Caring for Trees in a Drought


Facing 100 degree temperatures in Philadelphia this week, we thought we share some tips for how to care for your trees in this heat.


  • Water is crucial for your tree’s survival, particularly during the first year after planting. Water deeply and slowly.
  • Water your tree when the soil is dry beneath the mulch. Apply approximately 15-20 gallons of water once a week from March until the end of October, and twice a week during periods of no or little rain.
  • Trickle water onto the soil surface using a hose, or allow water to seep from a bucket with small holes in the bottom or a “tree gator.”
  • The best time to water is before 9 a.m. – during a drought emergency this even may be the law!


  • Trash can prevent water from reaching your tree’s roots, and cause a decline in your tree’s health. Substances like motor oil, de-icing salt, detergent, and urine can kill your tree.
  • Clean the area around your tree periodically and prevent toxic substances like dog pee, leaking garbage, car oil or de-icing salt from entering the soil.


  • Tree roots require water and air for survival. Compacted soil and cemented pits prevent water and air from reaching tree roots.
  • Avoid compacting the soil around the tree’s roots: don’t pile trash, walk or drive over them.
  • Never cement over the surface of your tree pit.
  • Bark is necessary for protecting the trunk and maintaining tree health.
  • Keep car doors, dogs, and bicycles away from the trunk to avoid potential bark wounds.
  • If you lay dry brick or stone around your tree, keep the material at least 6 inches away from the trunk and check each year to maintain this space (pavers placed too close to the trunk can strangle the bark as the trunk gets wider).

Remove Stakes and Straps

  • Straps left on your tree for longer than a year may cut into the bark and strangle the tree
  • Remove and discard stakes and straps one year after planting.


  • Cultivating the soil surface around your tree encourages water and air to enter the soil.
  • Spring is a good time to cultivate the soil around your tree
  • If the soil surface around your tree becomes compacted, loosen the first few inches of soil and break up any large clumps. Avoid damaging any large woody roots.

Weed and Mulch

  • Weeds and grass have extensive root systems that compete with trees for limited resource like water during a drought!
  • Mulch helps conserve water, it reduces the regrowth of weeds and grass, keeps roots cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, prevents lawn mower disease and soil compaction.
  • Maintain a 2-4” layer of mulch around your tree, taking care not to pack it against the trunk. Always remember to weed and cultivate the soil, before mulching. Recommended mulches include: wood chips, composted leaves, and pine needles.

Plant Annual Flowers

  • As flowers wilt in the summer heat and drought, they will remind you to water your tree. Annuals have shallower root systems than perennials and do not compete as vigorously with trees.
  • Plant flowers such as impatiens, begonias, marigolds, and vinca around your tree.

Prune only as a last resort

  • Pruning a tree during a drought can stress it our even more by forcing it to put energy into healing the wounds caused by the pruning cuts. Pruning exposes previously shaded leaves to the strongest rays of the sun, potentially burning them.
  • With the exception of dead, diseased or damaged branches pruning during a severe drought should be limited.

DO NOT Fertilize

  • One of the first reactions that many individuals have when plants are under stress is that the plants should be fertilized. Many fertilizers contain high salt indexes and this salt can exacerbate drought problems on plants

One Response to “Caring for Trees in a Drought”

  1. Certified Arborist Says:

    Thank you for the advice on taking care of a tree during a drought. I appreciate the suggestions you gave. They seem very helpful. Thanks for sharing this.

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