Why Maple Trees Need So Much Water (And When To Water Them)

Maple branch with yellow leaves in autumn day

Maple trees are a classic tree in the United States, particularly in the northeast region. They are easy to grow, provide wonderful shade, and produce brilliant and beautiful fall foliage that is famous worldwide. Caring for a maple tree can be easy in the right environment, but if you do not live in the right climate, or you are living in an area experiencing drought, you might find that the fall foliage is not as brilliant as it could be due to lack of adequate water.

Maple trees need a great deal of water. They take water in through their roots and lose it through their leaves, especially in the warm months. If your home is getting little rain, you are experiencing a drought, or very warm temperatures, run a soaker hose to your maple tree 1-2x per week.

Maple trees need even more water than some other tree varieties. If you have a maple tree in your yard or garden, or even if you are just thinking of planting one, read on to learn about how to keep these beautiful trees hydrated year-round!

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The Varying Water Needs Of Maple Trees

Tree shedding leaves: a maple tree reveals an intricate pattern of branches as leaves fall away on a sunny autumn afternoon.

All trees need water to grow and stay healthy, plus they need water to make sure their leaves (if they are deciduous trees) go through a normal annual cycle of fall foliage and new buds in the spring.

All trees are affected by how well and how much they can grow depending on whether their water needs are met. There is also some concern that changes in our global climate might affect how much water maple trees get.

Maple trees like to live in cooler climates where their leaves do not dry out.

A sign of a dehydrated maple tree can start with leaves that look dry, curl up, or even look dead. If your maple tree’s leaves look unhealthy, considering its water availability is a great place to start in attempting to solve the problem.

Maple trees are quite interesting plants. You can learn more about the maple tree growth timeline and facts in this article!

Watering Young Maple Trees

While mature maple trees also need water, the most vulnerable time for a maple tree is during the first couple of years of its life.

If you have recently planted a maple tree seedling or sapling, water it regularly no matter what type of weather you are experiencing (unless you are experiencing daily heavy rainfall that is assuredly providing a great deal of water to your young tree.)

According to Utah State University Extension Yard and Garden, it is imperative for the health of your maple tree’s canopy and root growth that you water the soil around your new tree so that the soil is moist a full foot underground. If the soil takes a lot of water to be watered that deep, you may have to water your tree more often than even once a day.

Once your maple tree is well-established, which usually takes somewhere around three years, it will not require as much water, but it probably will still require some watering unless you live in a very rainy place.

According to the city of Seattle, tree saplings need 30 to 40 gallons of water per week, split into two waterings. This can vary, of course, depending on the type of tree and the climate you live in. In Seattle, for example, there is a lot of rain, so this recommendation might be different if you live somewhere that is less humid than Seattle, a very humid city.

The Virginia Department of Forestry provides this guideline: saplings or trees that have just been planted need to be watered at least two or three times per week with the amount of water varying depending on how thick the trunk of the tree is.

The thickness of the trunk of the tree is called the caliper, and a young tree needs about two or three gallons of water for every inch of the caliper. This guide can help you determine how much to water your young maple tree.

Controlling The Water If Your Tree Is In A Container

If you are growing a maple tree sapling in a container like a raised bed or a pot, you have more control over the amount of water in the soil and, while your tree requires a great deal of water, it is possible in these cases to over-water the tree.

To avoid this, check how damp the soil is throughout the pot. If the soil is very moist, you may not need to water the tree that day.

Another way to keep from over-watering a container sapling is to put a layer of rocks or bark at the bottom of the pot. This will encourage the water in your maple tree’s soil to drain, protecting the young tree’s roots.

Addressing Drought With Maple Trees: Maybe Not As Obvious As You Would Think

You probably think of drought as something that comes with scorched earth, dry and cracked dirt, and very dry days for a long period. But maple trees can suffer from drought in as little as a few days.

If you think that watering your tree once a week or even less during the hot summer months is enough, you are probably wrong.

According to Purdue’s University Extension office, a red maple tree that has a soil ball of about two feet wide needs about twenty gallons of water every day.

Then the tree will lose a few gallons of water just through the leaves in a single day if the temperatures are warm. So it could only take a couple of days for the tree to be without enough water.

Make sure that, no matter what type of climate you live in, you are paying attention to the amount of rain your home is getting and the temperatures throughout the day. If it is hot outside or it hasn’t rained in a while, you probably need to water your maple tree.

Some Easy Ways To Water Your Maple Tree

Autumn maple trees with yellow leaves against blue sky in quebec, canada

Watering your maple tree might be enjoyable for some people who might find it relaxing to take the garden hose out and water the tree each day.

But some people might view this as a chore, plus there may be some times that you are not home to water the tree or you just forget.

To make sure your tree is watered regularly, there are some steps you can take to make the process easier or to even automate it.

Using A Sprinkler System

Sprinkler systems are probably the easiest and most reliable way to water your yard or garden, but they are not always as easy for watering trees.

Unless you have already placed a sprinkler head or two or three near the base of your tree, your sprinkler system is unlikely to produce enough water for your maple tree’s needs.

Most sprinkler systems are set up to provide water for lawn grass or flower beds, not enormous trees like most varieties of maple trees.

Therefore, if you rely on an already-installed sprinkler system, you are probably not getting enough water into the soil around your tree.

Remember that you are aiming for a whole foot of wet soil around the entire base of your tree, so that is a lot of water!

If you can adjust your sprinklers to meet this need, that is great. Just program them to run on a schedule that keeps the tree watered. This may mean too much water to other parts of your yard, though, so again, a sprinkler system that is not very customizable for different zones may not work well for this watering task.

Using A Hose-Attached Sprinkler

Sprinkler systems can be great, but if you need to move them around, that isn’t an option. One solution to the immobility of an installed in-ground sprinkler system is to use a sprinkler head attachment on your garden hose.

For watering the base of your tree, your best option is probably to go with a sprinkler that provides a lot of water to a relatively small area.

Remember, you aren’t trying to water your whole lawn; you are trying to provide a concentrated amount of water to the base of your maple tree.

You can attach a sprinkler head to your hose, then place it under your tree and let it run until you have reached the desired amount of water. One problem with this method is that this will probably only water one side of your tree.

You may need to move the sprinkler once or even twice during a watering session to provide complete coverage around the circumference of the tree trunk.

If your tree is still a sapling and therefore still quite small, you might be able to set up a sprinkler that can water the entire tree. But if the tree is mature, this is probably not the best option.

Using A Soaker Hose

If you want to provide a lot of water to a specific area, a soaker hose is a great option, no matter whether you are watering a mature maple tree or a small sapling.

A soaker hose is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a garden hose that soaks the surrounding ground. These hoses have strategically placed holes in them that let water out in a continual stream all down the length of the hose, so anywhere you lay the hose gets water.

Since your goal is to soak the ground around your maple tree, a soaker hose can be ideal.

Another bonus of soaker hoses is that, if you buy one that is long enough, you can wrap them around and around the base of the tree in concentric circles, providing water to a large amount of area that is sure to soak the soil above your maple tree’s entire root system.

The Linex flat soaker hose, which is 50 feet long and able to be wrapped around the base of your tree in multiple layers that can spiral out to provide water to the soil on top of the roots, too. Another option is the Rocky Mountain Goods flat soaker hose, which is also 50 feet long.

To use the soaker hose, just attach it to the faucet on your house or to a splitter if you plan to use another garden hose at the same time. Then make sure it stretches to your maple tree. You may need to buy a longer hose if you have a long way to go before you even get to the tree.

Wrap the soaker hose around the base of the tree in concentric circles, sort of like a spiral out from the tree trunk. Leave a few inches between each circle. Turn on the hose and the ground will be soaked. How long you need to leave the hose on can vary, so check the soil after your first watering and adjust the time from there.

You can also adjust the frequency of watering. Some trees may need to be watered every day, while maple trees in more humid climates may not need water as often.

Remember, young trees need more water than mature trees, whereas larger trees will need a larger area covered by concentric circles, as their underground root systems are much bigger.

Using An Automated Timer For Watering

While the soaker hose systems, or even the sprinkler attachment to your hose, can run for hours and hours with no attention from you, you will still have to remember to turn the hose on every day.

Or whenever you need to, depending on your determined watering schedule. You also have to remember to turn it off, otherwise, you may face an unintended, very high water bill!

There will probably also be times you are not home or not able to turn the water on and off. Also, if you go out of town for any length of time, you don’t want your maple tree to suffer a lack of water because you are not there to turn on the hose.

For these reasons, it can be very beneficial to install and program a timer for your hose. These timers, like the Orbit Single-Outlet Hose Watering Timer, can be programmed for a day of the week, a time of day to turn the hose on, and the length of time to let the water run before turning the hose off.

This is a brilliant solution to help you water your tree regularly and to make sure you don’t forget. This system also helps ensure that your maple tree gets enough water, but not too much.

Signs That Your Maple Tree Needs More Water

To know how much water your tree needs in varying seasons throughout the year, it is helpful to know what signs to look for. Your maple tree could be thirsty, or it could suffer from root rot from too much water.

Here are some signs to help you learn more about how to recognize signs of a healthy maple tree or one that needs a little help.

Signs That Your Maple Tree Needs More Water

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, some signs of trees that need more water can include these symptoms:

  • The leaves on your tree have started to wilt.
  • Your tree’s canopy is smaller than it used to be.
  • The leaves of your maple tree look “scorched,” meaning they look like they have burned in the sunlight.
  • The leaves of your maple tree are changing color too soon or are falling off long before fall.

If any of these things are happening to your maple tree, check the surrounding soil. You may even need to dig deep into the soil, as it will be hard to know without digging whether the soil is still moist a foot down into the ground or container.

You can also just pay attention to the soil at the base of your maple tree. If the soil is dry, your tree needs water. If the soil cracks, your tree needs a lot of water! Adjust your watering amount and schedule accordingly.

Sometimes, you will need to give your maple tree extra water for a while until it is back to a healthy baseline when you can resume your regular watering schedule.

The amount of sun and shade your maple tree gets is important too. The more sun your variety needs, the more water it will eventually require. Check out this article on different maple trees and how much sun they need!

Times To Pay Special Attention To Watering Your Maple Tree

Autumn maple tree

Sometimes, your maple tree may need more water than usual. These times can be crucial for the health of your tree.

When Your Maple Tree Has Tar Rot

There are some common ailments that can affect maple trees, and, while these problems are not always serious, they can affect the look and health of the tree overall. One such common problem with maple trees is tar spot.

Tar spot is very common in maple trees and is characterized by, as the name indicates, dark spots on the tree’s leaves. According to the state of Connecticut, the best ways to prevent tar spot from coming back in the spring are to make sure you get rid of all the fallen leaves from your maple, then be very diligent about watering your maple tree.

When You Want To Ensure Bright Fall Foliage

It is entirely possible that you planted a maple tree solely because you want to see those beautiful characteristic yellow, orange, or red leaves in the fall. But something that can prevent your maple tree’s leaves from changing or make the colors less vibrant is a lack of water throughout the year before autumn.

According to Harvard Forest, trees that have not had enough water throughout the summer may lose their leaves before they even change color, or they might just not have as much color when the leaves change.

Also, too much water during the early days of fall can be problematic, as rain can cause the leaves to fall early before they reach peak foliage color.

According to the University of Tennessee Extension, trees that do not get enough water in the summer can be late to change the color of their leaves. And trees that get a lot of rain right around the time their leaf colors are due to peak might not change color as brightly.

While you cannot control how much or how little rain your maple tree gets, you can at least help make sure it gets enough water and you can make sure that you are not the reason it has gotten too much water.

If you want to ensure bright, colorful fall foliage that doesn’t fade or fall away too soon, or that doesn’t arrive too late, monitor your maple tree’s water supply throughout the year.

Remember, fall foliage is also affected by water amounts in the summer months, so it won’t work to wait until autumn to correct watering issues.

That’s A Wrap!

Now you are ready to keep your maple tree watered adequately, but without giving it too much water. You can help your tree grow stronger, healthier, and faster by ensuring that it gets enough water. You can also aid your mature maple tree in warding off disease and reaching peak fall foliage.

For more information about adding maple trees to your own personal arboretum, take a look at our post on the 9 Best Maple Trees To Plant – Pros and Cons Of Major Types.

Enjoy your maple Tree Journey!

References

Burr, H. S. (1945). “Diurnal potentials in the maple tree.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 17(6), 727.

Wullschleger, S. D., Hanson, P. J., & Tschaplinski, T. J. (1998). “Whole-plant water flux in understory red maple exposed to altered precipitation regimes.” Tree Physiology, 18(2), 71-79.

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