S & J’s Guide to Watering New
Larger Shrubs and Trees in Northeast Florida Landscapes
During the Establishment Period
Just like installation practices can differ
when installing small and large container plants, proper
watering techniques during the establishment period will vary depending
on the size of the plant you purchased and installed. This guide is to help with watering your new larger
shrubs and trees after being planted into the Northeast Florida landscape.
Need help with watering something smaller like
flowers or ornamental grasses? Click this link to open a new page for help with watering your new
smaller landscape flowers and shrubs in the Northeast Florida Landscape.
The Basics of Watering New Larger Shrubs and Trees
The first few months after planting are critical for the
survival of your newly planted plants and trees in the Northeast Florida, Jacksonville, St. Augustine and surrounding
areas. Without supplemental irrigation supplied by a bubbler through your irrigation system or hand watering
with a hose, your newly planted trees just don’t stand a chance!
Intensive irrigation is the practice of paying particularly close
attention to your trees daily water needs during the first few months after planting known as the
The rate at which a tree is considered established into the landscape is
DIRECTLY AFFECTED by the amount of water it gets in the first few months after planting. Checking
your soils moisture level and water needs daily after planting will give your plants the best start possible and
avoid the deadly pitfalls of over and under watering your newly planted larger shrubs and trees.
Newly planted trees that do not receive adequate water during the
establishment period will have a slowed rate of root growth. The faster the roots grow, the quicker the rate
of establishment into the landscape.
Careful attention to daily water
needs = faster rooting trees = faster drought, pest and
For some trees the establishment period may be just a few short months but
others, even with the best of care and attention, will be slower to root and establish themselves into the
landscape where they will be able to survive on their own. Trees like Magnolia or Dogwood, may need to be carefully
watched for up to two full growing seasons before you can consider them able to withstand short periods of drought.
How Frequently Do I Need To Water
My Newly Planted Larger Shrubs and Trees?
How often your new large shrub or tree will need watered can be affected by allot
of factors. Exposure to sun, wind, rain, planting location and even seasonal temperatures can all affect your new
plants need for additional watering.
Click this link for more information on the
types of things that can affect a plants need for supplemental irrigation.
You can’t always rely on your shrubs and trees to show visible signs of water
stress similar to how soft stem flowers and perennials would do. Some larger
shrubs and trees, like Viburnum and Crape Myrtles, may wilt and hang their leaves out of alignment with the sun, a direct indicator that will let
you know they are not receiving enough water to sustain the existing branch structure and leaf growth from day to
day. Other trees, like Holly and Magnolia, may sit looking beautiful
while not receiving enough water and all of the sudden begin to drop leaves at a drastic rate or go into shock and
seemingly overnight you can have brown leaves all over your
If your new larger shrubs and trees don’t get enough water to sustain
existing growth, they will not put out new top growth and root into the soil around them. Because we can’t always
see the visible signs of water stress on trees, it is VITAL TO THE
SURVIVAL of your tree that you check the soil
DAILY with the following simple test to see if your newly planted larger shrubs and trees
are ready to be watered again.
* When the top two inches of soil
underneath the mulch is dry to the touch,
it is time to water
* If the soil is still wet
from the day before skip a day of watering and check again
tomorrow, this will avoid OVER
WATERING your newly planted shrubs and trees as well
as ensure they have the
moisture they need to get rooted out into the surrounding soil.
* If your soil is dry several days in a row
when you check for moisture, you may have extremely sandy soil, or you may not
be giving your tree enough water. In this case, how do you know you are giving your tree all the water it
needs to root in and begin to grow? As a general guide to start off watering with…
Your newly planted larger shrubs and
trees will need 1-3 gallons of water
per inch of
the diameter of the trunk per
Example: 30 gallon trees are normally around a 2 ” caliper trunk. (Caliper is the
standard nursery industry term used to
indicate trunk diameter measured 4 inches from the soil ) A 30 gallon container size tree with a 2 ” diameter
tree trunk will need as little as 2 gallons and up to 6 gallons of water applied slowly to the rootball of
the new plant daily during the establishment period.
A Few Tips That May Just Save The Life of Your Newly Planted Shrubs and Trees
CAUTION: If at any time the soil is extremely dry day after day when
watering, Increase the amount of water it receives at one time and be sure the water is is applied
slowly and not allowed to run off the rootball and into the surrounding soil. ( See this link for
help with building a burm around your larger shrubs and trees root
system Installing Larger Plants into the Northeast Florida Landscape )
CAUTION: Too much water in the soil can be just as bad or worse for some species of shrubs and trees like Viburnum,
ligustrum or drought tolerant trees in the Juniper family. Be sure to
skip the additional water when you check the soil and it is still wet from the day before. Sometimes after
a heavy rain, the soil may remain moist for several days or more and additional irrigation is not needed until the
soil has dried out.
Tip: Mulching your newly planted shrubs and trees will help reduce water loss from evaporation and prevent
weed and grass growth that will compete with the tree for water and rob the soil of vital nutrients.
Remember to mulch lightly near the trunk of the tree and never have more than an inch of mulch
in a 6 inch diameter circle close to the trunk of the
tree. A three inch mulch layer can be used beyond that point.
Tip: Irrigation sprinklers designed to water your lawn only water the soil to a depth of a few inches, that is as deep as
your grass roots grow. The entire root system of your new tree will need watered to the depth that you planted
it at each watering, that may be as deep as 24 inches! So light rain showers and lawn
sprinklers do not water your tree!
Tip: The larger the tree is at the time of planting, the more time it will need with intensive irrigation practices to become established into the
landscape and begin surviving on its own. So be prepared to check daily for water for the first few months on any
tree 30 gallon or larger and for up to 6 months when planting large 100 gallon or field grown trees with 4 inches
of caliper or larger.