Most of Michigan is in some level of drought, with much of Lower Michigan at least in moderate drought. There are steps we should take now to avoid plants dying across our landscape.

Often if you wait until you see plants turning yellow or brown, it may be too late to nurse the plants back to health. This is especially true for trees and shrubs.

Jerry Somalski, owner of Bay Landscaping in Essexville, MI, says any trees or shrubs planted within the last two years will especially need your attention. Somalski says the transplant shock to a plant moved within two years means you should be watering those plants, especially in the current drought.

Somalski gives us a great idea of where we should focus our water. He says a study showed that half of a plants roots are within half of the drip line. The drip line is typically said to be a circle on the ground at the outer edge of a plants limbs. This means the biggest watering benefit is when you water right at the base of the trunk of a tree or shrub, and for a few feet outward from the trunk.

How much water is enough? Jerry S. notes that is the number one question to him in over 30 years of advising us on landscaping. He says you probably can’t overwater a plant right now. Typically the recommendation is one inch per week. While that may be easy to measure on a lawn, watering with a hose at the base of a tree is harder to quantify. Somalski offers this tip. Take a five gallon bucket and poke a pinhole in the bottom. Fill the bucket to the top with water, and set the bucket near the trunk of a plant. This is a way to slowly water a plant with five gallons of water. His general rule of thumb is 20 gallons for each newly planted tree with a one-inch trunk.

hose 1

Preferred volume of water coming out of a hose to water a tree, according to Jerry Somalski.

Somalski advocates a very slow watering of plants. Another of his watering methods is to turn your hose on full blast and then back it down to just a very fine stream. The fine stream is the velocity of water you want going on the base of a plant. To know how long to keep the hose on a plant at that watering rate, stick the hose in a five gallon bucket and time how long until it’s full. Then you will know how many gallons of water you are giving a tree in a given amount of time.

If you want the no-questions way to water a tree, you can try a Treegator watering bag. You fill the bag with water, and the water slowly oozes out around the base of the tree.

treegator

Treegator watering bag has various sizes, holding up to the recommended 20 gallons of water. (Photo provided by Jerry Somalski)

But as a gardener and landscaper for the past forty years, I can tell you caring for your plants in drought just takes time and patience. There isn’t a scientific exact number of gallons that each plant needs. The vast majority of feeder roots are in the top 18 inches of soil and within half the distance to the drip line. Saving your landscape will take a trip outside every 15 minutes to move the hose to the next tree or shrub.

I also like to briefly spray water from the hose nozzle onto the greenery of plants. I don’t focus a lot of water on this method, but we all like water on our skin. Plants are no different.

drought shrub

Arborvitae showing some brown tips, probably due to drought stress and transplant shock. (Mark Torregrossa | MLive)

If you are planting now, talk to a landscape expert like Somalski about plants that are more tolerant to dry conditions. While we don’t have drought every year, the drought tolerant plants also tend to need less maintenance overall. This means less time working on your landscape, and more time enjoying it.

Somalski gives us a heads-up on two common plants that are water hogs- cherries and Emerald Green arborvitaes. Many landscapes up close to a house have a weeping cherry. Those are one of the most drought intolerant plants according to Somalski. During drought the cherry trees will lose leaves easily, and can die. The Emerald Green arborvitae is also a “thirsty hog” for the first few years advises Somalski.

Even with rain in the forecast, I would and am continuing to water the unestablished plants in the landscape. The chances of a great soaking rain aren’t high enough to have us stop watering.

Somalski also says you can check with your municipality to see if they will install a second meter for irrigation systems. If you can get a second meter for watering outside, you won’t have to pay the sewer part of the water cost. Otherwise the only thing you can do to save money on water is to put the right amount of water down on the right place surrounding the plants.

And pray for rain. It’s so much easier when Mother Nature pitches in on landscaping help.

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