Ask a Consulting Arborist Q&A: Tree Care Tips (Pruning, Water, and More)

Q: How can I maintain a birch tree in the California drought?

Monday, January 04, 2016  

Q: I live in Southern California. We have an established birch tree in our front yard that came with the house, which we bought five years ago. So far, it's grown quite steadily with sprinklers alone, but now we are getting rid of the lawn that surrounds it because of the California drought. I am open to maintaining the water via drip lines, soaker hose, deep water irrigation, or watering by hose, but I read all kinds of challenges with birch (it is a European white birch, I believe). The tree is about 20 feet tall now. How much should I water it and how often? Should I water in a circle around the tree? Should I not plant flowers or shrubs near it?

A: Please follow these steps:

  1. Add 3 to 6 inches of mulch/compost within the dripline/canopy of the tree.
  2. Keep the mulch/compost moist by watering three or four times per week. This can be done with drip irrigation or a nozzle on a hose. The water volume should not be so high as to wash away the mulch/compost. The watering should be done in the evenings to prevent evaporation. Think in terms of watering the mulch/compost instead of watering the tree. The mulch/compost should be kept 12 inches away from the trunk.
  3. Check the moisture by putting your hand in the mulch/compost. If it is moist/wet, don't add water. If it is dry, water it.

Any plantings near the tree should be low-water use plants.

Responder: Ted Lubeshkoff, RCA #513, Duarte, CA