7 Tips for Taking Care of Fruit Trees During the Drought

10.17.16 – A quick guide for homeowners with fruit trees.

Fruit Tree in Front Yard


By now we all know about the exceptional drought that California is enduring. With no signs of relief, it is our responsibility as stewards and residents of Southern California to use water as wisely as possible. For a single family home, about 70% of water is used for outdoor landscaping. If you haven’t already, it’s time to assess your landscape and prioritize watering needs.

Here at Food Forward, we highly encourage homeowners to rank fruit trees at the top of the watering hierarchy. Mature fruit trees have deep, established roots that are able to utilize water far underground and do not need frequent watering. They represent years of resources, time, and money that would be lost if the tree is removed or severely damaged. Fruit trees have an intrinsic value that is irreplaceable to us Angelenos- our history, culture, and local pride. Below are some tips to help keep your fruit trees happy and healthy during this tough time.



We can’t stress this enough! Adding organic mulch around your tree will insulate the soil, retain water, prevent weeds (aka competition for water), and add organic matter to the soil. a. Apply 2”-4” of organic mulch out to the drip line (all exposed soil to the outermost branches of the tree). Begin mulch application 1 foot away from the tree trunk to prevent fungal buildup.

2. Improve the health of your soil.

The key to a healthy garden is healthy soil! Add compost and organic mulch on top of the soil and as it breaks down, the soil structure becomes porous, holds more water, provides organic food for the tree, and hosts a huge diversity of beneficial microorganisms.

3. Monitor watering.

Before setting up a drip or soaker hose system, spend some time hand watering to determine the tree’s needs. Use a moisture meter or shovel to test moisture 1 foot below the surface. Test multiple areas throughout the drip line. More trees die in Southern California to overwatering than anything else. Symptoms of overwatering and drought stress are almost identical; monitoring soil moisture can help determine the true problem.

4. Apply water deeply and infrequently.

Watering slowly allows the soil to capture more water molecules as it percolates. It is far more efficient than applying a lot of water at once, which ends up as run off. The less you water your fruit tree, the deeper and wider the roots will grow in search of moisture. This will increase the strength and vigor of the tree.

5. Use greywater.

Explore the use of greywater to irrigate fruit trees from your laundry machine, shower, and/or bathroom sinks.

6. Schedule watering for the morning.

The trunk can fully dry before the evening when fungus develops and it allows the tree to absorb the maximum amount of water before the heat of the day.


Not only does pruning reduce transpiration (loss of water through the canopy), it encourages healthy growth of fruit, allows more sun and airflow throughout the tree, and removes sick/dying limbs that waste the tree’s resources.

Learn More About Fruit Tree Care

Tree full of fruit

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5 thoughts on “7 Tips for Taking Care of Fruit Trees During the Drought”

  1. Cate says:

    I just bought a house on the central coast of California (Guadalupe) with a nectarine that is in dire need of pruning. I read, however that I should not prune it until the leaves are gone.It is still very full of leaves. Should I wait another month? Thank you for your time and consideration.

  2. joe says:

    Hi Cate,

    Thanks for your comment! We deal with more citrus than stone fruit, but found this resource from the University California Cooperative Extension: http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/files/76311.pdf.

    It recommends that you wait until February or March if you have to do any substantial pruning (cutting some of the larger branches).

    Hope that helps!

  3. John Smith says:

    Hi, F/F ! And thank you for your work! I live in a mobile home park where most lots have 2 or 3 trees. I have 30 — assorted citrus, stone fruits and sub-tropicals. Passing neighbors complain their trees do not bear, and wonder what I do! It’s simple: I feed, water, mulch & prune. And replace trees that don’t perform! Then I squeeze & freeze ; and dehydrate surplus. Finally, I share!
    ( btw, I was founding director of SB Food Bank, 1982-87. )

  4. joe says:

    Thanks John! Taking care of 30 fruit trees is incredibly impressive. Great to hear from you, and hope you have a fruitful 2017! – The Food Forward Team

  5. linda says:

    SadlyI had to remove our old bing cherry, actaully the former owners planted it over the septic drain field, and next to the well, so now I want to find a fast growing bing, also, what to do for wa winter dormant spray a natural one and when, linda

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