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Trees and Drought

January 27, 2014

The Sacramento region has experienced a record number of days with no rain and our water supply is alarmingly low. The governor has declared a drought for the entire state, and regional water providers are encouraging, and sometimes requiring, a significant reduction in water use. The Sacramento Suburban Water District has published a list of easy to follow tips for water conservation.

But what about the trees in your yard and the trees in our community? How do we keep young and mature trees healthy while also being water wise?

“In these times when water conservation is imperative, each of us can act responsibly to save our trees and maintain our urban tree canopy as one of our region’s greatest assets,” says Ray Tretheway, Executive Director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

As a community we must understand that "...if [we] lose a tree, [we've] lost years of a shade canopy, and a nice wildlife habitat, not to mention its value in terms of home energy conservation,” explains Ryan Deering, UC Davis GATEways horticulturist. The choice between trees and grass is an easy one when you base the decision on the cost and ease of replacement as well as the benefits.

It’s true, trees need water to live. And if it’s not raining, we need to water our trees to keep them alive. But we can all be good stewards of our dwindling water supply by watering only when necessary, and by watering wisely. Here are a few suggestions from professional arborists in our region:

Before even thinking about water, there are a few simple things you can do to prepare your tree during this dry time.

"One word: mulch!" advises Luanne Leineke, Sacramento Tree Foundation's Stewardship Coordinator. “Leaves, finely chopped bark and wood are ideal as they break down and create nutrient-rich compost that will keep soil evenly moist while providing essential nutrients for the tree."

  • Remember the 4x4x6 rule: spread mulch in a 4-foot diameter around your tree, 4 inches away from the trunk, and 6 inches deep.Remove any grass or weeds that may be growing around the tree's trunk to ensure all the soil moisture is delivered to the tree's roots.

Refrain from using fertilizer as they can contribute to drought stress. Use natural mulch instead. Bark chips work well.

When you do water, be sure to do so during the warmer daylight hours so that the water can more easily penetrate the soil.

Caring for Young Trees during a Drought

Caring for Mature Trees during a Drought