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How to Make a 5 Gallon Bucket Tree Waterer / Feeder

deadwio dilworth 3 in a row155935_edited-sm

Here are three trees on Dilworth Road.  Two are together on the same side of the street.  One is dead across the street at First Presbyterian Church.

I am writing this because Charlotte is going through a severe drought.  We were put on voluntary water restrictions on July 21, 2015, and lots of plant material is dying.  Charlotte spends a great deal of money with their tree planting program, and in some areas this year they are seeing a 38% loss of trees.  As a tax payer this concerns me. It also concerns me because we now lose at the minimum a years worth of growth.  Many trees weakened from this drought will die next season as a result of non watering this year.

I started the discussion on Home July 22 2005 in case you want to catch up. 

There are several items on the market for watering trees. 

1.  If you have a Ross Root Feeder and a water hose that can reach the tree, this is an excellent way to water the tree.  Just stick the needle in the ground and turn the water on slowly.  Depending on how big the root ball is, you might have to move the root feeder several times.  If you have lost or are losing your shrubbery and lots of plant material then consider the Ross Root Feeder. It has been around for many years.  Ross Root Feeder is available at big box stores and Amazon.

As a little side note, I was attending a meeting the other night and a young woman said she and her husband just this spring moved into a new home with wonderful shrubs, flowers, and I assume a lawn.  All of a sudden it’s all gone.  This will no doubt be a burdensome expense to get things back.  First year plant material has a hard time surviving a drought.

2.  Most of our concerns now are those trees planted in your yard or the city trees which cost the city a lot when they die.  You might have seen the Tree Gator Watering Bag or similar items around newly planted trees.  You either need a hose or water truck to get to the bag to refill it. I believe it takes about 8 hours to empty, and the larger one holds 30 gallons of water and a smaller one holds 15 gallons.  The bags are not attractive and are pretty easily damaged and therefore leak. In general you want the water to be out at the drip zone and beyond.  These bags appear to keep the water close to the trunk.  One good thing about the Tree Gator is that you are applying a measurable amount.

 3. Tree IV gets pretty good ratings on ease of use, and if you want details here is the link.  Personally I think gravity plays a role here, and you can drill a very small hole in a bucket and achieve the same results.  Check out Tree IV because they have a list that compares the ease of use and effectiveness of many of the tree watering devices.  Tree IV will cost you about 8 dollars and a bucket from one of the Big Box Stores is $2.97 currently.  If you got this far reading, this you probably have an old 5 gallon bucket or two anyway.

I suppose the spike they use to get the water down deeper into the root zone has its purposes, but I decided to experiment with drilling a 5/64th inch hole in the bottom of a 5 gallon plastic pail.

Water came our in a fine stream when I lifted the bucket.  The bottom is slightly recessed and not touching the ground.  It took about 2.5 hours to drain the entire 5 gallon pail.  Drip irrigation often uses 1 gallon per hour emitters.  In this case the 5/64th size holes releases the water at the rate of about 1. gallons in 30 minute.  We are delivering 2 gallons per hour which looks to me like that will work.   I will probably redo this test but I think these figures are pretty accurate.  The bottom line is that the soil is not flooded.  I suspect you can get a smaller drill bit, but this works for me. 

5 gal bucket_155004_edited-2

Here is a photo of the bucket and the flags show the extent of the outward flow of the water. I have also marked with red dots where the soil was wet and the water ran down hill.  I believe this is acceptable although I can probably get a smaller drill bit that would slow the release even more.

(minor update) I found out that a 1/16th inch drill bit is available.  The store I called sold all they had just that day.  Maybe the buyer decided to drill a lot of buckets and water a bunch of trees.  I also did the test again with my original bucket and for some reason it ran out faster so we will have to do a little more experimenting.

Red Warning
So one bucket does as I have explained above.  Then the second bucket took 3 days to empty because a little teeny tiny bit of trash clogged up the hole.  I cleaned the trash from the hole with a knife point, but a toothpick or a straight pin would have worked as well.  After that, the bucket emptied.  What this does mean is that the water must be clean, and if the opening stays open for any length of time it is likely to get some debris in it, and the hole will clog.  I think a reasonable thing to do is inspect the bucket and see if it is draining; if it is not, stick something in the hole and try again.   If you were to set up more than one bucket to water in several locations then take a piece of plastic and tie it around the top of the bucket.  Fix it so you can refill the bucket by slipping the hose through a small hole in the plastic or just leave the plastic lose at one point so you can put the hose under the edge of the plastic. 

I did get a 1/16 drill bit and made a bucket with an even smaller hole. Clogging was a problem, and I suspect going up to a 1/8 drill bit would still allow the water to drain without much clogging.  Making a plastic cover seems like a good alternative.  This would be in expensive, measurable, and you can move to to other locations on the trees root ball to place the water where you need it.

 How much water does a new tree need.  (long version)  Much Water Does the Tree Need. (short version)  I don’t totally agree with City Arborist Tim Porters assessment that one gallon per inch diameter of the tree is a good rule of thumb.  In our case because of the drought we are in, I believe that extra water at the beginning or your watering is advisable. I would start with filling the 5 gallon bucket three times for the typical city planted tree.  These recently planted city trees are 2 to 4 inches in caliper. (Caliper is the measurement of a tree at 12 inches above ground. This is commonly used by nurseries on smaller trees.  Foresters use DBH  {diameter at breast height which is considered 48 inches above the ground})

Certainly, you do not want to over water the young tree, but it will take extra water to catch up in a drought like we are undergoing.  I recall reading about various rules of thumb, and will go back an investigate.  Our clay soil holds moisture and sandy soil drains very quickly.  Do some self-testing.by going out just beyond the root ball and dig parallel with the roots.  Just stick a Sharp Shooter

sharpshooter-in-ground-0905   sharpshooter-pointsmall

 in the ground and move the shovel back and forth to create an opening in the soil enough to get your hand down to the bottom.  Do not dig perpendicular to the roots to avoid cutting them. Reach down to the bottom of the hole and use your fingers to see if it is moist.  If it is dry, water, if it is too wet you can kill the tree so back off watering.  Let the area sit for a day and see if it is still soggy.

Moisture Test With a Screwdriver
While doing some Google searches on watering, one suggestion that works pretty well is to take a screw driver 8 inces or longer and poke it in the ground.  If it goes in easily to 8 inches your soil should be in pretty good shape.  If you can only get it in an inch or so then the plant needs watering.  I suspect clay and sandy soil would respond differently.  I do agree when you are trying to test a large number of trees or plants, this is pretty quick way to do it. 

An important reminder is that you could put liquid fertilizer in a bucket along with the proper amount of water. You should not fertilize if the trees are under any stress. 

If you want to read more about how much water is needed, go to

 How Much Water Does a New Tree Need.   

Cost of these dead trees.  I am not in the loop on the the exact “real” cost to the city and us as taxpayers, but I bet it is around $450 per tree to plant..  So the next question is how many trees will die because of this drought, and the fact that the trees have not had adequate water?  That does not include the cost of going to the locations of the dead trees and removing them and disposing of the debris.  I will try to check this further.