4 Tips to Save Water and Save Trees

By Canopy Team on July 4, 2016

There’s no question that Californians still need to save water. Long-term water deficits persist and longer dry spells are likely the new normal in our state.

Locally, Palo Alto’s water supplier has requested a 10% reduction in Citywide water consumption compared to 2013 levels, and the City recently updated its water use restrictions to achieve this target.

Water-wise tree care is key

Faced with a hotter, drier future, investing in urban trees is more important than ever. Urban trees are the most valuable element of the urban landscape, and represent a long-term investment in community health.

Trees are key to combat climate change, support human wellbeing, and contribute to vibrant, sustainable communities. A well-managed urban forest saves more water than it consumes!

Here are 4 tips to help you save water and save trees:

Tip 1: Know your trees, know their needs.

Different trees have different water and care requirements. To determine how much and how often your tree needs water, consider:

  • Species. Look up your tree species’ watering needs on Canopy’s tree library. For help identifying your tree, contact Canopy or use a resource like the Urban Tree Key.
  • Age. Young trees require more frequent watering (but less volume of water) than mature trees. See caring for young trees.
  • Health. A stressed tree may require more water than a vital tree. If your tree is in poor condition, consider hiring a certified arborist.
  • Soil type.  Water needs will also be affected by your soil type. For example, clay soil does not accept water easily, but holds on to water longer.
  • Other site conditions. Factors like sun exposure, surrounding plants, and nearby water sources also influence watering needs.

Tip 2: Mulch to conserve moisture

Besides proper watering, the best thing you can do for your tree is to apply mulch over its root system.

Properly applied, mulch:

  • Insulates the roots from extreme temperatures
  • Slows soil moisture evaporation
  • Reduces water use
  • Suppresses weeds
  • Reduces soil compaction
  • Feeds nutrients into the soil as the mulch breaks down
  • Provides a buffer, protecting the tree from mowers
Mulching a young street tree

Mulching a young street tree

Mulching Tips:

  • Use organic matter such as wood chips, with or without leaf matter. Trees actually prefer wood chip mulch and the “duff” created by their own leaves.
  • Apply mulch layer 3-5 inches deep (or 1 inch deep if using spray irrigation),  extending at least as far as the drip line.
  • Say no to mulch volcanoes! Mulch should have a “donut” distribution, not a “volcano” shape. Mulch should be a few inches away from the base of the tree; too much moisture around the trunk can lead to decay.
  • If weeds persist, place a layer of newspaper, cardboard, or a biodegradable weed cloth fabric underneath the mulch.
  • Replenish the mulch layer every spring just as the natural rains taper off; you will capture nature’s water, reducing the amount of irrigation needed in the dry months.
mulch volcano

Image courtesy of Madison Tree Care & Landscaping

Tip 3: Remove your lawn – but help your trees transition

It may look tidy, but traditional turf can suck up a lot of water without offering much in the way of environmental benefits.

Drought-tolerant hillside

Landscaping with the lawn removed from around the trees

Remove your lawn or let it go golden.

Since more than half of outdoor water is used on lawns, removing your lawn, letting it go golden, or substituting drought-tolerant native grasses can help lower your landscape water use. As an added bonus, many cities (as well as Santa Clara Valley Water District) offer rebates for lawn removal.

But help your trees transition!

Trees surrounded by lawn develop shallow roots and are accustomed to frequent shallow watering. They can adapt, but will need time to adjust to a less frequent, deeper watering pattern. Use mulch liberally to help with this transition. Consider installing a drip system.

More info:

Tip 4: Plant drought-tolerant trees

Planting new trees to replenish the urban forest is more important than ever.

To maximize benefits, however, it’s important to plant the right tree in the right place, and choose species that can withstand future drought conditions.

group of volunteers preparing to plant a tree

Volunteers preparing a tree for planting

Choose climate-appropriate, drought-tolerant species. Visit the Canopy tree library for help choosing the right tree for your site.

Match the tree to its location. A properly sited tree will be healthier and longer-lived. Consider factors including: existing access to water, soil type, shade, and overhead wires.

More info:

Learn more about water-saving tree care…

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