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Put tree watering on your 'bucket' list

Use a 5-gallon bucket to deep-water where it's needed most

A 5-gallon bucket with a hole can deliver water
efficiently to a young tree's roots. (Photo courtesy
Sacramento Tree Foundation)

Are you worried about your trees during our current drought? Young trees in particular need extra irrigation to make sure they stay healthy and grow strong.

During very dry conditions, young trees of all kinds are most at risk, particularly under 5 years old. These saplings benefit from a slow, deep drink.

According to the Sacramento Tree Foundation, young trees need an extra 10 to 15 gallons of water a week in summer to get established and put down deep roots. The best way to apply this extra irrigation is not with a hose, but a bucket – with a hole in it.

The bucket method – applying water via a 5-gallon bucket – allows water to soak in slowly even in Sacramento’s heavy clay soils. If you just pour 5 gallons of water on the ground next to the tree, it will run off instead of soaking in. With a hose, it’s just a guess how much water you’re applying.

With the bucket, you know exactly how much and where that water will go – down into the tree’s root zone.

SacTree staff experimented and found that a single 1/8-inch hole – located on the bucket’s side about 1 inch above the bottom – was most effective in delivering water at just the right rate. On the bottom, the hole got clogged with dirt. With multiple or bigger holes, the water drained too fast.

How do you use a bucket with a hole in it? Cover the hole with duct tape, fill the bucket, put in place, then remove the tape.

Place the bucket close, within a foot of the trunk, to newly planted trees; their root ball still hasn’t spread out. Alternate sides with each bucket application. As the tree grows, move the bucket farther away from the trunk. The feeder roots that need the extra water most are located along the dripline at the edges of a tree’s canopy.

In the first year, give a young tree an extra 5 gallons two or three times a week, SacTree recommends. In the second year, make it 10 gallons once a week. At three years, increase the extra water allowance to 15 gallons but apply it every other week.

Mulch will help your trees retain that moisture longer. Apply 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch (wood chips, bark, leaves, etc.) out to the tree’s dripline, leaving 6 inches of space around the trunk. Mounding mulch around the trunk allows fungal diseases to attack the tree’s crown.

Mature trees benefit from extra irrigation, too. Instead of a bucket, use a soaker hose encircling the tree at its dripline and set a timer for one hour. Do that once a month.

For more tree tips, visit .


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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