About a year ago, we had an idea… We thought, “wouldn’t it be great to fill up our whole yard with fruit trees?!” We found a local nursery with a great selection, bought a handful of trees, and got to it. There was only one problem… we seriously underestimated how much water we would need.
To successfully grow a fruit tree in the desert, you need about 20 gallons of water per week for every tree that is 2 years or older.
To be fair, I can’t say we weren’t warned ahead of time. The very nice couple who owned the nursery asked us if we had a well. I told them we didn’t, but we were harvesting rain water, and we had about 750 gallons of storage capacity at that time. They looked at us with great skepticism.
I assured them that we planned on increasing our capacity, and that we would only use the rainwater for watering plants. They still didn’t seem convinced, but since they’re not in the business of turning away business, they loaded up our truck with trees, and sent us on our way.
For the first month or two, the trees seemed to be doing okay. There were a few signs they struggling, like wilting leaves and peeling bark, but I was convinced once the trees established, these problems would go away on there own. At this time, I was giving each tree about 5 gallons per week.
Flash forward a year later, and one of the four trees had died. The other three trees – a plum tree, peach tree, and pomegranate tree – were displaying mixed results. The plum and the pomegranate tree appeared to be doing well, but the peach tree was hanging on for dear life.
I consulted one of our neighbors who had successfully grown several peach trees, and he told me he gave each of his trees 15 to 20 gallons per week, on average. It was at this point I realized we had really screwed up.
Why Do Fruit Trees Need So Much Water?
The simple answer to this question is: because they make fruit. Think about the average peach or plum… it’s mostly water. So, if you want your fruit tree to not only survive, but also produce delicious fruit year after year, you’re going to have to water it a lot more than other trees.
Of course, matters only get worse when you’re doing this in the desert. Apart from the obvious fact that it doesn’t rain much, you also have to contend with intense heat, dry air, and loamy soil. Pouring water on the ground in the desert is practically like pouring it down the drain. Much of it quickly evaporates, and the rest drains straight through the ground.
Tips for Watering Fruit Trees in the Desert
Over the past year, I’ve learned that properly watering a fruit tree in the desert takes a little bit of skill. Here are some tips and tricks you can use to ensure your tree is getting enough water:
Water at Night or Before the Sun Comes Up
Even though trees need sunlight, when it comes to watering them, the Sun is your biggest enemy. If you water during the daytime, especially in the summer, much of the water will evaporate. Instead, water at night or before sunrise.
Create a Basin Around the Tree
If you don’t have a basin around the tree, much of the water will spread out wide across the surface of the ground, which means it isn’t getting down to the roots. Instead, you want the water to pool around the base of the tree so it soaks into the soil.
There are many ways you can create a basin, but I found that forming a tight ring or square around the tree using fist-sized rocks, and filling it in with mulch works surprisingly well. You should make the diameter of the basin slightly larger than the canopy of the tree.
Water Around the Canopy, Not the Trunk
Watering near the trunk of the tree seems intuitive, but you won’t reach the roots this way. Your tree’s roots spread out much further than the trunk, usually the diameter of the canopy or greater, so that is where you should focus on putting the water down.
Cover the Ground with Rocks and Mulch
Covering the ground with rocks and mulch slows evaporation by keeping the sunlight off the soil and forming a barrier to lock moisture in. The wood chips will also soak up a lot of moisture, keeping the ground damp long after you water. The rocks also serve a second purpose, storing heat from the Sun, which helps keep the ground warm in the winter.
Water in Small Amounts Several Times
Instead of dumping the water on the ground all at once, it’s better to pour a small amount, wait for it to soak into the soil, and then add another small amount. This requires some patience, but you will waste much less water this way.