My good friend's dad helped me plant a cherry tree sapling (about a handspan high) the other day (I don't know what kind). He brought over the rooted pot, dug the requisite 18-24cm depth, and transferred it (soil and all) into the hole. We then made a torus/donut barrier with topsoil, and mulched it lightly. (If I missed anything important that I should have done, let me know.)

My question now is how much do I water this thing? Initially, we flooded it (literally, caused a pool of water in the barrier) as per instructions. I know that cherry trees don't like "wet feet" (or too much water, hence the topsoil barricade), but how much do I need to water it?

I generally spray it with the hose (non-hard setting) for about a minute per day before the sun comes up. Sometimes I spray the topsoil/mulch barrier too.


2 Answers 2


The standard advice for newly planted nursery stock, water deeply once a week or, if it is hot, twice a week, is good for large ball and burlap trees, bare-root stock planted in the spring, and partially established plants (second year after planting). Container-grown trees and shrubs, which constitute an overwhelming majority of nursery stock sold, need to be treated a bit differently.

Contain-grown plants can be easily identified when you remove them from their pots:

The growing medium will be coarse textured, either a mixture of perlite or pumice and peat or a mix of bark mulch and coarse sand.

There will be plenty of happy white roots to hold the root ball together.

On the other hand, if the growing medium looks like ordinary garden soil or there are relatively few roots holding the root ball together, the plant is probably containerized, that is, bare-root stock potted up early in the spring. Newly planted containerized stock can be watered the standard way, deeply once a week.

In the retail garden center and at the grower before that, container-grown nursery stock is watered thoroughly every day during sunny, warm periods, twice a day when it is hot. A gardener's job is to transition the plant from container-grown to ground-grown. This usually translates into a thorough watering every other day for the first week or two, half as often in cloudy weather. After the first couple weeks, look to make the waterings less frequent paying attention to the plant for clues to how happy it is. Check to see if it is drooping in the afternoons. Yellowing or purpling leaves are also a common sign of stress. By the end of the first month, you should have transitioned the plant to once a week waterings. Still, check it regularly to make sure it is happy.

Now, lets talk about these vague adjectives, deeply and thoroughly. You want to wet the soil to the full depth of the root ball. As a rule of thumb, one inch of water, a volume of water inch deep over a given area, will typically penetrate to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, two inches will penetrate 6 to 10 inches, etc. Judge accordingly. Usually, this means filling your watering basin two to three times, or letting the hose trickle for at least five minutes.

  • Does this apply to a half-foot-high sapling?
    – ashes999
    Sep 10, 2011 at 0:33
  • @ashes999. A seedling like that will need less water more often. Perhaps one filling of the water basin two to three times a week depending on exposure. Seedling trees are surprisingly fussy after transplanting. Check soil moisture a couple inches down before watering. Sep 10, 2011 at 14:42
  • Uhoh. I hope I didn't flood it to death :(
    – ashes999
    Sep 10, 2011 at 19:29
  • When discussing watering times, it is important to distinguish what kind of watering you are talking about. 1 hour of a rotating sprinkler that covers a large grassy space including a small tree is different from 1 hour of running an open ended hose directly on the ground right next to the tree. And, an open ended hose can be running at a slow drip, or a full gush. 1 hour of slow drip might be the same as 5 minutes of full gush. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples when talking about watering times.
    – user2425
    Jun 26, 2013 at 3:53

For a "half-foot-high (6inches/150mm) sapling" I would most definitely deliver water at ground level, as you want to encourage root development, growth as much as possible in these early stages of the trees life...

To begin with I would try watering for 5 minutes every 3 to 4 days.

  • Setup your hose so water is coming out of it as slowly as you can manage, then lay the hose near the sapling and let it soak into the surrounding soil for 5 minutes.

  • The following day, go out and check the soil moisture 2 to 3inches (50 to 75mm) below the surface.

    • If the soil at that depth is moist, enough water has probably been delivered.

    • If the soil at that depth is saturated, too much water has been delivered. Allow the soil to "dry out" before applying anymore water, then try watering for 3 minutes instead of the 5.

    • If the soil at that depth is dry, not enough water has been delivered. Immediately water again, but this time just for 3 minutes (remember you've already delivered 5 minutes of water the previous day).

      • Go out the following day and check the soil moisture again. Depending on what you find, will determine if enough water or not has now been delivered.

Once you've determined how much water needs to be delivered for the soil to be moist at 2 to 3inches (50 to 75mm) below the surface 24 hours after watering, wait 3 to 4 days, then go out and check the soil at that depth.

  • If it's dry, water for the length of time you have calculated.

  • If it's still moist, don't water, come back the next day and check...

Once again you're trying to determine a time period (this time, days between watering) that suits your soil (growing environment).

Please keep in mind, with the above I'm just trying to get you to a starting point, watering isn't an exact science, it's more trial and error (IMHO), especially when dealing with outdoor watering -- there's too many changing variables eg daily temperature, rainfall, etc.

Personally, I believe it's important that the sapling (nearly any young tree, plant) is allowed to "dry out" somewhat between waterings. For sure it's a fine balancing act, as you don't want to overstress the young tree (or plant), but you do want to encourage it to develop its root system, this can only be achieved (at least I believe so) if the young tree (or plant) has to go looking for water.

Watering too often (this doesn't necessarily equate to enough water) doesn't encourage "good" root growth, in fact it will more than likely lead to things like disease and pest problems...

For the moment I'm going to leave the below information, with the understanding it applies to young and older trees. If it proves confusing or unwanted it can be removed.

  • The mulch layer should not touch the trunk of the tree, it should start about 4 inches (100mm) away from the trunk. For "general" tree planting (and watering) information refer to this answer.

  • To water trees correctly I recommend you read this answer and get "Arborist Don Gardner - Watering Guidelines".

    • Don recommends that you start at an hour of watering, evaluate your soil the next day, then go from there...

Additionally you may wish to take the time (7 minutes) to listen to this podcast:

Richard Hentschel, Horticulture Educator and Retired Extension Plant Pathologist Jim Schuster discuss drought and drowning symptoms and the long term problems with annuals, perennials and woody plants. Also discuss are methods for proper watering and indicators of drought and drowining

Good luck! and enjoy your plumb tree.

  • 1
    It's a sapling, it doesn't have much of a trunk... Don recommends 1an hour of watering once a week. That seems like overkill to me, but I could very much be wrong.
    – ashes999
    Sep 9, 2011 at 15:42
  • Does this apply to a half-foot-high sapling?
    – ashes999
    Sep 10, 2011 at 0:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.