The drought’s still here and it’s been brutal. Trees and other foliage are wasting away in the California sun, without the water or nutrients to sustain them. On top of these conditions, the California State Water Board has dictated a 32% Conservation Requirement for all of Sacramento County.
In light of this, the Sacramento County Water Agency implemented Stage 3 of their Water Shortage Contingency Plan back in May, which, as it pertains to trees, cut back on tree and shrub watering to drip systems only, 3 days a week. Stage 3 is still being implemented.
The following are also prohibited in the wake of the current drought:
- Using drinkable water in decorative landscaping features, such as fountains or small pools
- Watering plants or yards within 48 hours of measurable rain
- Using drinkable water to wash automobiles, whether personal or for charity, as well as using water to wash driveways or sidewalks
- Irrigation systems that cause run-off into non-irrigated areas, parking lots or structures
In June, Sacramento not only met, but even surpassed the State Water Board’s 32% reduction requirement, reducing water consumption by roughly 41%. However, as water consumption is highest in the summer months, this percentage is expected to drop as we enter fall and winter.
As reported by CBS Sacramento earlier this month:
“The colors and conditions usually don’t show up until October when the weather gets cooler. A tupelo tree with bright red leaves last week in Rancho Cordova is bare now… If trees are showing early signs of fall, the foundation recommends a slow soak method to bring them back up to speed before it’s’ too late.”
Preserving Your Trees in the Drought
The local Sacramento Tree Foundation recommends adding mulch to the base of young and mature trees to preserve soil moisture, and protect tree roots from the heat. This is a good starting point for tree drought care - spreading a ring of mulch around the base of at-risk trees can greatly improve their chances of survival. However, there are several more things you can do in addition to mulching that can help you keep your trees healthy without wasting otherwise potable water.
In spite of the drought, recycled water is exempt from restriction, and instead only controlled by separate recycled water permit restrictions. When you take a shower, do you let the cold water run for a minute or two first until it heats up? This could well exceed a gallon, if not more, of otherwise wasted water you could have used to drip-water your trees. This applies to any other common source of wasted water, such as the rinse water used to clean vegetables before cooking.
Before watering your trees via drip-method, use a screwdriver, trowel or other tool to assess the soil 6-12 inches below your tree. If it comes up dry and crumbly, it’s time to water your tree on the soonest possible water day. If the soil is still moist, watering can likely wait until the next tree watering day (thankfully, there are three).
Watering Trees with Recycled or Collected Water
If you used a bucket or other container to collect shower water as we mentioned above, one method you can use to water your trees is drilling a small hole in the bottom of the container and setting it at the base of your tree, above the roots. For young trees, roots will be close enough to the surface that a few gallons each watering day, dripped through the container, will keep them hydrated and healthy. Older trees require a bit longer soaking time, as roots will be physically deeper underground.
For trees of any size, generally avoid using fertilizer during drought periods, as fertilizer helps trees grow leaves more than anything else, resulting in greater watering requirement. Additionally, steer clear of placing rocks or artificial turf around the base of your trees, as these capture heat within the soils and increase runoff during watering.
As we move into the fall months and the heat dies down, it’s our hope that our readers have no problem keeping their Sacramento trees healthy and watered despite ongoing drought conditions.