How often to water mature trees

Watering trees - Sacramento Tree Foundation

Unlike grass and other plants, trees need deep and slow watering to develop strong root systems and thrive

Frequently asked questions

How often and how much should I water my tree? Expand

The amount of water your tree needs depends on your soil, tree type, and weather. Trees might need more frequent watering in hot and windy weather.

How do you know when it's time to water? Check the soil!

Use a screwdriver or soil probe to check the soil at least 6 inches below the surface near the drip line of your tree (the imaginary circle at the farthest reaches of the tree's branches). If the soil is hard, dry, and crumbly, add water with a slow soak. If the soil is wet and sticky, allow it to dry before adding more water.

Slowly apply water until the soil becomes moist 6 inches below the surface. Check every 10-20 minutes or to see if the water has reached this depth.

Take note of how long it takes to water your tree, and how long you can go in between watering for the soil to dry out, then schedule regular reminders to water your trees.

In general, young trees will need water 1-3 times per week for the first 3 years after planting. Established and mature trees will need water about once per month in dry months. Some types of native trees will not need summer water in non-drought years.

What are the watering restrictions and days where I live? Expand

When following water wise techniques below, trees are exempt from most watering restrictions and schedules because they are too valuable to lose. It's great to let your lawn turn gold, but keep your trees and our communities green. Check out this map to learn more about watering guidelines for your property.

Water wise techniques that are exempt from most watering restrictions/schedules:

  • Drip irrigation
  • Soaker hoses
  • Hose-end sprinklers on a low setting
  • Hand watering with a hose fitted with a shut-off nozzle
  • Bucket watering
  • Gray water (only use biodegradable soaps) and harvested rainwater

Typically, only overhead sprinklers and water waste/runoff are restricted.

How much does it cost to water mature trees? Expand

It only costs around $3 per month to water a mature tree. For the price of a coffee, trees clean our air, cool our homes, replenish groundwater, improve our health, and create livable and lovable neighborhoods. We need trees, and trees need water.

Other water wise tree tips Expand

Adding natural wood chip mulch around your tree will conserve moisture in the soil and provide a whole host of other benefits for your tree.

Do not use rocks, decomposed granite, weed block fabric, or artificial turf around trees' root zones — they will increase water runoff and trap heat in the soil.

Avoid using fertilizer unless you have identified a specific nutrient deficiency in your soil. Trees do not need fertilizer. Fertilizer encourages green leafy growth, which requires more water.

Wait until winter to prune your trees. Response growth that occurs after summer pruning will require more water.

Don't overwater trees! Roots need water, but they need oxygen too. Check soil moisture before watering, and water slowly to prevent wasteful runoff.

Reuse water whenever possible. Place a 5 gallon bucket in your shower while waiting for the water to warm up. Also consider harvesting rainwater or reusing gray water from your laundry as long as only biodegradable soaps are used.

How to water young trees

1-3 years after planting

For the first three years after planting, all trees need regular water to get established. Don't rely on lawn sprinklers — they do not soak soil deeply enough to encourage a healthy, deep root system for your tree.

The roots of young trees are located mostly near the trunk.

The easiest way to water young trees? Drill a small 1/8" hole near the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. Place a piece of duct tape over the hole, fill the bucket with water, place it near the root ball, and remove the tape to allow water to slowly drain into the soil.


1 yr  2-3 times/week  1 bucket
2 yrs  Once per week  2 buckets
 3 yrs  Every other week  3 buckets


You can also use a small soaker hose, drip tubing or emitters, or a hose sprinkler on a very low setting. Avoid spraying the trunk, and expand the watering zone outward as the tree grows.