Watering your trees slowly ensures the water seeps deep into the ground. Trees need large volumes of water, but dumping the water all at once will create a massive puddle. One of the easiest ways of watering trees deeply is using a 5-gallon (19 L) bucket.
To water trees with a 5-gallon (19 L) bucket, determine how much water your trees need and buy enough buckets. Poke holes in the buckets, block the holes, then fill the buckets. Place the buckets along the dripline of your trees and remove the blockage, letting the water seep into the ground.
This article will detail how you can water trees with a 5-gallon (19 L) bucket or multiple buckets the right way so your trees are well-watered and grow deep roots. Read on to learn the right buckets to buy, how to prepare them, and how to make them more effective.
1. Determine How Much Water Your Trees Need
Trees, especially young trees, need a lot of water to grow. While trees receive most of this water through rainfall, new trees need supplemental watering to meet their needs.
Determining the amount of water your trees need lets you decide how many buckets you need to buy and how often you have to fill up the buckets you have. As a general rule, trees need about an inch (25 mm) of water per week, the same amount as your turf.
Learn more about how much water turf needs in my other article that explores if you can overwater new turf: Is it Possible to Water New Turf Too Much
While one inch (25 mm) of weekly rainfall per tree is a general rule, the amount of water your trees need depends on three main factors:
- Type of tree: Fruit trees tend to take up more water than non-fruit-bearing trees.
- Weather in your area: Your trees need more water in hot and dry weather than during the rainy season.
- Age of the tree: As we’ve discussed, young trees need more water often than mature trees. Established trees typically only need watering to supplement rainfall.
Based on these factors, your trees may need more or less water per week. The best way to determine this is to check the soil when you water your trees and note how much water it takes to soak the ground till about 8 – 12 inches (203 – 350 mm) deep.
Use that amount as a reference and adjust by adding a little more if the ground remains dry or a little less if you notice puddling and sogginess in the soil.
The amount of water varies from 15 to 45 gallons (57 – 170 L) a week and differs from tree to tree.
2. Buy an Adequate Number of Buckets With Lids
Once you know how much water your trees need, you can buy your buckets. You want to purchase enough buckets so you don’t have to keep filling the bucket every time.
If your trees only need about 15 gallons (57 L) of water a week, you can use one 5-gallon bucket three times. But if your trees need about 45 – 50 gallons (170 – 189 L) in a week, it’s easier to get several buckets to help you.
When you do buy buckets, you should ideally get buckets with lids. The best way to water your trees is slowly. You don’t want the water evaporating in the time it takes to drain out of your bucket and into the soil.
Open buckets of water might also be a safety hazard, especially if you have small children in the neighborhood or nests of small birds or squirrels in your trees. Keeping the buckets closed also keeps the water clean and free from any potential debris that might fall in.
3. Poke Holes in Your Buckets
You could just fill up your buckets and dump the water, but you might not manage to soak the soil down to the requisite 8-12 inches (203 – 350 mm).
Different types of soils have different rates of permeation. Water may flow quickly through the surface and deeper layers in sandy soils and very slowly in clayey soils. Therefore, if you pour all the water at once, most of the water will remain on the surface instead of filtering down to the deeper soil layers.
Slow and deep watering ensures that water reaches the ends of the root ball, allowing the roots to grow deeper. The root hairs are finer and can take up water more easily, so the tree absorbs and uses all the water you pour out.
To ensure slow watering with a 5-gallon (19 L) bucket, drill a few holes in the base. The smaller the holes, the lower the flow rate, so determine the size depending on how much water you want pouring out at once.
This is similar to how a soaker hose functions – where the porous material of the hose drips water along its length. Soaker hoses are typically not recommended for watering trees, but you can use them just as you would buckets.
Learn more about using soaker hoses to water your trees in my other article that details how to water new trees with a hose: How to Water a New Tree With a Hose (8 Tips)
4. Identify the Drip Line of Your Trees
When you water your trees with buckets, ideally place your buckets along the drip line. For mature trees with a wide drip line, you can place your buckets between the drip line and the trunk.
The drip line of your trees refers to the circle around your trees where the furthest branches reach, aka, the branches that would ‘drip’ water in the rains.
‘Water along the drip line’ is a commonly used phrase when watering trees because trees have roots that extend deep underground. Often the diameter of the tree roots is far beyond that of the branches, but the drip line is a good way of getting to the ends of the root zone.
Don’t water trees too close to the trunk because, in that area, the roots are extremely thick and less porous than the fine root hairs found at the ends. The water is more likely to stagnate rather than be absorbed, leading to rot and disease at the trunk.
5. Block the Holes and Fill the Buckets
You can skip this step if you’re filling your buckets right where you’re going to place them for watering. However, if you’re filling the buckets at a tap and taking them over to your trees, you’ll want to block the holes so you don’t lose water on the way.
You can use dowels, bricks, plastic sheets, or anything else you have lying around that will block the holes long enough to carry your buckets to the trees.
Once you’ve filled the buckets up and taken them to the dripline, remove the dowels or the bricks and let the water seep out.
You can also use small hand towels to block the holes and leave them in after you’ve placed the buckets.
The towels will take time to absorb the water, so you can move the buckets. But once they do, they’ll let the water drain out at an even slower pace, which gives the water more time to soak into the soil.
6. If Using One Bucket, Reposition After the Water Drains
If you’ve decided to use only one 5-gallon (19 L) bucket, move the bucket along the drip line after the water drains. For smaller trees, where you only need to apply about 15 gallons (57 L) a week, place the bucket at a different position every time you water.
For larger trees, where you’re applying about 15 gallons (57 L) of water in a single watering, move the bucket around the drip line after the water drains out the first time.
When you add water to the soil, your trees will grow roots towards the water, which is why it is so important to water deeply. It is also important to water evenly along the drip line, or you’ll risk lopsided root growth because your trees will grow more roots where you’re watering them.
Watering trees with a 5-gallon (19 L) bucket is a great way to ensure slow and deep watering. Use buckets with lids to prevent water loss due to evaporation and keep the water clean. Buy multiple buckets if needed, depending on the water your trees need.
Drill holes into the buckets, and block them with small towels to slow the flow of water down for slow and deep watering. Always place the buckets along the drip line or a little distance from the trunk to prevent rot and disease.