With their tall pyramid shape and blue-green needles that stick around all year, spruce trees make for a lovely landscape piece. To keep your spruce tree happy and healthy, you’ll want to make sure you’re giving it enough water to avoid putting stress on the tree.
Young and newly planted spruce trees require more water than established ones. Drought-stressed spruce trees should be watered thoroughly during all seasons, especially when needles are browning. For every inch of trunk diameter, your spruce tree should get at least a gallon of water.
Spruce trees that are water-stressed are more likely to develop disease or fall prey to pests. Below, we’ll go over a few tips for how often you should be watering your spruce tree!
When Your Spruce Tree Needs To Be Watered
If your spruce tree is looking healthy and growing just fine, does it need to be watered or can you leave it alone?
Spruce trees don’t always need to be watered. However, under certain conditions, you should take the time to water your spruce tree to prevent drought stress.
Some examples of when you need to water your spruce tree include:
- When it’s young
- When it’s first transplanted
- During dry periods or droughts
Looking for signs of drought stress is essential, but it’s even MORE important to prevent water stress before it happens. This means paying attention to the weather and understanding when your spruce needs watering.
9 Tips For Watering Your Spruce Tree
Water is essential for spruce tree health. Too little or too much and your spruce tree is going to start shedding needles and looking droopy.
Nobody wants a spruce tree that turns from brilliant green to a drab brown! Let’s check out a few tips for watering your spruce tree so you can keep it healthy, green, and thriving.
1. Check For Soil Dryness
Just because it sprinkled rain a few days ago doesn’t mean your spruce tree has had enough water. Many of the roots of a spruce tree go deep into the soil, meaning small amounts of rain aren’t going to cut it.
Check the soil around your spruce tree to get a more accurate idea of whether or not it needs to be watered.
In general, if you place your finger in the soil and it’s dry, your spruce tree needs watering. If you’re willing to go a little more in-depth, you should check the top 6-9 inches of soil for dryness to get a more accurate picture.
It’s important to note that if 1 inch or more of rain is predicted to occur that week, even if the soil is dry, you do not need to water your spruce. Overwatering can promote the growth of fungus, so if heavy rain is in the forecast, hold off on watering.
2. Know The Soil Under Your Spruce Tree
Spruce trees can thrive in a variety of soil types, from sand to clay. The type of soil where your spruce tree is planted is an important factor when considering how much and how often to water.
There are three basic types of soil texture:
- Sand: Sand is the most porous soil type. The particles are very large and therefore allow water to flow freely through.
- Clay: Clay has the smallest particles and holds water longer than sand.
- Silt: Silt falls somewhere in between sand and clay.
Knowing what type of soil you have under your spruce tree can give you an idea of how often you should water.
Spruce trees planted in soils with a higher sand content will need to be watered more often. The opposite is true for clay. Most of the time, the soil will be some combination of these three textures. Very rarely is soil completely clay or completely sand.
Make sure to take note if you have plants under your spruce tree, as they can impact the watering requirements (more competition = more water needed.)
3. Newly Planted Spruce Trees Should Be Watered
It’s very exciting to plant a new tree in the yard. You have to pick out the perfect spot and envision what it will be like when the tree is fully grown.
Transplanting a spruce tree from a container to the yard can be tricky. One thing that is recommended is to thoroughly soak the soil once your tree is planted.
According to the University of Minnesota, you can use the diameter of the tree trunk to determine how much water your spruce tree should need at the time of transplant. At a minimum, for every 1 inch of trunk diameter, the tree will need 1 gallon of water.
After your spruce tree is transplanted, there is going to be a period where the tree is adjusting to its new home and getting all settled in.
At this time, the roots will begin reaching out into the soil. What you don’t want is to only water the top few inches of soil. This is going to teach the roots that they should not dive deep into the soil for water, but stay close to the surface.
You’ll want to water the transplant deeply to train the roots to establish deep within the soil. This will promote a stronger tree that can better withstand high winds and storms.
If you’re considering planting a new spruce tree, take a peak at our guide on the best spruce trees to plant!
4. Water Spruce Trees Deeply For Better Root Growth
Spruce trees are particularly sensitive to drought conditions. One of the reasons is because of the way their roots respond to water stress.
According to an article in the Journal of Forest Ecology and Management, drought causes an increase in fine root mortality. In other words, the small roots that are reaching out for new resources die off quickly during drought conditions.
Fine roots are responsible for absorbing both nutrients and water in the soil. When these roots die back from drought, they can no longer deliver water and nutrients to the leaves (needles) of the spruce tree.
This is why spruce tree needles turn brown when the tree is water stressed!
One way to prevent drought stress is to water your spruce tree deeply as opposed to just a surface sprinkle. Watering your lawn isn’t enough to keep a spruce tree watered.
It’s recommended to water so that the soil is wet down to at least 9 inches. Providing water deeper into the soil will help train spruce tree roots to establish farther into the soil as opposed to shallower surface roots.
5. Use Mulch To Retain Moisture
Mulch has so many benefits around the yard. Not only does it make your yard look neat and trim, but it also helps keep moisture in the soil longer and protects your tree from the cold in winter.
It’s basically just a big security blanket for your spruce tree!
There are a few things to note when using mulch around your spruce tree:
- Remove all grass first: Spruce trees compete with grass for surface water, and grass usually wins because the roots are so fibrous. Make sure to remove all grass before you put your mulch down.
- Choose the right mulch: Make sure you purchase quality mulch so that you’re not running into problems with insect pests that may be hiding in lower-quality mulch.
- Give the trunk breathing room: Keep the mulch at least a foot away from the tree trunk to ensure the trunk has room to grow and is not smothered.
- Avoid over-mulching: You can add 2-3 inches of mulch around the tree, but it’s not recommended to go any deeper as this can promote weeds, smother roots, and give mice and rats a nice home to live in while they gnaw on your spruce’s roots!
Depending on what kind of spruce tree you have, you may not be able to use mulch. For example, blue spruce trees often have branches that reach the ground.
It’s not recommended to trim these branches, so you’ll have to employ some of our other tips to keep your spruce tree well-watered.
6. Use A Slow Trickle Of Water
When we think of watering deeply, you may be thinking of using a hose or a pail to pour tons of water at the base of your spruce tree.
This will get the job done, but it’s not as efficient as using a slow trickle of water over a longer period. Instead of giving your spruce tree a ton of water all at once, consider using your hose or an irrigation system to let a slow trickle come out over the course of several hours.
To use a slow trickle of water you can simply set your hose out near your spruce tree and set the nozzle to only drip water instead of a constant stream.
The best time to use your hose to water your spruce tree is in the evening. Let it trickle throughout the night and turn it off in the morning. This will help completely saturate the soil but the slow trickle means the soil will not be soaking wet.
Alternatively, you can hook up an irrigation system using something like Flantor Garden Irrigation System.
This kit comes with tubing, nozzles, and spikes that you can hook up to your water supply, making it easy to drip-feed your spruce as opposed to lugging out the garden hose every week.
Just remember, if there’s rain in the forecast that week, it’s better not to water your spruce tree. Overwatering can create just as many problems as underwatering.
If you have a blue spruce, under-watering could be one of the reasons why your blue spruce isn’t blue.
7. Water Beyond Your Spruce Tree’s Dripline
How much water you give your spruce tree is an important aspect of keeping your spruce tree healthy. Where you water may be just as important!
When you bust out the garden hose or your irrigation system, you can’t just spray all willy-nilly around your spruce tree.
Spraying too close to the trunk of your spruce tree can promote the growth of fungus. Try to avoid too much water in a 12-inch circle around the trunk of the spruce tree.
You can drip feed or use an irrigation system beyond this 12 inches. Most of the time when people water their trees they only water to the drip line.
The dripline is the outermost region of the spread of the tree. So when it rains, figure out how far out the rain drips from your tree’s leaves and branches. This is the dripline, which goes in a circle around the entire tree.
The problem with only watering up to the dripline is that the tree’s roots can grow far beyond that point. Make sure to water your spruce tree beyond its dripline to give far-reaching roots enough water.
The healthier your spruce tree is, the less chance that it will fall to pests or tree afflictions.
8. Remove Grass Under Your Spruce Tree
We mentioned grass a little bit earlier when we talked about mulching around your spruce tree. It’s certainly a good idea to remove grass before placing down mulch.
It’s also a good idea to remove grass entirely from under your spruce tree, whether you mulch it or not. Grass should be removed under your spruce tree for a few different reasons:
- Competition: Grass roots are very shallow and will compete with deeper spruce roots for water and nutrients. Unfortunately, because shallow roots get the first shot at rainwater, there may not be enough left for deeper spruce roots.
- Pests: some pests like rabbits, gophers, squirrels, and mice find haven in tall grass. These animals are also known to damage trees by chewing bark, twigs, and even root systems of spruce trees.
- Reduce mowing damage: If you have grass under your spruce tree, chances are you have to mow it or use a weed trimmer. Using this type of equipment close to your spruce tree can damage the tree and any shallow roots.
If your spruce is looking a little sad or the needles are turning brown, it may be because the grass is hogging all the water.
With grass removed and a proper watering schedule, your spruce tree will be on its way to a healthy recovery!
9. Water Your Spruce Tree At The Right Time
Watering is extremely important to the health of your spruce tree. However, if you water at the wrong time, it could cause your spruce tree to expend energy it doesn’t have to process the water.
Here’s when you should water your spruce tree:
- Directly after planting it
- When the soil feels dry to the touch (if there’s no rain in the forecast)
- During a drought
- If there’s been less than an inch of precipitation over a 7-day period
- If needles begin turning brown
- In the fall, just after the leaves start to change and before the ground freezes
Regular maintenance watering can be done once a month with a thorough soaking if none of the conditions above are present.
Here’s when you shouldn’t water your spruce tree:
- When the ground is frozen
- In August (according to Montana State University, this helps your spruce harden off for winter)
- If it has rained 1 inch or more in the past week
- If the soil is still moist to the touch
Watering at the right time is just as important as the amount of water.
10. Spruce Trees Need A Lot Of Water
We talked about how spruce trees are somewhat drought-sensitive. Why do these trees need so much water and why can’t they stand dry conditions?
One of the main reasons has to do with the fact that spruce trees are evergreen. While other trees are lazy and go to sleep in the winter, spruce trees are still hard at work.
Since spruce trees photosynthesize all year long, they require more water than the average deciduous tree that goes dormant. Watering helps keep spruces, like the blue spruce, more blue!
Spruce tree needles have adapted to this need by having a waxy coating over the needles. This helps keep the moisture inside the needles instead of letting it evaporate into the air.
Why Your Spruce Tree Might Still Turn Brown After Watering
If you’re giving your spruce tree enough water but the needles are still turning brown, there may be something else going on.
Here are some of the reasons why your spruce tree is still turning brown even though you’re watering it:
- Grass: If your spruce tree has grass underneath it, the grass could be absorbing most of the water that’s going into the soil. Try clearing the grass away and see if your spruce improves.
- Frozen ground: If the ground is frozen, there is no way for the water to reach your spruce tree’s roots. Wait until the ground thaws before watering your spruce tree again.
- Pests: Spider mites, sawflies, and bagworms can affect a spruce tree’s appearance, making it look water stressed.
- Tree affliction: Needle cast causes spruce needles to turn brown. However, this is usually kept at bay if trees are not stressed.
- Lack of nutrients: Your spruce tree may be suffering from a lack of nutrients. This is a good time to use fertilizer to give your spruce trees a good boost.
Scott’s Evergreen Flowering Tree & Shrub Continuous Release Plant Food is high in nitrogen, which is just what spruce trees need.
You can read more about the best spruce tree fertilizers here.
How To Tell If Your Spruce Tree Needs Water
All trees have a way of letting us know that they are lacking certain things such as water or nutrients.
Spruce trees are no different, and they can show us a few obvious signs that they need a little extra care and water:
- Discolored needles: needles will typically change to a light green and then to brown as they continue to remain stressed. Branch tips are the first to be affected.
- Brittle branches & needles: As the tree branch begins to die back, the needles will become brittle due to a lack of proper water and nutrition. Eventually, this will spread to the entire branch.
- Falling needles: Some needle shed is normal, but if there are a ton of needles falling off your spruce tree, it might be water stress.
If you’re seeing any of these signs, it’s definitely time to give your spruce tree a deep watering to get it back to a healthy green.
On a side note, if you’re spruce tree seems damaged beyond repair, check out when the best times to cut down your spruce tree are.
That’s All For Now!
That’s all the tips we have for watering your spruce tree! It’s important to properly water your spruce tree to keep it healthy, strong, and green.
Now for a quick recap.
Here are some tips for how often you should be watering your spruce tree:
- Check soil dryness
- Check soil type
- Water newly transplanted spruce trees
- Water deeply to promote deep root growth
- Use mulch
- Use a hose or irrigation to slow-trickle water
- Water beyond the dripline
- Remove grass
- Water at the right time
If you’re ever in doubt, contact a local arborist to get a professional opinion. They can tell you exactly what kind of state your spruce tree is in and how often you should be watering it!
Gaul, D., Hertel, D., Borken, W., Matzner, E., & Leuschner, C. (2008, August 20). Effects of experimental drought on the fine root system of mature Norway spruce. Forest Ecology and Management, 256(5), 1151-1159.
Nadezhdina, N., Cermak, J., Gasparek, J., Nadezhdin, V., & Prax, A. (2006, October 01). Vertical and horizontal water redistribution in Norway spruce (picea abies) roots in the Moravian Upland. Tree Physiology, 26(10), 1277-1288.
Puhe, J. (2003, March 03). Growth and development of the root system of Norway spruce (Picea abies) in forest stands – a review. Forest Ecology and Management, 175(1-3), 253-273.
Pukacki, P. M., & Kaminska-Rozek, E. (2005, March 16). Effect of drought stress on chlorophyll a fluorescence and electrical admittance of shoots in Norway spruce seedlings. Trees, 19, 539-544.
Rasanen, J. V., Yli-Pirila, P., Holopainen, T., Joutsensaari, J., Pasanen, P., & Kivimaenpaa, M. (2012). Soil drought increases atmospheric fine particle capture efficiency of Norway spruce. Boreal Environment Research, 17, 21-30.
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