Fall is for planting. But knowing the best ways to water trees and shrubs, so plants establish quickly is key to their survival. The trick is giving them the amount of water they need at a rate that doesn’t come out so fast that roots don’t have time to take it up.
The other key to watering properly is to deliver water at a flow rate that’s gentle enough, so you’re not destroying the soil environment at the base of the plants.
Heavy, stiff streams of water quickly erode the soil around the roots and deliver too much water too fast for it to be taken up by the roots. Most of it washes away, taking valuable topsoil, compost or mulch with it. While it’s a common way to water, it’s not the right way.
The Best Ways to Water Trees & Shrubs
1. Soaker hose: If you’re dealing with a single tree or large shrub, a great way to put that watering on autopilot in a way that your plant will love is with a soaker hose attached to an automatic timer. Installing high-quality soaker hoses around all my newly installed trees gives me the peace of mind I need to know they are getting the water they need, when they need it (thanks to automatic timers), to allow them to establish quickly, even in hot, dry conditions.
2. Soaker / Bubbler attachment: A favorite way to water any shrub or nearly any newly planted tree (especially when you want a good amount of water in a relatively small space) is with a soaker attachment (I also refer to it as a bubbler).
You can get a bubbler attachment at a home improvement center or a garden supply store for less than ten dollars. Connect that to the simplest of timers (such as a spring activated timer) to ensure the water shuts off after a preset amount of time.
But here’s the key to making this work beautifully. Between the timer and the hose end, screw on a quick shut-off valve. You can buy that wherever you buy your hose attachments (like the soaker/bubbler). That allows you to reduce the volume of water coming from the hose and out of the soaker attachment.
Otherwise, the heavy volume would negate the desired benefit of a low, slow, soaking effect to the root area.
Then, simply set the timer for a few minutes, like 15 or 30, place it at the base of the plant, and adjust the quick shutoff lever to the desired flow. This way, you don’t get excess runoff, the water comes out at a slow enough so the roots can take it up, and because it’s on a timer, you can confidently walk away knowing it will shut off at the end of that time.
One final tip for this or any watering system with hose-end attachments is to use quick connect couplers as seen in this example for the soaker/bubbler. They make those irrigation tasks much quicker when you need to swap out implements and well-worth the five bucks or so.
3. Drip Irrigation: For containers or rows of plants, or even mass plantings or groups, drip irrigation is the most efficient way to cover a lot of ground and precisely deliver that water right where it needs to go.
Drip irrigation kits and systems are readily available at home improvement stores and garden centers and are incredibly easy to install. The many options created to attach to the hose tubing allows for a wide array of options for how and how much water is delivered over a period.
Again, the key to ultimate irrigation ease is when you install an automated timer to activate the flow of water for the right amount of time and for all the days of the week that you want your plants watered.
No matter what you’ve planted or what you’re getting ready to plant, the key to proper water delivery is low and slow — low pressure and slow enough so the roots have time to take up that water without excess runoff or without it destroying the soil integrity from the force of water coming out too fast or too hard.
Soaker hoses, bubbler systems, and drip irrigation are three great ways to make sure that that water is delivered where you want it when you want it, and how you want it, especially when you combine it with an automatic timer to help you get those plants established as quickly as possible.