Watering Trees Is Still Important

Trees in lawns, even drought tolerant sorts, expect to be watered somewhat.

All the optimistic predictions of a rainy winter do not help with the drought yet. Nice warm weather only makes the garden even drier. Many of us have let our lawns dry out, maybe with plans to replace them later. Some have decided to replace lawn with artificial turf, hardscape or other landscape features.

The problem with this is that trees and other large plants that have dispersed their roots under the lawns are thirsty for the volumes of water that they had gotten while the lawns were well watered. They can survive longer than lawn does without watering, and will adapt to less water when they do get it, but they can not do without water completely.

It seems silly to water artificial turf or new decking, but it is sometimes necessary, especially for thirsty trees like willow, ash, elm and redwood. This is why some artificial lawns are outfitted with the original irrigation systems of the lawns that they replaced.

Drought tolerant trees, like certain oaks and most eucalypti, are more adaptable. Of course, those that were originally watered generously are greedier. Those that got only minimal watering may not notice if they get none at all. Regardless of their requirements, they all can be watered less frequently than lawns were, but should be watered generously when they do get watered.

Generous, but infrequent watering soaks into the ground better to satisfy deep roots. It is actually what most trees prefer. Lawn needs frequent watering only because the roots are so shallow. Generous, but infrequent watering uses less water not only because less evaporates from the surface of the soil, but also because less water gets used.

For example, watering weekly for 20 minutes is a generous volume of water, but is still less than watering for 15 minutes three times each week. It is only 20 minutes of watering compared to forty five minutes of watering.

Horridculture – All Wet

P90327Regardless of their individual innate requirements for water, new plants need to be watered very regularly immediately after they are installed into a landscape. As they mature and disperse their roots, the regularity of supplemental watering becomes less important, and ‘drought tolerant’ plants may not need to be watered at all. Maturing larger trees generally get what they need from the landscape around them.
Automated irrigation systems that are designed for new landscapes are designed for what the plants need while the landscapes are new. As the landscapes mature, the irrigation systems may need to be adjusted accordingly. Drip irrigation or bubblers that were needed to water new trees while they were young and confined should be moved farther from the trunks of the trees as roots disperse, and should eventually be removed and capped.
This is very important, since water applied directly to the trunks of some maturing trees will promote rot and other disease. For some, it promotes buttressing of roots that can displace concrete or other landscape features. If nothing else, it is just a waste of water.
Whoever installed the irrigation to this young London plane tree knew how to do so properly. The bubbler was likely over the confined root systems of the formerly canned tree just after it was installed. It is installed in such a manner that it could have been moved over as the tree grew, replaced with some sort of drip irritation hose to curve around the tree (if such a device had become necessary), or simply removed.
Now that the tree is as mature as it is, the bubbler should simply be removed, and the riser (where the white ‘L’ is) should simply be capped. The tree gets what it needs from the rest of the landscape around it, and really does not need much water anyway. It could probably survive without any supplemental irrigation at all. The bubbler is really just wasting water.
However, because so-called ‘gardeners’ are what they are, the bubbler remains, attached to an unsightly bit of exposed pipe, and wasting water on the base of the trunk of the sycamore. Because this tree and associated bubbler are right next to a parking spot in a parking lot, the pipe is very likely to get stepped on and broken every once in a while. In fact, the fresh Teflon tape on both ends of the pipe suggest that it was repaired quite recently, rather than removed.
Fortunately, the sycamore will not likely be damaged by water applied directly to the base of the trunk.

Watering Starts Where Rain Finishes

70607thumbFor a while last winter, it seemed like the rain would never stop. Obviously, it did. The warm spring weather that followed helped plants to take advantage of the rare surplus of moisture. Desert wildflowers were more colorful than they had been in many years, and maybe since 1983 in some areas. Now the weather is back to normal for here, and we must water our gardens accordingly.

There is nothing natural about irrigation (watering); but then, there is nothing natural about gardening or landscaping. Most of the plants in common landscapes are not native. They were imported from vastly diverse regions with very different climates. Because this happens to be a semi-arid ‘chaparral’ climate, most plants want more moisture than they would get here naturally from rain.

Adapting unnatural irrigation to unnatural landscaping sounds easy enough. The problem is that the many different types of plants from so many different climates each want something different. Also, some plants need unnaturally frequent irrigation to sustain unnatural behavior. For example, lawn grass that would naturally go dormant after a dry summer needs water to stay green all year.

Lawn grasses have finely textured roots near the surface of the soil, so want frequent irrigation. Trees within lawns might want larger volumes of water to reach lower roots, but do not like frequent irrigation that keeps the surface of the soil moist. The sort of regular irrigation that is good for lawn promotes shallow tree roots that ruin lawns and pavement, and are not exactly ideal for stability.

Automated irrigation is usually set to operate very early in the morning, and finish before anyone in the home is likely to be outside, or using much water inside. (Other water use can compromise pressure.) Less water evaporates before the sun comes up. Watering before midnight might seem like a better idea, but keeps foliage wetter longer, so might promote fungal diseases such as mildew. Frequency and duration (volume) of irrigation require occasional adjustments to adapt to the weather.