How much water is enough?

In our part of the world (central Victoria, Australia) we experience hot, dry summers, and they seem to be getting worse.  When we first came home on the farm in the late 1990s we’d have the odd day here or there over 40°C, but in recent years it’s not uncommon to have stretches of a week or more at a time with extremely high temps.

Hot conditions always beg the question…how much water is enough for fruit trees?

The rough rule of thumb we use is that a mature fruit tree, with a full crop, in the height of summer, will need about 200 litres of water per week, and if you’re installing an irrigation system we recommend that it has enough capacity to provide that much water to each tree in your garden.

However, the true answer actually depends on lots of different factors, like how old the tree is, how much fruit it has on it (if any), the soil type, what ground cover you have, and the weather, particularly the temperature and the amount of wind.

You’ll also be able to give your trees less water if you install an irrigation system, because it’s much more efficient to slowly deliver a small amount of water through drippers (for example), than you can manage with a hose or bucket.

It's important to test all the drippers at the start of the season
It’s important to test all the drippers at the start of the season

Watering your trees with either hose or bucket will inevitably lead to some water wastage through run-off, and it can also be hard to make sure the water gets down to the root zone where it’s really needed. It’s also time consuming, and can be physically hard for some people—can you tell we’re big fans of irrigation systems?

Here’s the steps to making irrigation simple and effective:

  1. Figure out how much water each of your trees will need at peak production, in hot conditions.
  2. Work out what and where your best water source is.
  3. Design and install a hose or pipe system to get the water the trees as efficiently as possible.
  4. Decide on which type of drippers and/or sprinklers you’ll use, and install them.
  5. And lastly (but importantly), add a timer or programmer to your irrigation system so it will turn itself off (and even on) automatically!

Happy watering!

(Details for how to set up a drip irrigation system are included in the Be a Wise Water Warrior short course.)

2 thoughts on “How much water is enough?”

  1. hi,
    I have 16 mature trees inside a enclosed orcard where hens live too.It has kikuyu grass and requires mowing.What therefore would be the best irrigation system please?
    We are in East Gippsland and like you have very long dry summers and autumns when fruit is forming.We have an irrigation channel with water we can access.My gardener has advised me against my usual sprinkler rose as we constantly battle rot.I dont know how I could set up pipes if a mower has to run through the orchard.. dilemmma!

    Also ,if I order some trees do you post as Im about 4 and a half hours from you.

    best

    Robbie
    Robbie

    1. Hi Robbie, probably the best irrigation system would be to put in to star pickets, run a wire along them a couple of feet from the ground and attach your irrigation pipe to this – it keeps it up off the ground and allows mowing underneath (which is what we do in our orchard). You can also just string the irrigation pipe in the trees if you want to go low-tech, and if the trees are close enough together. We favour drippers rather than sprinklers too, as they deliver the water to the soil without the fruit getting wet which does indeed increase the risk of fungal disease. There are some more modern pipes with in-line drippers that you can bury in the soil, but it’s harder to monitor that the pipe is working as it’s supposed to. Sorry but we don’t offer mail-order of trees, pick up from our farm in central Vic only at the moment. Good luck with your irrigation system. We have a short course that might be useful as well, called Smart Irrigation for Fruit Trees – here’s the link: https://growgreatfruit.com/product/be-a-wise-water-warrior/

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