The health and yield of your fruit trees often depend on how well you water them. Fruit trees demand a lot of water, especially when they’re young, and meeting this need is important. However, knowing when to stop watering your trees is also essential.
Stop watering your fruit trees after 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) of the soil has been thoroughly soaked with water. Gradually reduce watering during fall or when the weather starts to turn and stop entirely once the ground freezes.
Watering your fruit trees just the right amount is vital to ensuring they grow healthy roots and produce a good yield. This article will explore the best times to water fruit trees, signs of overwatering, and how to fix overwatered fruit trees, so read on!
The Best Time to Water Fruit Trees
Knowing when to water your fruit trees goes a long way in ensuring that the water you’re applying reaches the tree and is used efficiently. Most fruit trees do well with regular irrigation throughout the year, except when the ground is frozen, to ensure they receive the water they need.
The best time to water fruit trees during the growing season is when the first 6 inches (15) of soil starts to dry out. Water your fruit trees early in the morning, once a week, to give them time to absorb water. Keep in mind that young trees will need more frequent watering.
When watering your fruit trees, aim to water the trees thoroughly, allowing the water to soak into the ground. However, this should only be done when the soil dries out up to 6 inches (15 cm) deep to avoid overwatering.
It can be challenging to arrive at a specific volume for the amount of water that needs to be applied to your fruit trees. The amount and frequency of watering that your trees need will depend on several factors, like the heat and humidity levels and soil type.
You might need to increase the watering frequency in hot and dry conditions or if your trees are planted in sandy soil. Younger trees also need more frequent watering than older trees and tend to use more water as they grow.
Hence, it is easier to check the soil moisture, see how much water the tree uses, and determine when to add more water.
After five to seven days have passed since your last watering session, use a moisture meter or wooden stick to check the amount of moisture in the soil. If the soil is dry six inches (15 cm) deep, it’s time to water your plant. Remember to do this in the morning to promote plant health.
Early morning is the best time to water trees and all other plants for several reasons.
- Morning watering allows much more water to soak into the soil without evaporating.
- Trees can utilize water as soon as it’s absorbed for photosynthesis during the day.
- Watering in the morning prevents excess water from stagnating, which can lead to root rot in fruit trees.
You can water your trees and turf together in the early morning, as turf also benefits from morning watering. I have a great article on this, so if you’d like to learn more about the benefits of watering grass in the morning, give it a quick read: Should You Water Your Grass in Direct Sun?
Signs That Your Fruit Tree Is Overwatered
Overwatering leads to soil compaction and drowns the roots of your fruit trees, suffocating them. Although fruit trees need a lot of water and are susceptible to drought stress, many overzealous gardeners end up doing more harm by overwatering them.
Here are some signs that your fruit trees are overwatered so you can adjust your watering schedule accordingly:
Color Changes and Shedding of Leaves
Two of the first signs that your fruit trees are overwatered are unseasonal color changes and leaf shedding. Leaves may turn yellow or brown very quickly, and you might also notice brown or black ‘burning’ at the tips or edges of the leaves.
The leaves will also fall quickly, as the suffocated roots cannot take up enough air or water, and the tree begins to rely on its stored nutrients.
New Growth Is Stunted and Withers Away
When your fruit trees are overwatered, they cannot perform photosynthesis as they will not have enough water or air for the process. As a result, new growth will be stunted or wither soon after it appears. Without photosynthesis, the tree will simply not have enough nutrients to support new growth.
Dead Leaves That Are Squishy and Smelly
Dead leaves of overwatered fruit trees will hold excess water. In fact, if you’re able to reach any of the yellowing or browning leaves when they’re still on the tree, you’ll find that these leaves are also oversaturated and feel squishy.
The leaves will also smell unpleasant as the water in them leads to anaerobic decomposition.
The Tree Develops Root Rot
Root rot is a sign that things have gone horribly wrong. When fruit trees are overwatered, the excess water becomes a breeding ground for water-borne pathogens that attack the tree. The roots and the other parts of the tree closest to the ground will exhibit signs of rot as they become affected by the disease, often caused by fungi.
How to Help Overwatered Trees Recover
If you’ve noticed overwatering in your fruit trees, you should act quickly to avoid the worst symptoms and prevent root rot. Here’s what you need to do.
- Stop watering until the ground dries out. Let about 10 inches (25 cm) of the soil dry before you add water again.
- Relocate any soil mounds that might encourage water stagnation and let the excess drain away.
- Incorporate organic matter into the soil to help it dry out.
- Consult an arborist if your trees seem wobbly and at risk of falling.
Most overwatered trees will be fine if you give the soil time to dry out before adding any more water. If your problem is root rot, you will need to evaluate the extent of the damage.
Minor damage can be treated with chemical fungicides, such as Metalaxyl or Mefenoxam, especially if the causative agent is a Phytophthora.
However, in severe cases, you may need to uproot the tree and treat the soil before growing new plants in it. Severely damaged fruit trees lose their value because they won’t be able to produce fruits. Even if they do, the quality will be poor.
Avoid Overwatering in the Future
Remember that frequent shallow watering only encourages shallow root growth, so water slowly and thoroughly. Wait for at least the first 6 inches (15 cm) of soil to dry out before watering your trees again.
Mulching the ground around your trees, particularly within the trees’ dripline, is an excellent way of improving water retention and increasing the time between waterings.
You can also add mycorrhizae fungi into the ground to encourage deep roots and more efficient water and nutrient intake. Learn how to add mycorrhizae into the ground here: Can You Water in Great White Mycorrhizae?
Watering Fruit Trees According to the Season
Watering your fruit trees according to the season allows you to better control your watering schedule and assess your plant’s needs.
While having a defined watering schedule and volume is great, it’s equally important to know how seasonal changes affect watering and be able to respond accordingly.
Here are a few things to note:
- Water thoroughly in the growing season. After the ground thaws, water your trees thoroughly to help them develop their new leaves and flowers in the growing season. Keep an eye on the soil as usual, but you’ll typically need to water young trees every five days, while mature trees can do without water for two weeks.
- Reduce watering in the fall. Water loss due to evaporation will also reduce when temperatures drop. Most areas will also see rainfall during this time, so only water to supplement the rain.
- Water as needed in the winter as long as the ground hasn’t frozen yet. Fruit trees like regular irrigation, but watering the frozen ground is pointless and will likely lead to frostbite.
When to Stop Watering Your Tree in the Winter
Stop watering your trees when the ground freezes or the ambient temperature drops below 40 °F (4.4 °C). At this time, any water added to the trees can stagnate or freeze, leading to frostbite.
Stop watering your fruit trees when about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of the ground is damp. Water your trees every week or so based on their needs and when the soil dries. Remember to reduce watering in the fall and stop watering trees for the winter before the ground freezes.