Thursday, September 3, 2015

5 steps to healthier trees and shrubs

New home builders have done a great job with drainage over the last couple decades, building subdivisions with such efficient drainage that the yards and streets are cleared of water within minutes after a heavy monsoon downpour. The downside to this awesome drainage is that your trees probably aren't getting enough water to develop a deep and healthy root system.

Now that the we're nearing the end of summer (I promise - it won't be too much longer!), this is a good time to see if you can get your trees some relief from the last 3 months' brutal heat.

Here are 5 simple ideas to help your plants do better next year:

1.) Check your drip system.

Turn on your drip system and take a walk around the yard, stopping to inspect each plant's emitters. You'll probably find a couple that are clogged and not dripping much water, and a couple that are broken and spraying gallons of water more than they should be.

Next turn the drip system back off and replace the broken emitters.

2.) Move your drip flags away from the base of the tree.

Just as your tree grows taller and wider, its root system is trying to grow deeper and wider. Moving your drip emitters away from the base of the tree will allow the roots to grow wider, ultimately making the tree stronger and healthier.

As a rule of thumb, the roots underground should reach out about as far as the leaves do above ground.

3.) Dig a well.

If your property is graded so that standing water runs off very quickly, and you have a tree that needs more water than some of the other trees, you can dig a well around the tree to allow water to pool and soak deeper into the ground.

Dig up some dirt from the high-ground side of the tree, and place the dirt onto the low-ground side of the tree. This should give you a circle of level ground around the tree.

Next use some of the extra dirt to build a dam (or a wall, berm, or well) around the tree.
Now you can fill the well with water, without having the water run down the yard and into the street, and your tree will get deep watered.


Most of us don't have yards quite this steep, but this picture shows the idea of using earth from the higher side of the tree to fill in the lower side of the tree. (image credit here.)


Once you have the ground somewhat level, you can build up a well to allow water to pool and soak into the ground, rather than running down the rest of your yard. (image credit here.)


4.) Get a bucket.

If you have a tree or bush in an area that your drip system doesn't cover, drill a small hole in one of those 5-gallon buckets from the hardware store. Fill the bucket with water and let it slowly drain out near your tree.

I have a pygmy palm tree in a corner of gravel in between the driveway and the front entryway. I'm not yet up for digging under the driveway to run a drip line, so I've been using the bucket method once a week, and the palms are doing really well.

5.) Prune, shape, and cultivate.

You can keep your trees and bushes healthy and looking good by trimming away dead and unwanted branches. Let the tree focus its energy into new growth in the areas where you want it to grow, rather than growing out new branches that you're just going to cut off once they get larger anyway.


Healthier trees with deeper roots make for better homes. The trees are less likely to blow over in the next windstorm, and they're roots are less likely to pull up your driveway in search of shallow water. They look better, too, which helps raise your property's value!

- Chris Butterworth

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