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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Lilac shrubs drying up from drought on 7-13-12
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Water Trees NOW

2012 is quickly becoming one of the driest summers we've ever seen in west central Illinois. The past few weeks I've written in this column about drought tolerant plants and how to water landscape plants. At this point, I am most concerned about trees and shrubs, so that is my focus this week.

Most people assume that established trees and shrubs can handle drought conditions. Often this is true, but not this year. Mature trees sometimes take a long time to show visual symptoms of a stressful growing condition, including insect feeding and water extremes. As I walked around my yard last night I saw many woody plants with brown and drooping leaves. These include oak, maple, elm, redbud, birch, dogwood, lilac, honeysuckle, and many more. So sad!

Most people cannot feasibly water all plants on their property. If you have to make a choice, select those with the most value to you. Is that plant crucial to how you use and enjoy your yard? Woody plants cost much more initially and are harder to replace than annuals and perennials.

Think about how a tree or shrub grows. Most of their functioning roots are in the upper foot of soil and extend beyond the plant's drip-line. Therefore, water those plants at the drip-line to be most effective, not at the trunk. The drip-line is the farthest point from the truck where leaves grow.

Here are some tips to remember when watering trees and shrubs.

  • Plants need at least 1 inch of water every week. Measure this with a container in the area being watered.
  • Water should reach at least 12 to 15 inches deep around the plant.
  • Root feeders that attach to the garden hose place water in the soil where the roots are located.
  • You can also use soaker hoses, garden sprinklers, and tree water bags but be sure the water soaks deep enough.
  • Water early in the morning to reduce evaporation.
  • Don't wet the leaves! This could cause more disease.
  • Some water-loving plants such as birch, alder, birch, tuliptree, pin oaks, silver maple, burning bush, and hydrangea may need 3 inches of water in extreme heat. Give them ALL 3 inches once a week.
  • Mulching plants out to the drip-line will help conserve water and keep roots cooler.
  • ALWAYS, always water thoroughly and all at once. A little sprinkling each evening is not enough and often a waste of water.

If you have any additional questions, call the Master Gardener Help-Line at 309-685-3140309-685-3140 ext. 13 Monday through Friday from 9 am to noon. I also have links to more information about dealing with the drought on our website at

If you have a magic dance to make it rain, please dance often! Meanwhile, thank you for helping keep our trees and shrubs healthy and alive.

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