Should I install an irrigation system for my live oak trees?

Dear Neil: I want to plant up to eight 30-gallon live oak trees to line my driveway. I have a pond that is several hundred feet away from the drive and we usually get enough rain to keep it filled. Should I have an irrigation system installed? If so, what kind?

I find that most people do not water their new tree plantings adequately. They either don’t make any provision at all for supplemental irrigation, relying strictly on landscape irrigation for turf and existing shrubs and beds, or they use drip irrigation and don’t leave it running nearly long enough to soak the root balls of the new trees. All it takes is one time of letting the tree get too dry to lose or severely disfigure a lovely new plant. As much as I hate to sound like a grouchy old guy, I’m still old school on this one. I plant my new trees and leave a 4- or 5-inch berm of soil as a retaining basin to hold irrigation water. I then fill each basin a couple of times each week during the growing season. My rule of thumb from April through October is to give the tree as much water with each irrigation as the container held at the time of planting (30 gallons in your case). After two or three years you can cut back on frequency. By the way: be sure to set the live oaks a good ways back from your drive. Their low-hanging branches and tendency to have surface roots dictate that they should be at least 20 or 30 feet back on either side.

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