We offer landscape design in San Antonio and we have been landscaping San Antonio for over 25 years with hundereds of satisfied customers.

Custom Watering Guide-- Long Version

Provided by Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist, Helotes, Texas


Thank you for purchasing a tree from Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist! We hope that you get many years of enjoyment out of your new tree. 

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 2:9; 1:12)

Proper Watering The Most Important Thing

Now that your tree has been planted, you will want to take good care of it so that it will look its very best. Proper watering is the most important part of managing your trees successful growth, especially during the first year! In fact, by far, the most common cause of new tree death or damage is a simple lack of water.


Understanding Your Trees Needs
If you understand what is going on with your tree, then you will be better able  to give your tree what it needs.


The Potted Root System

When you look at a tree growing naturally in the ground notice how many limbs, branches and leaves are on it and notice how far they extend out beyond the main trunk. This is called the crown of a tree. Now imagine that all of those limbs, branches and leaves have underground roots that support all of that top-growth. So, for ease of illustration, even though this should not be thought of as an exact representation of where a trees roots are, look at a tree and turn it upside down in your mind, and then, plant all of that crown in the ground and think of that crown as roots. Even then, that would not be a sufficient amount of roots that is actually supporting that tree! A tree's feeder roots, growing in nature, extend well beyond the drip line (crown) of a tree.

Growing Trees in Pots is Unnatural
Now, understand that growing trees in pots is very unnatural but necessary. Few of us would think that we could dig up a large tree with a massive root system and have it all transported to our home. So we have to grow trees in containers so that they can be moved and are affordable. All of those roots create a problem, because we have to force all of those roots into the little space of a pot. In nature, those roots would never be confined to such a small area. They would reach out looking for moisture and nutrients. Growing trees in pots forces roots to circle inside of the pot or branch out within the pot so that the pot is often packed with an extensive root system. All of these roots are sucking up water fast and usually need to be watered daily. These potted root systems must be watered often because they will dry out much faster than a tree root system growing in the ground. You must supply an unnatural amount of water to overcome an unnatural situation—growing trees in pots.  Simply providing one inch of water to a potted tree will not soak the entire rootball. Often it takes a 6” inch depth of water to soak a pot that is packed with roots 18” inches deep. We will tell you how to do that below.

Drought Tolerance Doesn't Help Much At First
But someone will say, “That is why I bought a drought tolerant tree—because I did not want to have to water it all the time!” Seems like a good argument until you realize what makes a tree drought tolerant. Often it is because in nature that drought tolerant species is able to reach out and find the water it needs. But now, what was to the trees benefit, in the ground, backfires inside the pot. Instead it puts on an extensive root system inside the pot and is totally dependent upon you to water it until it can establish itself naturally in the ground. Drought tolerance makes a difference later but not when a tree is newly planted.

The Answer: Gently Flooding Your New Tree
Fortunately you can solve this problem by gently flooding your tree. This is what the extensive root system in the pot needs in order to be soaked. Remembering that all of those roots are packed in the pot, once the pot is removed and the tree is planted in the ground, the roots have not had time to reach out. It is as if they are still stuck in that pot for the first few weeks until they actually begin to slowly spread beyond. It may even have rained an inch since you planted your tree, but it is not likely that rainfall alone, or an irrigation system is actually wetting the confined root system of your new tree thoroughly. The first two inches of the rootball may be soaked but the remaining 16 inches of rootball is still dry. This is why you must be very leery of sprinkler systems, soaker hoses and drip irrigation at first. These are only good if in fact they thoroughly soak the entire rootball.

Make A Berm/Donut of Soil
The best way to ensure that the new tightly packed root system is soaked is to create a berm, an earthen dam around the newly planted tree. This will look like a donut, with the tree trunk planted in the center of the donut hole. This earth dam, berm or donut of soil should at least be made beyond where the new rootball stops and the native surrounding soil begins. It is alright to make the circumference of the circle you are creating even wider so that as tree roots grow out, they will more easily be soaked in the future. It is true that you could simply turn the water hose on low and let it soak for an hour or two. The problem with this method is that water often runs off where you don't need it and it may not soak the entire root ball. This is why the berm/donut method is good. It allows you to put the water where it is needed. The donut should be at least 6” inches to 12” inches in height. It should be made of soil and not mulch, since mulch may not retain the water. It is good to cosmetically topdress the soil with mulch to make it more attractive. The 6” to 12” inch high berm should not rest on the trunk of the tree or cover up the trunk. This could cause a rotting problem on the trunk. Imagine that a donut of soil leaves the inner circle of the donut free from excess soil. The tree should be planted the same depth as the surrounding terrain. The top of the rootball even with the top of the original soil line. Then the donut of soil rises 6” to 12” inches above the original soil line. So the trunk of the tree is level with the existing soil grade but the berm of soil rises above the existing soil grade (level) in order to hold the water in. You are creating a reservoir. This is so you can put that 6” inches of water directly where you need it.

How Much Water Does it Take to Soak a New Tree?
A good rule of thumb is that if you purchased a 20 gallon tree then you will need about 20 gallons of water to give it a good soaking. If you purchased a 30 gallon tree, then 30 gallons of water are needed, etc. If you have doubts about how long you should leave the water on, you can use a 5 gallon bucket and fill it up to achieve the amount of gallons you need. It is a good idea to fill up the donut reservoir completely, without breaking the dammed up soil. Let that water settle down and then repeat again. This will ensure that the entire rootball is soaked. Don't worry about overwatering at this stage. As long as after an hour no standing water remains in the donut, then you will know that you have not overdone it. A tree would have to sit in a reservoir of water for several hours before it would be too much. The more usual problem is too little water not to much.

How Often Should I Gently Flood The Tree?
Here is an easy to remember watering principle to follow: If the tree is planted in summer: Gently flood the tree once every day the first week; every second day the second week; every third day the third week; every fourth day the fourth week ; and every fifth day the fifth week. If the tree is planted in fall or spring: water the tree in when planted, Then skip to watering every third day and then follow the same schedule as above. If the tree is planted in winter: Water the tree when planted and then skip to every fourth day and then follow the schedule above. Then you can gently flood once per week for the next 6 months to a year for faster establishment. After the first year, it would always be a good idea to gently flood the tree once every two weeks, if it does not rain. After the first year the tree should be able to survive on its own but it is a good idea to gently flood it when dry and no rain is expected for the best growth and appearance. This becomes more difficult with age and size and that is when sprinkler systems do a good job of supplying water on larger crowned trees. The feeder roots are just beyond the drip line (widest part of the crown) and so water needs to be targeted there and not just by the trunk of the tree.

Common Mistakes And Misunderstandings
The most common mistakes are due to being ignorant of our discussion above. This leads to many misdiagnosis of the real problem—water. The following are some common mistakes:


Tree Was Left in the Pot For Days or Weeks Before Being Planted
One problem with new trees is leaving the them in the pot for days or weeks before planting. It is not that it is bad for the tree to remain in the pot for a while until you are ready to plant. Remember, the tree you purchased had been in a pot and was doing just fine.  The problem is water. At the nursery trees in pots are watered deeply  at least once per day and some are even watered twice per day! One need only  miss one day of watering and wilting can begin followed by leaf loss.  After a few days some existing leaves will begin to drop. A week without watering a potted tree may cause partial death and after  two weeks the tree that is still in the pot without having been watered may die completely.  “They don't call it a nursery for nothing.” It is a high maintenance place. A nursery requires careful monitoring. This is the kind of care your tree received at the nursery.

Thinking the Tree Has a Mysterious Disease
Some think that their new tree has suddenly developed a mysterious disease and this is why the leaves have shriveled and are dying when in fact the problem is a simple watering issue. It is common for leaves to show minimal damage from insects and perhaps even little fungal leaf spots or powdery mildew. But these are minor cosmetic issues that do not kill the tree suddenly.


Recovering From Damage

Once damage has been done through insufficient water, it will take time for the new tree to recover and put on new leaves.  The amount of damage depends upon the duration of the neglect. If there is minor damage, the tree will drop some leaves and begin to bud new leaves within two weeks to a month. If the tree does begin to lose the ugly leaves rapidly, and you know that you have caught the problem early and are now watering well, the leaf drop is actually a good sign. This indicates that the tree is actively growing new buds and leaves and does not want to support the old shriveled leaves anymore. It is renewing itself.

Speeding Up Recovery
If you have corrected the watering problem but the tree continues to hold on to some brownish or shriveled leaves that still have some green on them, this may indicate that your damage was minor, and the tree still feels like those damaged leaves are doing their job. In a case like this, you can take a pair of scissors and speed up the renewal process by cutting off several ugly leaves every week or so. Your tree will put on new leaves to replace the old ones faster this way. But always do this gradually.

Signs of Long-Term Damage
But a telltale sign of a tree that has been under sever drought stress for a long period, and is dead or close to death, is that it is keeping the old brown shriveled leaves for months. The fact that the tree is not losing the old leaves indicates that no new life is trying to emerge. If new leaf buds were trying to emerge, the tree would drop the old leaves. In a case like this, some life may still remain but this will be way down low on the trunk. The top of the tree will have died. In a case like this, one can only wait until new growth emerges from the ground or on the trunk. Everything above that point could be dead. The best thing to do under this scenario is to wait until winter and cut the tree all the way to the ground. If there is any life left, new growth will emerge as various suckers from just below ground level . You can then choose one of these shoots to become the new trunk of the tree. This works well for fast growing species, but for slower growers, you may just want to start over.

Damage From Wind
One common problem that new trees face is wind transport damage. Many customers do their best to cover their trees with tarps etc. But the fact is that in spite of our efforts, leaves and limbs are often exposed to the high winds of travel. Traveling down the highway at 70 mph will certainly shred and cause tears in otherwise healthy leaves. Even travel above 40 mph will cause some damage. Try to keep your speed no greater than 35 mph if the tree is not well covered.


Wind Damage Shows In About Two Weeks

Wind damage from transport is deceiving. At first, you may think that there is little damage at all. Then after about a week you will start to notice the frayed and browning leaves. If you know that you have followed the watering instructions well, then consider that wind damage may be the culprit. Fortunately this kind of damage is temporary and the tree will put on newer more attractive leaves. This is also true of sever thunderstorm winds and especially hail. The extent of the damage may not be fully realized until a week or two after the storm event.

Using Too Much Compost/Potting Soil During Planting
Some folks have been led to believe that potting soil, compost and mulch are a better substitute for native soil to plant their tree in. This is usually done by conscientious gardeners trying to do a good thing. But most of the latest studies prove that native soil is the best soil to plant your tree in. In fact, you have no choice. Your new tree must eventually grow in the native soil of your yard. The main problem of planting your tree in potting soil, peat moss or compost is that these materials dry out very fast. Normally, native soil is heavy, mixed with rocks and caliche and holds water very well. But imagine planting your new tree in the hole you have just dug. You were very conscientious. You even dig your whole twice as wide as the new rootball, which is great. Then, because you wanted your tree to grow in the very best soil, you filled the remaining space in the hole, outside of the new rootball with a mixture of potting soil and peat moss. What happens is this: When you water your new tree rootball, the water will quickly pass through the potting soil/peatmoss mix, which drains very fast and may not even soak up water at first. The water moves from that porous draining mix into the fine native soil outside of the reach of the roots of your new rootball. The roots of the new rootball do not have time to extend out, and as they try to move out, they encounter this dry potting soil/peatmoss mix. This creates a dry slot. It is almost as if you never watered the tree in at all. The native soil did absorb the water. But the potting soil did not. This means that the roots must travel through this entire dry section of potting mix in order to find water. But this takes time and cannot be done in a week or two. The roots try to reach out through the dry mix but they die along the way before reaching the native soil.

Soil Enhancement Good If Done Properly
Soil enhancement is good as long as the soil enhanced is not overly organic so that it dries out too fast. It is acceptable to mix about 1/3 percent of compost to 2/3rds native soil. Or if a more heavy garden soil is available, you can use that soil as backfill and that will work fine. Perhaps the best approach is to mix about 50/50, heavy weight garden soil with the native soil from the hole.

Soil Enhancement Over The Whole Yard Works Best
It is possible to create a better growing environment for any tree when you understand that its roots will typically end up covering the entire front yard on many city lots. If a conscientious gardener really wants to help his tree in the future, using  4” inches or more of good topsoil over the entire yard really makes a difference. Most feeder roots of trees are in the first foot of soil. Of course, you cannot put 4” inches of soil on top of turf grass and expect it to live. If your turf grass in already in, then you can topdress your grass every year with a good topdressing mix of soil and little by little you will be improving the growing environment for both your tree and your grass.

Overwatering Problems
We have talked a lot about underwatering and the need to really soak your new trees. By far, the more common mistake that we have discussed is underwatering. However there are a few conscientious tree owners out there who can make the less common mistake of overwatering. Even though easy watering principles have been discussed, these are no substitute for “feet on the ground.” Your observations really are the best means to determining if your tree is to wet or dry. Watering principles are not infallible but only general guidelines.

How To Determine If You Are Overwatering

Rocky Soils Usually Not a Problem
The problem of overwatering is often dependent upon the type of soil your new tree is planted in. If the soil is very rocky, it is unlikely that you will have an overwatering problem. These kinds of soils drain fast enough.

Exception: Solid Rock May Be a Problem

Rocky soil and solid rock are not the same. The Hill Country is full of rocky soil but often there are pockets of soil in between rocks and boulders. But there are places with truly solid rock. Solid rock is not a good location to plant even though it can be done with a jack hammer. Water is good but standing water for too long is not. If you jack hammered a hole in solid rock, you may have a drainage problem. If you break through a large boulder or ledge  there may be  avenues underneath and on the sides for water to drain out and away from the rootball. If a jack hammer type whole has been dug, fill the hole up with water and see if it drains out in a few hours, at least over night.  If not, it may not be a good location to grow your new tree. Trees are amazingly resiliant in spite of these situations. Your tree may find a way to get its roots out after all. The evidence probably exists at your planting site. You may be able to see trees growing near which means they were able to thrive.


Overcome Rock With Soil
The better way to handle solid rock is to build up the soil naturally so that you don't have to jack hammer. This will be better for your tree. Create a berm or large hill of soil that begins shallow and then gets deeper until it is deep enough for the rootball. Cascade the hill naturally back down  so that it is not abrupt. This will look better and not dry out as fast. Another way is to use boulders and rocks to create a raised circular bed for the tree. This gets the job done but it is not ideal. These types of beds dry out faster than the surrounding terrain so you will have to water more frequently. Eventually, the roots will spread out below the rock bed into the existing soil and the tree should be ok.

Clay Soils More Prone to Overwatering
One soil that is most likely to have overwatering problems is a heavy black clay soil. If you follow the easy watering principle that states that you should water once every day the first week, every second day the second week, etc. you probably will not overwater. However, it is possible to overwater using this technique, especially if rainfall and/or irrigation systems are involved. 

Sandy Soils Dry Out the Quickest
Sandy soils are the least likely to be overwatered since they drain so quickly.

How to Know If You Are Overwatering
Here is the way to find out if you are watering too much: Each time, the first week that you gently flood your new tree, once each day, check the native soil around the new rootball. Does it already still have standing water in the hole? Use your hand or a shovel and dig down about 6” inches. Is the soil seeping with water or is there standing water in the hole? If there is then your soil may not be draining enough. There is no need to water the new tree when it is already sitting in liquid water. If the surrounding soil is wet but not liquid, you may still need to water the rootball. Check the side of the rootball by also digging down about 6” inches and examine the side of the rootball. Does the original rootball of the new tree seem wet. If so, there is no need to water. But if the rootball is packed with roots it may already be dry enough to water again. Remember it is the original root ball that needs to be soaked at first. Surrounding soil could still be wet while the root system could still be dry. Check your tree, according to the easy watering principal guide just before you are ready to water each time. If the surrounding soil seems very wet and the rootball too, then skip another day until you determine that the rootball is beginning to dry some. Then when it is looking dry an inch or two down, resume your watering schedule. Do this through the remainder of the first six months. This way, you will neither overwater nor underwater your tree.

Wilt Can Come From Too Much Water
Trees that sit in water for more than a week can begin to look as if they are dry and wilted when in fact they are being deprived of oxygen. Tree roots not only need to be occasionally soaked but they also need to dry out a little, without wilting. If water is standing in the hole of the new tree for more than 6 hours, you certainly need to wait longer between waterings. On the other hand, trees that are underwatered also will show signs of wilting, the far more common problem.

Other Legitimate Problems Not Related to Water Issues
Trees do get fungal diseases not related to a lack of water. Fungal leaf spots on leaves and powdery mildew are common problems in spring that resolves themselves and do not do damage to the tree. Long South-Central Texas growing seasons under constant heat also causes some cosmetic damage. This may temporarily be unsightly but is not the cause of tree death.

Things to Remember
Remember that when you bought your tree, your tree looked good and was well taken care of. If your tree had remained at the nursery it would have continued to look good. Consider that in the vast majority of cases, the problem or lack of a problem lies with you and your care or lack of it. We want you to be happy with your purchase and we want your tree to provide you with many years of beauty. We trust that things have gone well for you, but if not, we cannot except responsibility for unintentional ignorance or neglect. If you have suffered some damage, don't give up on your new tree, just start doing the right things as soon as possible. New trees are full of new life and are very forgiving. Most of us have made some mistakes along the way.

Remember Your New Tree is Like a Critical Care Patient
When first planted your tree needs attention immediately. It must be thoroughly soaked in the pot every day if you are waiting to plant it. Then, when planted, it must be thoroughly soaked. Everyday that you neglect to do this risks damaging your tree and it may die if left unwatered for too long. We know that a critical care patient may need CPR immediately if their heart stops or they stop breathing. There is a critical time that this care must be given. If the medical professionals wait too long to do this they will lose the patient, even though they know what they should do and that they should do this in a timely manner. It is the same with newly planted trees. You only have so much time to water them in thoroughly or you risk losing the tree. Even though you may figure this out later, and begin to do all of the right things then, it may be too late. Now that you know what to do, be sure to do it in a timely way.

A Blessing For You
We hope that this watering information helps you as you plant your tree.  May it bring you many years of beauty and peace.

May you and your tree be “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)



*The following is the Watering Guide Condensed into this Short Form


Custom Watering Guide Provided by Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist, Helotes, Texas
Short Guide (For the long watering guide see our websight at: wilsonlandscapenurseryandflorist.com)


Thank you for purchasing a tree from Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist! We hope that you get many years of enjoyment out of your new tree. Proper watering is the most important part of managing your tree's success.

“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 2:9; 1:12)

Understanding Your Tree's Needs
Look at a tree and turn it upside down in your mind and then plant all of that top growth (crown) in the ground and think of that crown as roots! Now cram all of those roots into a pot! A small pot can hold a lot of roots. The more roots, the more water the tree needs to survive. You must supply an unnatural amount of water to meet the needs of the root system that is unnaturally confined in the pot!

Drought Tolerance Doesn't Help Much At First
What is to the drought tolerant trees advantage, in the ground—the ability to send out far reaching roots to find water-- backfires inside the pot. Instead the tree puts on an extensive root system inside that pot and is totally dependent upon you to water it until it can establish itself naturally. A lot of roots packed into a pot dries out fast. The faster a tree dries out, the more water it needs to survive and thrive, until eventually, over the course of a year, it spreads out its roots more natually.

The Answer: Gently Flooding Your New Tree
Fortunately you can solve this problem by gently flooding your tree.This is what the extensive root system needs in order to be soaked. Remember, once the pot is removed and the tree is planted in the ground, the roots have not had time to reach out. It is as if they are still stuck in that pot for the first few weeks until they actually begin to slowly spread beyond. Merely adding one inch of water on top of the rootball is not enough. It takes about 6” of water depth to soak a typical nursery pot that is 18” inches deep. But how can you hold 6” inches of water in place exactly, where you need it, on top of the rootball?

Make A Berm/Donut of Soil
The best way to ensure that the new tightly packed root system is soaked is to create a berm, an earthen dam, around the newly planted tree. You are creating a reservoir. This will look like a donut, with the tree trunk planted in the center of the donut hole. This earth dam should begin beyond where the new rootball stops and the native surrounding soil begins. The circle of raised soil should be no closer than 12” inches from the trunk. Two feet away is better. The donut should be at least 6” inches to 12” inches in height and about the same width. It should be made of soil and not mulch, since mulch may not retain the water. It is good to cosmetically topdress the soil berm with mulch to make it more attractive. The 6” to 12” inch high berm should not rest on the trunk of the tree or cover up the trunk. The tree should be planted the same depth as the surrounding terrain--the top of the rootball even with the top of the original soil line.

How Much Water Does it Take to Soak a New Tree?
A good rule of thumb is that a 5 gallon tree needs 5 gallons of water to soak the root system. If you purchased a 15 gallon tree, you will need 15 gallons of water to soak--If a 20 gallon tree then 20 gallons of water-- If a 30 gallon tree, then 30 gallons of water are needed, etc. Do not worry about over watering when you gently flood the tree. Fill up the donut reservoir once. Let the water settle down and then repeat. The water should take only a few minutes to soak down into the entire root zone.

How Often Should I Gently Flood The Tree?
Here is an easy to remember watering principle: If planted in the summer: Gently flood the tree once every day the first week; every second day the second week; every third day the third week; every fourth day the fourth week ; and every fifth day the fifth week. If planted in the fall or spring: water when planted and then skip to every third day and follow the schedule above from that point. If planted in winter: water when planted then skip to every four days and follow the schedule above from that point. After one month, water once every two weeks if there is no rainfall.

Basic Steps
Plant the tree so that the top of the rootball is even with the existing soil level.

Create a berm around your tree in the shape of a donut, 6” – 12” inches above the original soil level.

Gently flood your tree: For a 15 gallon, 15 gallons of water. For a 30 gallon, 30 gallons of water, etc.

Flood your tree once every day the first week. Every other day the second week. Every third day the third week. Every fourth day the fourth week. Every fifth day the fifth week. (See seasonal variations above.)

For the next six months to a year, flood your tree once every two weeks if it does not rain.

A Blessing For You
We hope that this watering information helps you as you plant your tree. May it bring you many years of beauty and peace.

May you and your tree be “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3)













Wilson's Tree Watering Guide