when to start watering 1 year old trees?

oldryderMarch 27, 2010

planted about 50 bare root apple trees last spring. all are mulched with wood chips. no damage from animals from the winter!

we have an early spring going here in central MN but it's been quite dry. ground is thawed and we'll have 60-70 degree temps next week but could easily have some more freezing nights this year.

is it too early to water these trees and if yes how do I know when to water?

thx in advance for help and advice.

ps planted 35 cherry trees today!!!!

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

It would be nice to know where you live. But I'll assume central MN with about 24-26 inches rain per year. Is that about right? How much do you need to water yard trees in your climate? What rootstock are the trees on? Knowing these things will help answer your question.

Over watering fruit trees in the spring is common even in commercial orchards. It leaches out the soluable nutrients like nitrogen and can contribute to iron deficiency by keeping the soil cold and wet. Your trees shouldn't need watering until the weeds and grass start to turn brown. Even if it stays dry, that should be June. Probably you will get rain and can put it off longer.

With mulch and no weeds nearby, one year trees in your climate probably won't need water all year. If the weeds aren't so far away from the trees base or it is very dry, then some watering will be in order.

Do you think this is way off?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 8:58PM
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Hey oldryder,
I'm no expert, but we've planted a lot of trees and I agree with fruitnut. If they survive the first summer you have been successful and probably should use your own judgment on when to water. Getting them through the first year is the toughest time. With all the snow recharging the soil I wouldn't worry yet.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 9:17PM
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you're real close. avg rainfall is 27" but we went the whole month of march with no snow and march is usually the top or 2nd snowiest month so soil moisture is low for spring.

"Your trees shouldn't need watering until the weeds and grass start to turn brown."

this surprises me as I thought the tress were relatively vunerable to lack of moisture for a few years until the root systems were fully established.

rootstock is semi-dwarf, soil is sandy and very well drained.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 9:20PM
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oldryder: if you are uncertain how much water is in the soil at any time, check it. It is very easy to do with an inexpensive soil sampling probe. Take a few 12" deep samples from just outside the drip line of the trees and look and feel for moisture.

If you want to get scientific about it, combine the samples individually for each tree and weigh them accurately then dry them in your oven at 160 deg. for an hour or 2 and re-weigh.

To calculate the %moisture : (1-(dry wt/wet weight))x100

You should be able at least to find an extension agent who can give you what different percentages represent for your soils for field capacity (can't hold any more against gravity) and wilting point. I can't at the moment.

I have no doubt that a professional pomologist could give you more precise information on things like sampling depth and root zone vs age and rootstock than I.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 10:33PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Your trees don't have any leaves. They are using zero water at present. You have a mulch on the soil so evaporation is nearly zero. There is no need to water for a long time at present.

A one year old tree on semidwarf rootstock has good roots. If it doesn't have to compete with weeds and has a mulch, 27 inches is way more water than it will use this year, way more.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 10:41PM
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thx. everyone. I'll not water the trees.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 9:11AM
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oldryder: I assume you had moisture from some source in the last 6 months. We usually do from Fall through early Spring. From Oct, 08 through early May, 09 we had no significant moisture and my mature peach tree let me know by rapidly shedding leaves soon after the tree leafed out. I learned my lesson and will check with my soil probe now if there is any doubt.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 9:27PM
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alan haigh

It isn't about how much water the tree needs to survive. It is about how to get maximum growth when you are establishing young trees.

I agree with Fruitnut that until a tree leafs out you usually needn't worry about water, but the idea that a tree can't establish quicker with supplementary water during even rather brief dryspells is not correct IMO. Dryspells in mid-spring when trees are first leafed out can be the most destructive.

As Carl Whitcomb has well demonstrated in his research, a tree reduces it's growth due to water stress well before there are any visual signs that it is in need of water.

Commercial growers that Fruitnut considers to be overwatering might be getting quicker establishment as a result of their expenditure.

Anyway, I don't recommend using any kind of moisture meter-kills the senses depending on such devices when just touching the soil beneath the mulch will probably provide adequate info. Learn how to distinguish between soppy, just right, and a bit too dry so you can maintain the Goldilocks level of moisture your trees grow fastest in.

When trees reach their desired size you can be less mindful of optimum growing conditions. In fact slightly water stressed trees generally produce sweeter fruit.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 6:39AM
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H-man: Relying solely on meters like Irrometers or resistance blocks wouldn't be such a good idea. On the other hand, becoming familiar with what is going on a little further down in the root zone is better than just the surface until a person becomes much more familiar with how their soil responds to the seasons and weather events. A simple soil sampling probe is indispensable for quickly and easily checking and still requires the operator to pay attention to the soil itself while examining the core. A lot can be learned. I suspect you know this already, I'm just pressing the point for those who don't.

Around here you are likely to find a tree planted on top of somebody's old trash heap or cistern 6" under the surface. Gee, what happened to my tree?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 10:39PM
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alan haigh

Under a mulch you can usually know what's going on 18" down by whats happening within the top few inches and that's the entire area I'm concerned about. If the roots remove the water from the top few inches and there isn't enough water and cappilary pull to keep that surface adequately moist I figure it's time to water. If you want to check further down, no harm in that, I just don't find it to be necessary.

Knowing what's going on further down would be useful if your'e trying to irrigate efficiently but that measurement would be made after at least some irrigation. I don't manage water that carefully here in the northeast in non-commercial settings. Haven't seen any drought for quite a spell- I'm praying for one at the moment.

If I was managing water more carefully I would use instruments, I'm sure. I just hate to see the senses taken out of gardening and everthing being done by careful recipe. It is the most efficient way to manage resources but it takes all the independent thinking out of it- except for the independent thinking of the researchers who wind up writing the recipes.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 5:56AM
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