Is Your Tree Getting Enough Water? 5 Signs of a Parched Tree

July 19, 2023

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is my tree getting enough water

Trees are a vital part of our landscapes, providing beauty, shade, and environmental benefits. But sometimes, trees can show signs of distress when they aren’t getting the water they need. Dehydration is one of the most common issues for trees, especially in hot and dry weather.

If you’ve asked yourself, “Is my tree getting enough water?” it’s important to take action and properly hydrate it. Some telltale signs of a thirsty tree include wilted leaves, reduced growth, and dieback of branches.

Here are 5 signs of a parched tree, along with tips for giving your tree the moisture it craves.

1. Drooping, Wilting, or Curling Leaves

Leaves are one of the first indicators that a tree is lacking sufficient water. Healthy, hydrated leaves stay firm and supple. But when soil moisture runs low due to drought, leaves start to droop, wilt, or curl.

You may notice the leaves looking limp and lifeless instead of remaining perky and green. Wilting often starts at the edges or tips of leaves and spreads from there.

If overnight water loss through leaves outpaces moisture intake through the roots, turgor pressure is lost in the cells, and leaves start to flop. Make sure to check leaves throughout the tree, not just low-hanging branches that naturally droop a bit more.

2. Prematurely Falling Leaves

While all deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn, a parched tree will drop its leaves much earlier than it should. Leaves start falling off while it’s still summer or early fall, rather than lasting until the natural winter dormancy.

This premature leaf drop usually starts at the very top of the tree, with the uppermost branches going bald first. Eventually, lower limbs start dropping leaves, too, if the drought persists. This is the tree’s survival mechanism to prevent water loss through leaves.

If your tree seems to be jumping the gun on fall leaf drops, it’s likely due to inadequate soil moisture. Timely watering may help it releaf once conditions improve.

is my tree getting enough water

3. Is My Tree Getting Enough Water? Reduced Growth Answers That Question

You expect to see rapid growth in the spring and summer months as a tree puts on new leaves, shoots and expands its canopy. But when water is scarce, all this growth can slow to a crawl.

Drought conditions hinder the tree’s ability to form new cells and expand. You may notice very slow bud break, stunted shoot elongation, smaller leaf size, and minimal overall canopy growth.

Make sure young trees get sufficient water to establish healthy roots and achieve vigorous youthful growth. Even mature trees need adequate hydration for normal canopy development each year.

4. Dieback in Branches

Dieback refers to dead twigs and small branches in the crown of the tree. This happens when water stress causes the outermost shoots to weaken and die first.

What does a tree look like when it needs water? You’ll see small dead branch tips from lack of h20 over time. Dieback usually starts in the upper canopy where branches are smallest. If the drought persists, larger branches can dieback as well.

Look for one-sided dieback that may indicate a localized root problem on that side of the tree. But widespread dieback means the whole tree is likely water starved.

5. Bark Cracking or Splitting

As water is drawn away from the inner bark, the tree’s outer bark can begin to crack and split open. Bark splitting often starts where branches meet the trunk and can eventually spread up and down the entire tree.

The rigid outer bark shrinks as the inner bark loses moisture and contracts. This leads to slits and cracks of various sizes. Deep cracking exposes the tissue underneath and can create entry points for disease or insects.

Minor cracking may heal over once ample water is provided. But significant bark splitting can be a sign of prolonged drought stress in the tree.

tree trimming

Quenching Your Parched Tree

If your tree is showing symptoms of thirst, don’t delay – properly watering a drought-stressed tree can mean the difference between recovery or decline. Here are some tips for hydrating parched trees:

  • Water Slowly and Deeply – The goal is to soak the entire root zone, not just the surface. Let water trickle in over hours or all day. Avoid quick surface watering.
  • Widen the Watering Zone – Disperse water widely under the tree’s branches and canopy edge where most roots are.
  • Add Organic Mulch – Mulching helps retain soil moisture, so you water less frequently. Wood chips or bark work great.
  • Install Drip Irrigation – For frequent water needs, drip irrigation delivers water efficiently to the root zone.
  • Perform Deep Root Feeding – Arborists can inject moisture directly into the root zone to hydrate deeply.
  • Address Root Problems – If one side of the tree shows dieback, look for root issues like compacted soil or damaged roots on that side.

watering thirsty tree

When to Call an Arborist

What happens if a tree doesn’t get enough water? If your tree continues to show signs of drought stress even after you’ve given it supplemental watering, it may be time to call in a professional arborist. Significant and prolonged thirst can lead to long-term impacts that require expert care.

Seeking professional help is especially important if your tree has widespread leaf and branch dieback that doesn’t improve with watering. An arborist can assess the extent of the damage, look for underlying root or soil issues, and determine the best treatment plan. For trees with substantial bark splitting, the exposed areas may need treatment to avoid disease. 

Arborists also have access to specialized equipment and techniques like deep root feeding, air spading, and proper pruning to aid water-starved trees. The sooner you get professional care for severely parched trees, the better chance they have of recovering. Don’t delay – call an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist right away if your tree struggles with thirst despite your best at-home efforts.

tree arborist

Time to Wrap Things Up

Getting enough water is crucial for a tree’s health and survival. Without adequate moisture in the soil, trees show signs of distress like wilting leaves, stunted growth, and branch dieback. If you suspect your tree is getting parched, take action quickly to provide thorough, deep watering before permanent damage occurs.

With attentive care and hydration, you can likely nurse a drought-stressed tree back to vigor. Just be sure to water slowly and widely to soak the entire root system. Healthy hydration helps ensure your tree provides beauty and enjoyment for years to come. Give your thirsty trees a long, cool drink, and enjoy their lush green canopy this season.

About Ann Arbor Tree Trimming & Removal Service

Are you searching for professional tree and shrub services that won’t break the bank? At Ann Arbor Tree Trimming & Removal Service, we offer just that! Plus, we’ve been in business for decades and take on tough jobs others don’t want to tackle. To get a FREE estimate, please call (734) 472-2800. We also offer 24/7 emergency tree removal.

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