to an increase in borer activity on conifers in that area, “which we hadn’t really seen a lot of in the past.”

Drew Zwart, west coast technical representative with Bartlett Tree Service Hampton Research Laboratories, says that the California drought made good, basic tree care practices all the more important. “The first thing that I like to see when I walk on a landscape during drought is a large and fresh mulch ring around a tree,” says Zwart. “That is the number one easiest and most effective and impactful thing that you can do, both because it helps to conserve moisture in the soil, and it helps to regulate soil temperatures, especially with shallow-rooted trees.” One other benefit that’s often overlooked, he adds, is that when you have mulch around a tree, there is no grass or other understory plants “that will compete, and probably win, for the water that is available.”

Zwart says that the same rules for mulch in normal circumstances apply in drought conditions: Ideally the mulch will extend out to the dripline, “though that’s obviously not always possible with the rest of the landscape plan, so as much as you can do — and 3 to 4 inches deep is as much as I’d ever recommend … It’s a soil treatment, not a stem treatment … you don’t want to be piling it up volcano-style.” Another tip he offers: Be sure to stir the mulch up at least once a year, otherwise it can actually form a hydrophobic layer and start to work against you. Zwart also recommends, when possible, using fresh, out-of-the-box chips with some bark and twigs mixed in. If a homeowner wants to use a dyed or painted mulch product for aesthetic reasons, it’s especially important during droughts to avoid dark or black types that will soak up heat from the sun, he advises.

Water supply

Of course droughts are not unique to California and can strike nearly anywhere. For example, extreme drought conditions were experienced in parts of the Midwest from 2012–2014. “And we are still experiencing those impacts,” says Lindsey Purcell, urban forestry specialist with the Purdue University Extension Forestry and Natural Resources.

Cultural practices — notably mulch and water — become even more important during droughts, says Purcell. Older trees with a more developed root system typically respond more slowly to drought, he explains. “But we lost some really big trees; I never thought that would happen,” Purcell adds. That’s why it’s important not only to provide water for newly planted and juvenile trees, but also “veteran” trees, he notes.

“The most important thing with water is being able to calculate the amount of water the tree needs,” says Purcell. He has calculated those figures for most species of trees in Indiana; when in doubt, check with your local state extension office to see if they can assist in providing or calculating this information.

To help care for trees during the drought, Evans says that Davey crews were undertaking supplemental watering during the driest months of the year. “From May to October, every four to six weeks we were offering a deep-root watering — actually iHampton Roadsecting the water subsurface — because it’s a more efficient way to water as opposed to having clients just use a hose on top of the soil and having the water dissipate into the atmosphere.” So subsurface watering is not only better for the tree, but it also reduces wasted water, which is especially important during any drought, when municipalities are likely to have limitations on water use. “We can really utilize the limited amount of water that we have to use,” says Evans. For clients who didn’t want to opt for the deep-root watering service, Davey recommended the use of soaker hoses. “Then, based on the species and the size of the tree, we would tailor a plan for them and help them with the amount of gallons and how frequently they should be doing that,” he adds.

Landscape trees used to getting water from landscape irrigation are prone to damage when that water is typically shut off during droughts, says Evans. “A lot of our clients were doing their part by not watering their landscapes due to water restrictions. While that’s great, it had an additional impact on the trees. That’s why doing that supplemental watering helps.”

Zwart has observed a somewhat related problem that can take place, especially during droughts. “When people are replacing their lawns with synthetic turf, they forget that a large portion of the water that their trees were getting was from when they watered their grass,” he explains. The same situation is true when homeowners try to do the right thing by shutting off their lawn irrigation in a drought. “You’re also cutting off water to the trees,” he points out. “Especially with mature feature trees, we really like to see dedicated irrigation zones, so the tree has its own zone that can be programmed independently from the lawn. With most decent irrigation systems, it’s not hard to do, it’s just not frequently done.”

This brings up another misconception: that native trees will be fine during droughts. “But when it’s a true drought, that’s not the case,” says Zwart.

Even native trees need occasional deep watering. The amount of water a tree needs depends on the species and canopy size of the tree, among other site-specific factors, but Zwart says that as a general rule, during significant droughts, a deep watering — getting the water down at least 12 inches — at least once a month is a good rule of thumb.

And sometimes, when water use is strictly regulated, it’s necessary to prioritize which trees in the landscape to water. “It’s certainly a lot easier to replace a shrub or a citrus tree than it is a 400-year-old valley oak,” says Zwart.

“So, if either the volume of water or the water bills are a concern, then it makes sense to prioritize the large stuff that you won’t get back in your lifetime as opposed to the smaller stuff that you can just run down to the nursery and replace.”

The post Deep-Root Watering For Tree Service Hamptons During Drought appeared first on Tree Service Hampton Services.

04 Oct 2017

Minimizing Stress On Tree Service Hampton Roadss During Drought

Deep root watering


p class=”art”>Too often people think the best thing to do to help trees during times of drought is to fertilize, according to Lindsey Purcell, urban forestry specialist with the Purdue University Extension Forestry and Natural Resources.

“But that is the worst thing you can do with trees under stress,” he explains. “It takes an enormous amount of resources for the plant to metabolize fertilizer; the tree is already trying to survive because of the lack of water, and when it has to metabolize all of these additional nutrients, it throws it further into stress.” Plus, Purcell points out, fertilizer is a salt, and that fact alone can actually exacerbate the effects of drought stress.

Drew Zwart, west coast technical representative with Bartlett Tree Service Hampton Roads Research Laboratories, agrees that, as a general rule, it is advisable to avoid fertilizing trees during a drought. “Most fertilizers are salts, and any salt you put in the soil is going to affect the osmotic balance,” he says. “But if a plant needs nutrients, then it needs nutrients,” Zwart adds, pointing out that there are low-salt index fertilizers available and that any fertilization should be done based on a nutrient analysis (Bartlett takes samples at least every two to three years, if not more often) rather than a calendar schedule. “That way you’ll be adding only the nutrients that are necessary, as opposed to a fast-release nitrogen salt,” he says.

And it’s important to minimize stress not only on younger trees, but also more mature specimens. Oftentimes there’s a belief that a mature tree has developed a substantial root system and therefore will be able to hold its own when things get dry, “and a lot of times, that’s true,” says Zwart. During an unusually dry summer, there may be signs of scorched leaves or a premature color change in the fall, but nothing like what is experienced during historic water deficits, says Zwart. After the historic drought in California in recent years, for example, “We’re seeing 300-, 400-, 500-year-old trees in native areas dying. They’ve made it through droughts before, just nothing this intense,” he says.

Travis Evans, district manager in The Davey Tree Service Hampton Roads Expert Company’s Santa Cruz, California, office, says that during drought, it’s especially important to protect trees against any kind of construction impact. When the trees are already stressed, this can be lethal, he notes.

Another stress that can sometimes be eliminated is pruning. “There were trees that were so stressed that we recommended skipping pruning until the tree could make a recovery,” Evans states. “Of course, there were exceptions — we had to look at safety factors … In certain situations, we did have to prune to eliminate excessive weight so the tree could remain standing.” In cases where pruning was skipped, the tree was monitored more frequently than usual, and the service plan often switched to plant health care, either supplemental watering and/or fungicide or pesticide treatments to prevent further disease or insect stresses on the tree.

“You don’t want to prune any live, green tissue, because it takes resources for the tree to heal that wound,” says Purcell. “So you’re adding additional demands on the tree’s food resources.” Instead, he advises focusing on the “[unbeneficial] plant parts” — namely anything that is dead or dying. “Removing some basal sprouting is OK; those don’t really contribute to the canopy of the tree,” Purcell adds.

Tree Service Hampton Roads-planting practices also need to change during a drought, says Evans. He works in an area where it’s normally possible to plant a wide range of tree species at nearly any time of the year, but during the drought it became necessary to plant only specific species and to do so during the dormant months or in early spring. Evans adds that the drought made clients think more about the tree species they wanted to add to their landscape. “A lot of times they would ask, ‘What can we plant that is drought-tolerant?’ It started a whole different conversation,” he says. While they may have specified a certain tree of a certain size with a certain type of flower, they became more concerned about how the tree would be able to handle droughts, at that time and also in the future. “We definitely started recommending a lot more natives and trees that wouldn’t need a lot of extra water just to make it through an average year,” says Evans.

Another lesson of drought is that for the trees, it’s not over just when the meteorologists say it’s over. While California overcorrected a bit with an extremely wet winter to end the drought, Evans says it will take “consistent rainfall over the next several years to nurse a lot of these mature trees back to health.”

The post Minimizing Stress On Tree Service Hampton Roadss During Drought appeared first on Tree Service Hampton Roads Services.

05 Jul 2017

Dealing With Drought


p class=”art”>As humans, we seem to struggle with things that we have no control over. Bullies at your kids’ school, the driver of the car in front of you on the highway and prices at the grocery store are everyday examples. The weather is another. The common sense approach to dealing with any of these circumstances is the same. First, it’s about acceptance. Take a deep breath, accept it, and then examine the options and management strategies going forward.

Recent rainfall patterns

Many regions throughout the U.S. have been in soil water deficit patterns the past few years. While this is not a surprise to tree care providers in those locations, arborists in other areas can benefit by being aware of the drought condition of the country as a whole. One of the best sources of this information is the National Drought Mitigation Center website, coordinated cooperatively by several agencies. As you peruse this site, be sure to click on the Drought Monitor icon to investigate current conditions; this helpful tool is updated on a regular basis throughout the year.

Trees on a slope suffer because runoff occurs before adequate infiltration takes place. Photos courtesy of John Fech.

Trees on a slope suffer because runoff occurs before adequate infiltration takes place.
Photos courtesy of John Fech.

Droughty sites

Regardless of how wet or dry it has been in various locales, some landscape features and microclimates are simply better than others in terms of water efficiency.

  • Slopes — In terms of dealing with drought, slopes are horrible. The main issue is that there’s no way to retain the water before it runs off. When rain occurs as a gradual light precipitation event, the effects are reduced, but they still occur. Clay soils add insult to iHampton Roadsury in that they offer much reduced opportunity for infiltration at the top of the slope. Slopes that are hard to mow are good indicators where this will occur, but even gradual slopes will be subject to uneven infiltration if trees are growing in clay soils.
  • Thin narrow strips in the landscape — Usually covered with concrete or another impervious surface, trees in these locations rarely gain the full effect of natural rainfall events. Considering that less than a quarter of the potential roots are below soil or a modified soil, it’s no wonder they often struggle. In a similar problematic way, flat expanses of asphalt and concrete materials that surround a tree and cover the roots are also frequently encountered in both residential and commercial sites. In addition to being restrictive for water percolation, the covering also cuts off oxygen exchange.
  • Low-maintenance areas of the landscape — Various out-of-the-way locations, such as alleys, rural cemeteries, parks, golf course roughs, museums and school grounds, can be droughty sites for several reasons. Many of these areas contain buried debris, pea gravel, perched water tables and compacted soils, which limit infiltration and tree root expansion.

Separate turf from ornamentals

Turf and trees differ greatly in the amount of water they need, with trees requiring about one-third (on average) of what is necessary for turf. If placed together in the landscape, problems arise. Two main outcomes can occur if they are co-located.

Good mulching practices are important when dealing with drought.

Good mulching practices are important when dealing with drought.

When water is applied with the goal of keeping turf green and healthy, the result is that the rootzone stays moist to soggy for the benefit of the turf and the trees tend to be overwatered, with water filling the spaces between soil particles for long periods of time. Likewise, when water is applied to meet the needs of the trees, the turf may suffer.

A best management practice concerning trees and turf is that they should be separated in the landscape and cared for as separate masses of plant materials. Whenever possible, work with landscape designers and architects to encourage their division.

Young and old, deep and shallow

Efforts to keep the root systems of young trees moist (not soggy or dry) are more important than efforts aimed at older trees, at least in the short term. Younger trees have smaller root systems and have less capacity to recover from periodic droughts than older trees with extensive and expansive roots. As such, in terms of prioritization, if several weeks go by without a significant rainfall event, focus your initial efforts on providing supplemental irrigation for young or newly planted trees.

In order to determine the moisture content of trees (or turf for that matter), insert a deep probe into the root profile, pull it out carefully and slowly and feel the tip end. If it goes into the soil easily and a slight sloshing sound is made, then the soil is too wet. If the soil is dry and powdery, then it’s too dry. If it feels cool and moist, then, like Goldilocks with the Three Bears, it’s just right.

Drip irrigation is a good slow and steady water delivery method. Photo: John Fech

Drip irrigation is a good slow and steady water delivery method. Photo: John Fech

Whether trees are young or old, the goal is to deliver water to the bottom of the roots and keep them moist. It takes some experimentation at first to know how deeply various trees are rooted, but starting with the mindset that the majority of feeder roots are in the upper 24 to 30 inches of the soil profile is helpful in terms of overall rooting depth. When problems are encountered, excavation exercises can help you gain insights during the diagnosis.


There’s more than one way to bake a cake, and the same can be said for watering a tree in a drought.

Slow trickle – Probably my favorite. With a drip irrigation system, soaker hose or a hose laid on the ground, the slow and gradual emitting of water limits evaporation and facilitation of infiltration, which is beneficial for clay or compacted soils.

Water bladders – Especially good for young trees, placing 15 to 20 gallons of water near the base of the tree to be absorbed slowly can be quite effective. These work well, however, the need to refill these can be a limiting factor to their success.

Delayed starts – On slopes and in narrow strips, adjusting a time clock controller to run a particular zone for a short time (10 minutes or so), then stopping to allow the applied water to percolate downward, and then start again after a couple of hours to finish the job is a good way to overcome the natural tendency for water to run off before it infiltrates.

Overhead – From an efficiency and uniformity standpoint, overhead irrigation is generally not considered a good method. However, it’s easy to see where the water is going, and easy to measure how much is being received. Overhead irrigation replicates Mother Nature to some degree as well.

Water lance – Attached to a water tank or spigot, a slender pipe with a hole in the end can be effective because it limits evaporation; however, it can create excessive water channels or chasms underground. In addition, there’s the potential to push valuable water past the rootzone. When using a water lance, push it into the soil about 6 to 12 inches deep and use low water pressure.

When tree roots are covered with concrete, gaining the full effect of natural rainfall is limited. Photo: John Fech

When tree roots are covered with concrete, gaining the full effect of natural rainfall is limited. Photo: John Fech

Mulch for retention

After a rainfall, it’s desirable to hold on to the water and not let it evaporate. Proper mulch installation begins about 3 inches away from the trunk and extends to the drip line of the tree (or as far away as your client will allow). Obviously, several options exist, but the best advice on depth, type and placement comes from Mother Nature. She uses natural mulch, not rock or rubber; she allows it to accumulate to about 3 inches in depth before decomposing and recycling nutrients back to the roots; and she uses a variety of materials including bark, leaves, fruits, flowers and stems. As you communicate with your customers about mulch product options, point out a few well-mulched landscapes, either naturally placed or replicated by an arborist.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2014 and has been updated.

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