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 take a closer look at some important attributes. To help quantify the differences we will assign a score from 1 to 10, 10 being best.


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 ease - All of these systems are all relatively easy to set up prior to filling. However, if the tree has low limbs the tall bags can be difficult to use.

Score: Bags 10; Hose Feeders 10; Tree I.V. 10


Filling ease / Time Required - Tree I.V. has a large open top making it easy to fill from a hose, a portable tank, or another container. This is a time-saving feature, especially for large plantings. The bucket is also very stable, empty or full. Bags must be filled with a hose and require two hands to get started. Positioning is also important so that the emitters work correctly and the bags empty completely. The hose-fed root feeder cannot be filled at all, making it a much longer process to water multiple trees.

Score: Tree I.V. 10; Bags 6; Hose Feeders 3


Draining - Bags and the Tree I.V. all drain without your presence, which is a huge benefit. 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 requires a timer to turn it off if you are to leave, but then none of the other trees get watered. 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.

Score: Bags 10; Tree I.V. 10; Hose Feeders 3


Effectiveness - The root feeder products can be set anywhere, which is a big advantage for properly watering larger trees in the drip zone. Bags must be located around the trunk, and will promote most of the root development in that small area. A large tree with a small root system is prone to wind topple and is not establishing itself for independence. "Established" trees have a wide spreading root system with access to moisture and nutrients in an area larger than the tree itself.

Score: Hose Feeders 10; Tree I.V. 10; Bags 3


Efficiency - The Tree I.V. system is small compared to bags. However, 5 gallons will soak the root-well of small trees and spot water around the drip line of larger trees. 15 gallon bags can be overkill for small trees, and since they don't water in the proper location for larger trees efficiency is not good. The hose-fed root feeder is efficient, but it's difficult to determine how much each tree is getting.

Score: Tree I.V. 10; Hose Feeders 7; Bags 4


Fertilizing - Tree I.V. is incredibly easy for adding liquid nutrients with the wide-open top. The tall bags are a bit more difficult but still relatively easy by just pulling back the top opening. The hose-fed feeders rely on pelletized fertilizers to dissolve during watering which doesn't always work well. Low bags have a hose sized opening which is very difficult to add fertilizers to.

Score: Tree I.V. 10; Tall Bags 8; Root Feeders 4; Low Bags 2


Durability - Both root feeder products are tough system under normal circumstances. However, special care must be taken for dry-hardened or rocky type soils. Tree I.V. spikes can take a pretty tough beating with a hammer but the wide shoulder (for stopping water from resurfacing) can break with a misplaced hammer swing. Hose feeders with plastic handles have a problem with breaking when pushed too far. Bag products vary in material, so some are tougher than others. Weed eaters and sharp lawn mower debris can ruin them pretty easily so you must be careful around them.

Score: Tree I.V. 9; Hose Feeders 8; Bags 5


Portability - Tree I.V. is the only product with a handy "Fill and Haul" option so faraway trees can be watered without some other source of water. Tall bags can be remotely installed, but a separate water source must be used. Low bags and hose-fed feeders offer no reasonably priced portability option.

Score: Tree I.V. 10; Tall Bags 6; Low Bags 0; Hose Feeders 0


Cost - Only one hose-fed feeder is needed to water multiple trees. The Tree I.V. system recommends a spike for each tree with bucket count being your choice. They even offer a variety of DIY systems so you can build your own buckets if they are available, which is a big savings. Bags also offer you the choice of one for each tree or just a few to move around. Since bags are designed to take 8 hours or more to drain, you would need to have one for each tree to finish in the same day. Tree I.V. buckets empty much more quickly and can be moved to other trees also.

Score: Hose Feeder 10; Tree I.V. 8; Bags 5


Average Score:

Tree I.V. Portable Root Feeder:  9.7

Tree Watering Bags (Tall):           6.3

Hose-Fed Root Feeders:             5.0

Tree Watering Bags (Low):         4.4


Conclusion: While we don't believe that each attribute is a factor for most consumers, the Tree I.V. system comes out on top when considering all of them . If you are using this comparison to help you decide which system to purchase then you should discount those that are unimportant to you and recalculate the score. All of these systems have their own specific advantages and are overall good products. 

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