Q. My young acacia tree has abundant growth but only on the top half of the branches. Each of these branches are losing many leaves half way up the branch. There is a lot of growth at the top of the tree but not much below. Am I watering too much, too little? I water every five days during the summer.
A. Acacia trees are desert plants. Most desert plants are opportunists when it comes to using water. In other words, when water is present they grow like crazy. When water is absent, their growth slows and they then try to use as little water as possible. Desert plants may even stop their growth and drop their leaves when water is not available!
All plants are tremendous competitors for water, nutrients and light. They want to be “top dog” in their plant community by taking as much water, nutrients and light as possible when it’s available. By doing this, they take away these building blocks of growth from other plants.
When water is present, trees try to get as tall as possible as rapidly as they can before they start to fill out. They grow upward first and then put energy into horizontal growth once they’ve established some height. This growth in height takes away light and shades competitors. This early growth in height, when there is a plenty of water and nutrients, oftentimes is at the expense of putting on lower growth .
Watering schedules take two different forms; how much water is applied and how often water is applied. It’s difficult to say with certainty without seeing the tree, but it sounds like it is receiving water too often.
Watering every five days means nothing to me. I can take a sip of water hourly and someone might think I am drinking plenty of water. But another person might ask, how big are your “sips”? One teaspoon or 1 pint?
How much water to apply? When watering trees, give them enough. Apply enough water to wet the soil at least 24 inches deep. Apply this water to at least half the area under the canopy of the tree. Once it enters the soil, the water spreads horizontally further than this.
|Use 3 eighths inch rebar to estimate how deeply water has penetrated into the soil after an irrigation. Check the soil in 3 or 4 locations.|
Use 3/8-inch diameter rebar that is three feet long. After irrigating, push this rebar in the soil in three or four locations to check the watering depth. Wet soil allows the rebar to slip in easily to the same depth as the wet soil. Dry soil makes it hard to push further.
It should slip into the soil at least 24 inches deep. Once you know how many minutes this takes, the amount of time you water won’t change. Each irrigation will be 24 inches deep.
If using drip irrigation, space emitters about 2 feet apart. If using a basin or moat under the tree, the basin should be as wide as half the area under the canopy. Trees grow. This means the basin must expanded every three years. If using drip emitters, add more emitters every three years.
|Basin under a tree used to capture the water for irrigation. If using a hose or some other delivery method that releases a large quantity of water rapidly, a basin is required to keep the water from going everywhere else but around the tree.|
How often to apply water? Look at the tree canopy. It will tell you. When the canopy of the tree starts to thin out, it’s time to irrigate! Desert trees tell you when to water when their canopies begin to thin out.