How to Care for Trees During a Drought: Tips and Techniques

In times of drought, trees can suffer greatly due to lack of water. It is important to take care of trees during these conditions to ensure their survival and health. Proper care can help trees withstand drought conditions and recover more quickly once the drought has ended.

To care for trees during a drought, it is important to understand their needs. Trees require water to survive, but they also need nutrients and proper soil conditions. When water is scarce, it is important to provide trees with the necessary nutrients and soil management practices to help them retain moisture and stay healthy.

Watering strategies for drought-affected trees are also important to consider. Shallow watering does not reach the deeper roots of the tree, so it is recommended to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation around the base of the tree, extending out to the edge of the tree canopy, known as the drip line. Mulching is also a great way to help trees retain moisture and reduce evaporation. By taking these steps, trees can be better equipped to survive and thrive during drought conditions.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the needs of trees during drought conditions is crucial for their survival and health.
  • Proper watering strategies and soil management practices can help trees retain moisture and stay healthy during drought conditions.
  • Community efforts and support can also play a role in caring for trees during droughts, and long-term strategies for tree preservation should be considered.

Understanding Tree Needs in Drought Conditions

A parched tree stands in dry soil, with wilted leaves and cracked bark. Nearby, a small watering can and a bag of mulch sit unused

During drought conditions, trees are more vulnerable to stress, disease, and pests. Therefore, it is essential to take care of trees during drought to ensure their survival and health. To care for trees during drought, it is important to understand their needs.


Water is essential for trees to survive and grow. During drought, trees require more water than usual to compensate for the lack of rainfall. However, it is important to water trees correctly. Overwatering can be just as harmful as underwatering. It can lead to root rot and other diseases.

When watering trees, it is important to water deeply and infrequently. This helps to encourage deep root growth, which makes trees more resilient to drought. The amount of water required depends on the size and species of the tree. As a general rule, trees require 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter per week.


Mulching is an effective way to conserve soil moisture and reduce water loss through evaporation. It also helps to reduce weed growth, which can compete with trees for water. When mulching trees, it is important to spread a layer of mulch around the base of the tree, but not touching the trunk. A layer of 2-4 inches is recommended.


Pruning is an important part of tree care, especially during drought conditions. Pruning helps to remove dead or diseased branches, which can stress the tree and make it more susceptible to pests and diseases. It also helps to improve air circulation and sunlight penetration, which can promote healthy growth.

When pruning trees during drought conditions, it is important to avoid pruning during the hottest part of the day. This can cause stress to the tree and increase the risk of damage. It is also important to use clean, sharp tools to avoid damaging the tree.


Understanding tree needs during drought conditions is essential for their survival and health. By providing adequate water, mulching, and pruning, trees can thrive during drought conditions. It is important to remember that each tree is unique and may require different care depending on its species, age, and location.

Watering Strategies for Drought-Affected Trees

A tree with wilted leaves receives water from a drip irrigation system, while nearby, another tree is being watered with a soaker hose

When it comes to caring for trees during a drought, proper watering strategies are essential. Here are some techniques to keep your trees healthy and hydrated:

Deep Watering Techniques

Deep watering is the most effective way to ensure that your trees receive enough water during a drought. This technique involves applying water slowly and deeply to the soil around the tree’s root zone. This encourages the roots to grow deeper in search of moisture and helps the tree to become more resilient to drought conditions.

One effective way to deep water your trees is to use a soaker hose. This type of hose releases water slowly and evenly, allowing it to soak into the soil around the tree’s roots. Another option is to use a drip irrigation system, which delivers water directly to the tree’s root zone.

Mulching for Moisture Retention

Mulching is another important technique for caring for trees during a drought. Mulch helps to retain moisture in the soil around the tree’s roots, reducing the amount of water that is lost to evaporation. It also helps to regulate soil temperature and prevent soil erosion.

To mulch your trees, spread a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, taking care not to pile the mulch up against the trunk. Good options for organic mulch include shredded leaves, bark chips, and compost.

Watering Schedules and Restrictions

During a drought, it’s important to follow any watering schedules or restrictions that may be in place in your area. This helps to conserve water and ensure that everyone has access to the water they need.

If you’re not sure when to water your trees, a good rule of thumb is to water deeply once a week. However, you should always check the soil moisture level before watering to avoid overwatering. To do this, stick a screwdriver or other long, narrow tool into the soil. If it comes out dry, it’s time to water. If it comes out wet, wait a few days before checking again.

By using these watering strategies, you can help your trees survive and thrive during a drought.

Soil Management During Drought

Dry, cracked soil surrounds a lone tree. Its leaves are wilting, and the ground is parched. A small, withered sapling nearby struggles to survive

Soil Amendments

During a drought, the soil around trees can become dry and nutrient deficient, making it difficult for trees to survive. One way to help trees during a drought is to apply soil amendments. Soil amendments are materials that are added to the soil to improve its structure, texture, and fertility.

Compost is an excellent soil amendment that can help trees during a drought. Compost improves soil fertility, water retention, and drainage. Adding a layer of compost around the base of the tree can help retain moisture in the soil and provide nutrients to the tree.

Another soil amendment that can be used during a drought is mulch. Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as wood chips or leaves, that is placed on top of the soil around the tree. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, reduces soil temperature, and suppresses weed growth.

Avoiding Soil Compaction

Soil compaction is a common problem during a drought. When the soil becomes dry, it can become compacted, making it difficult for water and nutrients to penetrate the soil. Compacted soil can also damage the roots of trees, making it difficult for them to absorb water and nutrients.

To avoid soil compaction, it is important to avoid walking or driving on the soil around trees. Heavy equipment should also be kept away from the tree roots. If it is necessary to work near the tree, it is important to use a light touch and to work carefully to avoid damaging the roots.

In addition to avoiding soil compaction, it is important to water the soil around the tree deeply and infrequently. This will help prevent the soil from becoming compacted and will encourage the roots to grow deeper into the soil.

Overall, applying soil amendments and avoiding soil compaction are important steps in caring for trees during a drought. These practices can help improve soil fertility, retain moisture in the soil, and prevent damage to the roots of trees.

Selecting Drought-Resistant Tree Species

A person selecting drought-resistant tree species and caring for trees during a drought

When it comes to selecting trees for a drought-prone area, it is essential to choose species that are well-suited to the local climate and soil conditions. Some tree species are naturally more tolerant of dry conditions than others, and these species are the best choice for areas that experience frequent droughts. Here are some examples of drought-resistant tree species that homeowners can consider:

  • Hawthorn: This smaller tree is an excellent choice for drought-prone areas. It has four-season ornamental interest and can tolerate dry soil conditions.
  • Honey Locust: The Honey Locust tree has smaller leaves that resemble bird feathers. It prefers moist soil but can survive periods of drought and high heat.
  • Red Maple: This tree is known for its stunning fall color and is also drought-tolerant. It can thrive in a variety of soil types and is a popular choice for landscaping in many regions.

When selecting drought-resistant trees, it is also important to consider the tree’s root system. Trees with deep root systems are better able to withstand drought conditions because they can access water from deeper soil layers. In contrast, trees with shallow root systems are more vulnerable to drought stress because they are unable to reach water in deeper soil layers.

In addition to the species mentioned above, there are many other drought-resistant trees that homeowners can consider. Some other options include the White Oak, the Bald Cypress, and the Desert Willow. It is best to consult with a local arborist or horticulturist to determine the best species for a specific area.

Overall, selecting drought-resistant tree species is an essential step in caring for trees during a drought. By choosing species that are well-suited to the local climate and soil conditions, homeowners can help ensure that their trees thrive even during periods of water scarcity.

Pruning and Maintenance for Drought-Stressed Trees

A tree with brown, wilted leaves, surrounded by dry, cracked soil. A person watering the base of the tree with a hose

Pruning to Reduce Stress

Pruning is an essential part of tree maintenance, but it can be harmful to trees that are already stressed by drought. During a drought, a tree’s resources are limited, and pruning can further deplete those resources. Therefore, it is best to avoid pruning drought-stressed trees until conditions improve.

If pruning is necessary, it should be done with care. Dead or damaged branches should be removed, as they can be a source of stress for the tree. However, live branches should be left intact, as they are important for the tree’s survival.

Monitoring for Pests and Diseases

Trees that are stressed by drought are more susceptible to pests and diseases. Therefore, it is important to monitor drought-stressed trees for signs of infestation or infection.

Common pests that attack drought-stressed trees include bark beetles, borers, and spider mites. Signs of infestation include small holes in the bark, sawdust around the base of the tree, and yellowing or wilting leaves.

Common diseases that affect drought-stressed trees include cankers, root rot, and leaf spot. Signs of infection include discolored or wilted leaves, cankers on the trunk or branches, and mushrooms growing at the base of the tree.

If pests or diseases are detected, it is important to take action quickly. In some cases, the tree may need to be treated with insecticides or fungicides. In other cases, the affected branches or parts of the tree may need to be removed.

By following these pruning and maintenance tips, homeowners can help their trees survive and thrive during a drought.

Using Technology to Monitor Tree Health

A sensor attached to a tree trunk, transmitting data to a smartphone. Nearby, a watering system providing moisture to the parched soil

Soil Moisture Sensors

One of the most important factors in caring for trees during a drought is ensuring they receive enough water. Soil moisture sensors are a useful tool in monitoring the moisture levels in the soil around the tree. These sensors can be placed in the ground near the tree’s root system, and they provide real-time data on the moisture levels in the soil. This information can be used to determine when the tree needs to be watered, and how much water it needs.

Drought Stress Indicators

Another useful technology for monitoring tree health during a drought is the use of drought stress indicators. These indicators can be used to detect early signs of drought stress in trees, such as leaf wilting or discoloration. By monitoring these indicators, arborists can take action to prevent further damage to the tree.

LiDAR and aerial images are some of the remote sensing technologies that can be used to evaluate the health of trees. Graph Neural Networks can be used to geo-localise trees in urban settings in an automated and efficient way. Colbey has also leveraged drones, robots, and artificial intelligence to acquire comprehensive data and extract valuable insights to monitor vegetation health.

Overall, using technology to monitor tree health during a drought can be a valuable tool for arborists and greenskeepers. By using soil moisture sensors and drought stress indicators, they can take proactive measures to ensure the health and survival of trees during periods of drought.

Community Efforts and Support

A group of people watering young trees in a dry, cracked soil. Others are mulching and pruning to help trees survive a drought

Local Watering Ordinances

During a drought, it is important to conserve water while also ensuring that trees receive the necessary moisture. Many communities have implemented watering ordinances to regulate water usage. These ordinances may restrict the times of day when watering is allowed or limit the amount of water that can be used. It is important to check with local authorities to ensure compliance with these ordinances.

Community Tree Care Programs

Many communities have established tree care programs to support the health of trees during a drought. These programs may include initiatives such as community-wide watering efforts or tree pruning and maintenance. In some cases, volunteers may be recruited to help with these efforts.

Community tree care programs can also provide resources and education to residents on how to care for trees during a drought. This can include information on proper watering techniques, mulching, and pest management.

By working together as a community, individuals can help ensure that trees receive the care they need during a drought. Whether it’s following local watering ordinances or participating in community tree care programs, everyone can play a role in supporting the health of trees.

Long-Term Strategies for Tree Preservation

A lone tree stands tall in a dry, cracked earth. A small watering system provides a steady stream of water to the base of the tree, while mulch surrounds the trunk to retain moisture

Landscape Design for Drought Tolerance

One of the best ways to preserve trees during a drought is to incorporate drought-tolerant species into the landscape design. These species are adapted to thrive in arid conditions and require less water than other species. Some examples of drought-tolerant trees include the Arizona cypress, the honey locust, and the eastern red cedar.

In addition to selecting drought-tolerant species, it is important to consider the placement of trees in the landscape. Trees should be situated in locations where they can receive adequate sunlight and air circulation. This will help to reduce stress on the tree and promote healthy growth.

Irrigation System Improvements

Another important strategy for preserving trees during a drought is to improve the irrigation system. This can include the installation of drip irrigation or soaker hoses, which deliver water directly to the roots of the tree. This method is more efficient than traditional sprinkler systems, which can waste water through evaporation and runoff.

It is also important to ensure that the irrigation system is functioning properly and delivering water evenly to all trees in the landscape. This can be achieved through regular maintenance and inspection of the system. In addition, it may be necessary to adjust the watering schedule during times of drought to ensure that trees are receiving enough water to thrive.

By incorporating drought-tolerant species into the landscape design and improving the irrigation system, it is possible to preserve trees during a drought. These long-term strategies can help to ensure that trees remain healthy and vibrant for years to come.

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