Arborvitae is often thought of as easy-to-grow, and perhaps even unkillable. The truth is, as tough as the species may be, it isn’t any more invincible than the next tree or shrub.
Can you overwater arborvitae?
Unfortunately, as with most species that require water, arborvitae can indeed be overwatered. The species get by with much less water than other types of trees, as it is an evergreen. That said, too much moisture for too long may lead to root rot, attracting harmful insects, and other severe issues.
Read on below to learn everything you need to know about arborvitae and overwatering!
How Much Water Does Arborvitae Need?
The amount of water that arborvitae need varies based on the width of the tree’s trunk. For every inch of width, the tree requires up to ten gallons.
Factors such as what type of soil the tree is growing in, how much water other local plants absorb when watering your trees, and the general drain ability must be considered as well.
Before your arborvitae is well-established, over three years old, they require additional watering.
When you first plant your arborvitae, they need watering daily for up to two or three weeks.
For the first two to three years, they need watering once per week during the warm seasons, and just once per month in between.
Once arborvitae is mature, you can get away with watering them just a small handful of times (once in the spring, summer, and fall).
Fully mature arborvitae may not require additional water than what is made available to them via rain and the natural water table.
That said, it is still suggested to water the trees once or twice per year (especially if/when you are feeding them with fertilizer).
What Does an Overwatered Arborvitae Look Like?
The first tell-tale signs of overwatered arborvitae are yellow or brown in color in the typically vivid green branches.
Unfortunately, these are the same primary indicators that arborvitae may be underwatered. That means you’ll have to take a closer look at your trees to tell if they are actually overwatered.
Upon further inspection of your suspected overwatered arborvitae, if you notice an unnatural amount of needles and/or branches on the ground it is a clear indicator that the trees are not healthy.
Overwatering is one of the main reasons for excessive needle drop with arborvitae. If their branches are also looking brown or yellow, it’s almost certain that they are overwatered.
However, there is still a slight possibility that the trees could actually be underwatered, not overwatered, at this point. That means you still need to gather a bit more intelligence before deciding whether they are overwatered.
The final indicator that your arborvitae is overwatered is the ground, or soil in their containers is thoroughly moist.
If the ground is wet, and you haven’t watered it in quite some time, you have more than likely severely overwatered it during the last watering session.
What to Do if You Overwater Arborvitae?
The first things that start happening when you overwater arborvitae are soggy roots and growth deceleration.
Once excessively overwatered, arborvitae begins attracting harmful insect species, as well as bacteria, fungus, and soilborne diseases.
The first step to saving overwatered arborvitae is to immediately stop watering them. If you can aerate the ground surrounding the tree(s), do so.
After you stop watering the arborvitae, it may take several weeks to dry up enough to require additional moisture. That means you won’t need to apply water again for at least 2 to 3 weeks, if not as much as a month or two.
To know when you should start watering again, you must water them like newly planted trees and monitor the moisture level of the soil.
You can do so by sticking your fingers into the dirt, up to 3 or 4 inches, and feeling around. If the soil is wet, wait a few more days and check again.
Alternatively, you may invest in a moisture meter rather than using your fingers.
When the soil is finally drying out, and you water your arborvitae again, make sure to not repeat the same mistake. Research how much water is the best regiment for your trees, and stick to it rigorously.
Also, keep in mind while watering your arborvitae that they require less water than other/similar trees, to begin with.
What Causes Overwater on Arborvitae & Solution to Prevent
When the root zone of your arborvitae becomes too wet for too long, it is officially overwatered.
Sometimes overwatering is caused by your own hand, other times it’s a result of nature.
Below, we discuss the most common causes for overwatering arborvitae, as well as the best solution for each one:
Rain Makes Soil Wet
The biggest reason for arborvitae, and other trees and outdoor plants that may be in your yard or garden, is excessive amounts of rain.
Maybe it is a really wet season or a giant storm rolls through and dumps a bunch of water on things over a short period of time; either way, rain is the number one reason for overwatering.
Especially if you’ve already watered your plants, rain may actually be the last thing your plants need.
Plant your arborvitae in soil with great draining ability. If planting in pots, make sure they have drain holes. Pay attention to the weather forecast and adapt your watering schedule to it.
Pots Don’t Have Drain Holes
When your arborvitae pots don’t have drain holes in them, they retain much higher moisture levels than their ground-bound counterparts in the yard and garden.
That means you need to be extra careful when you water them, applying approximately half as much (or even a third) of what you would give your trees in the ground.
Transplant your arborvitae to new containers with drain holes, or directly into the ground. Avoid planting them in pots without drain holes in the future.
Human Error / Accidents Happen
Rain and pots lacking drain holes are the biggest reasons for overwatering, aside from simple human error.
Accidents happen; the water container can spill out too much water too fast, multiple people can unknowingly water the same arborvitae regularly, and so on and so forth.
Keep a watering log, or some sort of record-keeping system, to track how often plants and trees are watered.