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SALT LAKE CITY — As Utahns cut back on landscape watering during the intensity of the drought, experts said it's still important to monitor the health of our trees. They said trees are pretty resilient, but some of them might need a little extra help to survive.
"They, for the most part, can hang in there," said Shaun Moser, manager of the Conservation Gardens at Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. "It depends on the type of tree, obviously, but most of them can go through summers and show minimal stress, with only having rain or (precipitation) every once in a while."
Gov. Spencer Cox asked all Utahns to cut back watering to twice a week and to prioritize trees and shrubs over turf. But with very little precipitation over the last two months, some trees are struggling, especially those that don't get any irrigation.
"It actually takes a pretty significant toll on the trees," said Moser.
Even in the grips of extreme drought, the mature, waterwise Conservation Gardens survive on one deep watering every 7 to 10 days. But in many yards and public places, trees are showing stress.
"You'll start to see some yellowing of the leaves and some crisping of the edges of the leaves," said Moser.
Mature trees have big root systems that gather water where other plants cannot, but they'll still show stress.
Moser said to follow state guidelines and water twice a week.
"Your trees should be able to handle that pretty well if it's in the lawn, but if the tree is out by itself and it doesn't have an irrigation system, that's when it's going to start to struggle," he said.
"A lot of the stress actually started last year," said Katie Wagner, who is on the horticulture faculty with the USU Extension Service.
Wagner pointed out that the drought stress for our trees started more than a year ago, in the spring of 2020.
"As the dry soil conditions continue on into this year, with very high temperatures as well, then we're going to see more and more symptoms of drought stress in trees," she said.
Both Moser and Wagner recommend that we use a hose or a soaker hose to trickle water at the base of the tree for an hour or two. They said don't put the hose right next to the trunk. Put it 3 to 10 feet from the tree if it is a mature tree, and water every 7 to 10 days.
"Trees actually like deep, long soaking irrigation events," said Wagner. "So, putting water down slowly over a long period of time, helping to get that water down into the soil, a foot or 2 feet down into the soil, is really going to help them out."
Putting water down slowly over a long period of time, helping to get that water down into the soil, a foot or two feet down into the soil, is really going to help them out.
–Katie Wagner, USU Extension Service
Defoliated branches may be dead and should be removed, but they said if you're just seeing thinning and scorched leaves in portions of the canopy, you can help the tree recover.
"Most of the time, they'll bounce back — just like lawn, for the most part, will bounce back once there is water available again," said Moser.
They won't bounce back overnight, but you should see some improvement in a couple of months.