Water, Water, Water: Trees During a Drought

Yes folks, the time has come to look toward spring plantings and watering. Before you flip to the next article, tired and annoyed by this old mantra, please bear with me a few more lines. With very few exceptions, each year in Oklahoma we deal with some type of water deficit from absent spring rains to Augusts when everything not tied down blows away. This year will be no different, but the good news is that we can combat the problems with some useful data, planning, and water, water, water.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are reporting that parts of Oklahoma are as much as eight (8) inches below average on rainfall amounts for the twelve (12) month period. Central Oklahoma is holding around three (3) inches below average. This doesn’t mean we should expect another Dust Bowl by spring, as NOAA labels it a moderate drought. However, the USDA and NOAA go on to predict that the drought will persist or intensify (ie worsen) through March.

The bad news is that we’re short on rainfall, soil water resources near the surface are practically exhausted, subsoils are dry, and trees have been struggling for a few months. However, we can combat this problem by watering all evergreens starting now, just a few gallons a week. Once planting begins in late spring, we’ll need to step up watering to approximately ten (10) gallons per week for all established trees and shrubs. Newly planted trees will need extra watering-in when they’re planted to ensure good soil/root connections, and the new trees will need five to ten (5-10) gallons per week after planting. When can we stop watering? The easy answer in Oklahoma is never. The practical answer is that if we have a very wet spring that exceeds normal rainfall totals to make up the amount we’re short, we can slow down watering until July when the next rain deficit is likely to start.

Is there any good news? Yes, there is: the USDA and NOAA are not predicting the drought to worsen past March. The long range predictions can’t tell us for certain if we’ll completely come out of the drought during the spring, but they’re fairly confident it won’t get worse. And when we’re talking water, trees and Oklahoma, that’s pretty good news. Water, water, water!