Taking care of your trees in drought conditions

By Paul Bryan Jones
Taos Tree Board
Posted 6/14/18

It is essential to care for your trees, especially under the harsh conditions that Taos is currently weathering. Trees provide habitat for wildlife, help support other plants, cool the environment …

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Taking care of your trees in drought conditions

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It is essential to care for your trees, especially under the harsh conditions that Taos is currently weathering. Trees provide habitat for wildlife, help support other plants, cool the environment and prevent air pollution and erosion.

Below are some tried and true tips to helping your trees thrive.

• Water beyond the drip line. Many trees do not have taproots and do not benefit from watering, fertilizing, and mulching at the base of the tree. Some trees have taproots, such as oaks, pines and cottonwoods. As a rule, each inch in diameter of a tree requires ten gallons of water a week, up to but not exceeding 40 gallons a week. Deep watering is vital during a drought because it allows trees to retain water better and for more extended periods of time.

Soaker hose is one way to water trees overnight. A soaker hose puts out one inch of water every 200 minutes. So, if you leave your soaker hose, which is located at the drip line (ends of the branches) on overnight, your trees are getting two inches of water to the root.

• Look for signs of drought stress. Watch for wilted, curled or discolored leaves. Deciduous trees might have brown edges or brown veins in the leaves, and evergreens will have yellow, red, purple or brown needles. Stress ultimately leads to pest infestations.

Pests to watch for and treat quickly:

Deciduous trees with curly leaves have aphids. The saying is, "a newly born aphid is already a grandmother." Neem oil is excellent for treating aphids.

Aspen trees might have tent caterpillars and other annoying insects.

Fruit trees might have curly leaves from aphids. Neem oil is safe on fruit trees.

Piñon pines might have needle scale and needle miner. Treat with horticultural and neem oils.

As the summer progress, other secondary insects (insects that do not kill the tree) may appear. Our average winter with warmer temperatures did not reduce our native insect population.

• Avoid fertilizing. Do not fertilize your trees in drought conditions. Fertilizers are salt-based and will cause dehydration and possibly root burn. It is essential for the health of your trees that you avoid fertilizers at all costs in dry conditions. Soil foods, such as humates, chelated iron, horticultural molasses and soil microbes may improve the soils. They are soil additives that will enhance the uptake of available nutrients and moisture.

• Mulch to retain moisture. Imagine a ring around the trunk and apply organic mulch, such as evergreen needles or bark about four inches in depth from six to twelve inches away from the trunk to retain moisture. Mulching reduces runoff and evaporation and helps to conserve water. Focus on smaller, newly planted and fruit trees. Large, well-established trees still need water but do not need to be mulched. The soil around a mulched tree can retain soil moisture two to three times longer than a tree without mulch.

• Prune. To maintain the overall health and help trees to survive in drought conditions, take off broken, dead or disease-infested branches to improve the tree's stability and structure. Pruning also prevents diseases from spreading and allows trees to distribute their resources to the healthier branches.

Pruning times for deciduous trees are early spring before bud break and midsummer after infectious insects have declined.

Pruning time for conifer trees are mid-November until mid-February.

Note: Information for this article was taken from the article "Here's how to properly ensure that trees are getting enough - and not too much - water during dry times" by Johanna Silver and the book "Gardening in New Mexico" by John Cretti.

Special thanks to Joan Pond and Kineo Memmer, Taos Tree Board Members for their assistance in writing this article.

Any questions please write: taostreesboard@gmail.com.

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