Beginners Guide for Watering New Trees

Pick up a shovel and dig a nice hole,

Planting a tree is good for the soul.

Stand back, admire, that which you've done,

But know in your heart, this is only day one.

This beauty will grow, for generations to share,

If only your labors will tend to its care.

A quick soaking, weekly, is all that is needed,

Find a quick way, is advice to be heeded.


"How often should I water my trees?"

New trees should get a good soaking once a week for the first few seasons. Watering frequency can be significantly reduced after a few years, but be aware of abnormally dry weather.


Watering speed is important also, and mimicking nature is always the best approach. Since normal rainfall comes short bursts followed by a long drying period, supplemental watering should be also. During the dry cycle, the feeder roots are growing outward seeking moisture. This is the process of a root system becoming stronger, healthier, and more drought tolerant. Slow, constant watering should be avoided!


"How much water do trees need?"


Small trees - 5 gallons of water will soak the entire root well of a small tree.

Larger trees - Watering should be moved away from the trunk and out to areas around the drip line. This encourages the root system to expand out of the original root-well, giving the tree natural stability and drought tolerance. Constantly watering trees around the trunk will result in a smaller, more concentrated root system


"What is the right way to mulch new trees?"

New trees - Apply a few inches of mulch to new trees. This controls grass and evaporation and looks nice.

Established trees - Mulch is not necessary but a few inches won't be a problem.

Don't do this! High piling of mulch is a very common mistake made by homeowners and even landscapers. The large pile on the left will eventually settle in on the root flare. When the root flare is covered, fungus and insects invade the cambium layer, weakening a tree as seen on the right. Ask yourself "Would this occur in a natural setting?" Answer: No

Tree Watering Systems Comparison

New trees need to be watered weekly to maintain a healthy, vigorous, establishment. This should continue throughout the growing season for the first few years. That's a lot of watering, and after a while it becomes easy to ignore. The secret to success is to start a watering "habit" that is fast, easy, and efficient! In this section we will visit some watering methods and discuss what you can expect each step of the way.

The most popular products are Tree Watering Bags, Hose-Fed Root Feeders, and Self-Contained Root Feeders. We briefly describe theory of operation, then assign a grade to help quantify the differences from one product to another.


TreeGator, Oasis, Hippo, Dewitt, King

These are tall 15-30 gallon bags that are mounted to the trunk of the tree and filled. They release the water through small emitters that slow drain time up to 8 hours.

TreeGator JR, Arborrain, Ooze Tube

Identical to the tall bags, but are a much lower profile.



Ross Root Feeder, Gardenia, Yard Butler

These are long probes that connect to a garden hose. You push them into the soil and use the hose line pressure to inject water.

Tree I.V.

This system is a 5-gallon pail that gravity-feeds water into the ground through a probe



Set-up (small trees) - All of these systems get an "A" grade because they are all relatively easy to set up. However, if the tree has low limbs the tall bags can be difficult to use.


Set-up (larger trees) - The root feeders can be set in the proper drip zone location so they both get an "A" grade. The bags get a "D" since they must be located around the trunk. This can result in most of the root development concentrated in a small area that leaves the tree susceptible to wind topple. Properly established trees also need a wide spreading root system to access moisture and nutrients in a large area.


Filling - Tree I.V. grades an "A" because the open top is easy to fill from any source, including portable tanks used in orchards and parks. It is also a very stable system while full. Bags must be filled with a hose and requires two hands to get started. You must also take care that they are positioned correctly while filling so the emitters remain at the low point. These disadvantages grade a "C". The hose-fed root feeder gets a "D" because it cannot be filled at all, making it a very tedious process to water multiple trees.


Draining - All the bags and the Tree I.V. root feeder score an "A" because they work without your presence. Tree I.V. empties at the natural percolation rate of the soil, while bags use small holes or emitters to slow the flow down enough that run-off is not a problem. The hose-fed root feeder gets another "D" because you need to wait or use a timer to turn it off. None of these are "vacation" watering systems that care for your trees over a period of several weeks. Anything that drips that slowly will never soak deep enough anyway.

Efficiency - The 5 gallon Tree I.V. system seems small compared to the bags, but that is enough to soak the root-well of small trees and spot water around the drip line of larger trees. 15 gallon bags can be considered overkill for small trees, and unfortunately they don't water in the proper location for larger trees. The hose-fed root feeder is efficient, but it's difficult to determine how much each tree is getting. Bags and hose feeders grade "B" and Tree I.V. an "A"


Fertilizing - Tree I.V. gets an "A" for being incredibly easy to pour in liquid nutrients. The tall bags aren't too bad so they get a "B". The hose-fed feeders get a "C" due to plugging and difficulty with the pelletized fertilizers dissolving. The low bags get a "D" for difficulty.


Durability - Tree I.V. grades an "A" as it is very tough. Hose feeders with plastic handles have a problem with breaking when the ground is hard so they get a "B". Bags can be quickly destroyed with lawn care equipment so they get a "C".


Portability - Tree I.V. gets a solid "A". The "Fill and Haul" option allows the reservoir to be plugged, filled and transported to remotely located trees. Tall bags get a "C". They can be remotely installed, but a separate water source must be used. Low bags and hose-fed feeders get an "F" for impossibility.


Cost - The hose-fed feeder gets the "A" since you only need one. The bags get a "B". If you want to finish in a reasonable amount of time, you need one for each tree. Tree I.V. also grades a "B". You need an injector for each tree, but the buckets empty quickly and can be moved to other trees. There is also have a money saving option to use buckets you already have.


Average Grade:

Tree I.V. Portable Root Feeder:  A

Tree Watering Bags (Tall):   C+

Hose-Fed Root Feeders:   C

Tree Watering Bags (Low):   C


Note: All attributes are weighted equally. Take care to consider only those that are important to you.