How to Water Trees During the Sacramento Drought: Tips and Resources

Sacramentans should continue to water their trees regularly despite city watering restrictions on lawns and landscapes.

While residents can only water their lawns and landscapes twice a week during the dry season until the end of October, trees are exempt from this restriction, according to the city.

Why are trees exempt from this rule and how can I keep my trees healthy?

Why are trees important?

Trees are an important part of Sacramento, with the city maintaining about 100,000 trees, said Carlos Eliason, spokesman for the city’s Utilities Department.

“It’s a huge part of our landscape,” Eliason said. “They offer many benefits and we want to keep them healthy during times of drought.”

Some benefits of trees include shade, oxygen, better air quality, less erosion and pollution, and more. In Sacramento, trees provide shade to homes and buildings, helping to reduce energy consumption.

Unlike other plants on lawns, trees don’t regrow as easily and can take hundreds of years to fully mature, Eliason said. During last year’s drought, many trees died from lack of water.

“The lawns will easily come back year after year,” he said. “But trees – once they’re gone – are harder to replace.”

How to water the trees

In order to keep the trees alive, the city encourages people to “water the trees as much as they need,” which can include manual and frequent watering.

A common pitfall with growing trees is that sprinklers often don’t soak the ground under trees deep enough. Soaking the ground helps them grow and stay alive, Eliason said.

The water should reach 12 to 18 inches below the tree’s surface, according to the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

The foundation recommends the screwdriver method as a way to tell if the ground under trees is soggy. If it’s hard to push a screwdriver into the ground, it might be time to water.

“If the soil is hard, dry, and crumbly, add water with a slow soak,” the website says. “If the soil is wet and sticky, let it dry out before adding more water.”

Here are some ways to keep your trees healthy, according to the city and the foundation.

  • Use a moisture meter to detect if the soil is too dry or too wet.

  • Use the bucket method. Drill a small hole in the bottom of a bucket, fill it with water and place it at the root of the tree.

  • Use a “soaking” pipe and place it under the tree canopy. These special hoses have multiple small holes that slowly water the area around the roots.

  • Add mulch to prevent evaporation.

The local nonprofit is also hosting a free “Smart Irrigation for Trees” workshop on June 25 at the city’s Department of Utilities headquarters for people to learn about irrigation techniques.

The session lasts from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at 1395 35th Avenue. Space is limited and registration is available on Eventbrite.

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This story was originally published June 13, 2022 10:46 a.m.

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