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Past Articles Library | Trees For Dry Soil Areas



Last month we talked about Tips and Trees For Wet Soil Areas so this month we are going to finish up by talking about Tips and Trees for Dry Soil Areas.

A Look at Dry sites

A dry site is one in which a tree's water deficits are likely to be more frequent, severe, or longer than is normal, for the local climate. Sites become dry due to:

1. Insufficient rain (drought), or irrigation

Drought, quite obviously, can be caused by less than normal rainfall, but it can also be caused by hot or cold temperature extremes where the top several inches (cm) of soil may freeze, and roots may be unable to take up water. Reduced water uptake in the winter can make trees, in particular evergreens, more vulnerable to drying out.

Be sure to water in the winter if the ground is dry, including soil in containers and raised planters.

2. Not enough soil volume in the planting area

Most trees, and especially urban trees, and trees in containers, become stressed when they have a disproportionately small volume of soil for their roots. Reduced soil volume leads to soil that dries out rapidly as the root system absorbs moisture, often causing a chronic water deficit for the trees.

General signs of water stress include:

  • Reduced growth
  • Poor flower or fruit production
  • Limp, slightly curled or scorched leaves
  • Abnormal changes in leaf color

3. Various soil texture characteristics

Sandy soils tend to drain rapidly making the soil drier than silt loam soils. Clayey soils tend to have dry to very wet moisture extremes depending on rainfall amounts. Depending upon your climate and soil type, you can have very dry soil conditions.

How Trees Adapt to Lack of Water

To survive prolonged water stress, trees must be able to prevent or reduce water loss from certain tissues. Common leaf adaptations include:

1. Thickened waxy layers on leaf surfaces, increases in leaf thickness, and coverings of short hairs (pubescence).

2. Some trees reduce moisture loss by closing their leaf pores (stomates) or decreasing leaf surface or size of new leaves, both of which decrease the amount of water loss.

3. Narrow or spiky leaves of conifers enable them to survive not only the droughts of hot summers but also the cold induced droughts of winter.

4. An extreme form of dealing with water deficits is leaf drop.

5. Some trees adapt to dry conditions by developing massive, spreading roots, or deep roots, either of which can enable the tree to absorb larger volumes of water.

Avoid Soil compaction

Soil compaction over a tree's roots, due to equipment operation, material storage, or paving, can prevent moisture from reaching roots.

To improve the soil and its water retention, incorporate organic matter into the top 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm) of soil of an entire planting site at a rate of 3 cubic yards (2.3 cubic meters) of compost or pine bark per 1,000 square feet (93 square meters).

In sandy soils increase the rate to 5 cubic yards (4 cubic meters) per 1,000 square feet (93 square meters).

Note: Do not incorporate sand into clayey or compacted soil -- compaction will increase and drainage decrease.

Drying winds

Drying winds can seriously increase the effects of drought, and in fact, wind can damage trees suffering from lack of moisture at any season.

In coastal regions, winds carry both salt and sand, causing abrasions to leaves and stems as well as drying. In exposed coastal gardens, trees tolerant of both wind and salt spray include:

  • Russian olive
  • White poplar
  • Eastern redcedar
  • Loblolly
  • Japanese black pines

Six Dry Site Solutions

1. Install efficient irrigation - Drip irrigation provides more efficient water use than overhead sprinklers. Drip irrigation ranges from inexpensive "soaker" hoses to computerized systems.

2. Reduce fertilizer use during droughts - Fertilizers are salts that can further stress or kill trees if water is inadequate. Salt concentrations can build up in the soils due to decreased water availability. Even controlled release fertilizers may release much more rapidly during hot weather, causing excessive salt levels.

3. Apply mulches - Application of mulch can improve the water retention of trees. Mulches also reduce the impact of water droplets hitting the soil surface, which help reduce soil erosion and crusting which increases water penetration into the soil.

Mulches should be applied 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) deep depending on particle size (larger particles require a thicker layer - for a complete guide about mulches).

4. Water in early morning or evening - Don't water in the middle of the day when evaporation losses are highest. Instead, make sure to water in the early morning or in the evening when trees are less stressed and water uptake is more efficient. Avoid light sprinkling -- slowly soak the root zone if you water with a hose.

5. Plant trees in groups - instead of individually to increase the amount of unpaved surface around each tree.

6. Select trees tolerant of dry sites - See our charts below for drought tolerant trees that are good for dry areas:

Trees for dry sites - Deciduous trees

Common nameLatin name
As with any tree, check with your local nursery to make
sure their roots won't be too invasive for your yard or area!
Amur mapleAcer ginnala
Box elderAcer negundo
Silver mapleAcer saccharinum
Tatarian mapleAcer tataricum
Ohio buckeyeAesculus glabra
PawpawAsimina triloba
Chinese chestnutCastanea mollissima
Northern catalpaCatalpa speciosa
Common hackberryCeltis occidentalis
Red budCercis canadensis
YellowwoodCladrastis kentukea
FilbertCorylus spp.
Smoke treeCotinus coggygria
HawthornCrataegus spp.
Russian oliveElaeagnus angustifolia
European beechFagus sylvatica
Green ashFraxinus pennsylvanica
GinkgoGinkgo biloba
Thornless honeylocustGleditsia triacanthos var.inermis
Black walnutJuglans nigra
GoldenraintreeKoelreuteria paniculata
Flowering crabappleMalus spp.
Chinese pistachePistacia chinensis
London planetreePlatanus x acerifolia
Amer. sycamorePlatanus occidentalis
Hardy orangePoncirus trifoliata
Purpleleaf plumPrunus cerasifera
Callery pearPyrus calleryana
Black locustRobinia pseudoacacia
Red oakQuercus rubra
Japanese pagoda treeSophora japonica
Lacebark elmUlmus parvifolia
Japanese zelkovaZelkova serrata

Trees For Dry Sites - Evergreen Trees

Common nameLatin name
As with any tree, check with your local nursery to make
sure their roots won't be too invasive for your yard or area!
Atlas cedarCedrus atlantica
Deodara cedarCedrus deodara
Leyland cypressX Cupressocyparis leylandii
Chinese hollyIlex cornuta
'Nellie R. Stevens' hollyIlex x 'Nellie R. Steven's'
Chinese juniperJuniperus chinensis
Eastern redcedarJuniperus virginiana
Colorado sprucePicea pungens
Austrian pinePinus nigra
Longleaf pinePinus palustris
Loblolly pinePinus taeda
Japanese black pinePinus thunbergiana
Live oakQuercus virginiana


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Use Corn Gluten To Control Weeds and Ants!

Corn Gluten Meal is a natural pre-emergent that safely inhibits the germination of grass and weed seeds.

It has also been used to effectively control ants. By putting the meal around ant hills, over time they will die off.

It comes in powder and granular formulations, and is available in most garden centers.

For more information read: Corn Gluten Meal

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