Signs of Underwatering Trees or Overwatering Trees

Signs of Underwatering Trees or Overwatering Trees

Trees can’t tell us when they’ve had too much to drink–or when they’re dying of thirst.

Instead, trees leave subtle clues that we need to decode. Look at your tree’s leaves, and let’s solve the mystery!

Is your tree getting too much, not enough or just the right amount of water?



The Difference between Overwatering and Underwatering Trees

Signs of Underwatering Trees

Signs of Overwatering Trees

  • The area around the tree is constantly wet
  • New growth withers before it’s fully grown or becomes light green or yellow
  • Leaves appear green but are fragile and break easily

Is your tree getting too much water or not enough?

In both cases, the trees can look eerily similar. Luckily, there are two ways you can determine once and for all if your tree needs more or less water.

  1. Quick and easy check: Stick a long screwdriver into the soil below your tree. If that’s hard to do, your tree needs more water.
  2. Precise-as-can-be check: Below your tree, dig 6-8 inches deep and grab a handful of soil. Your soil should be cool and moist. If it’s sopping wet, you’re overwatering. If your soil isn’t drenched or sandy, roll into a ball. If it crumbles, your tree needs more water. Poke the soil ball a few times. If it doesn’t budge, you probably have clay soil.

How to Fix or Save Overwatered Tree

If your tree has too much water, it’s struggling to breathe. That excess water commandeers spots air pockets previously held. So, your tree roots are getting too much water and not enough oxygen. That’s a double whammy that could lead to root rot, fungi or long-term tree stress.

Here’s how to fix an overwatered tree:

  1. Stop. Don’t water your tree for a week or two. Before watering again, do the screwdriver test mentioned above. Only water your tree when it needs it.
  2. Fix. If you have clay soil, mix in compost to help it drain better.
  3. Inspect. After it rains, see if there’s water pooling around your tree and find out where it’s coming from. Is water running downhill and landing at your tree’s base? Does your rain spout empty right near your tree? If you spot an environmental cause like this, it may be best to move the tree entirely.

Click here to learn exactly how much water your trees need each week.



  • The Tree Doctor September 12, 2018 >Hi Helmut, Trees typically lose a large percentage of their roots during the digging and transplanting process. Following leaf-out, the reduced root system can often struggle to provide the moisture needed by the foliage, especially during periods of high summer temperatures. To conserve moisture, the tree often shuts down some of the foliage to reduce water demands. Because your tree was recently planted, this is a distinct possibility as to why your tree is dropping some foliage. To be safe, I would recommend having a certified arborist come out and give their opinion. Your local Davey Tree office could do this for you if you decide to go this route. You can reach them directly at (970) 682-7991. You can also fill out a quick consultation request form on their local webpage here: Hopefully, this helps. Best of luck to you, Helmut.
  • Helmut Retzer September 10, 2018 >Ive planted six trees of six different varieties in my new yard. The soil is mostly sand. They have been planted now for almost two months. Two of them, a Seven-son-flower and a Viburnum plus a Hot Wings Tartarian maple have lost a lot of leaves and the leaves that are left are browning and drying up. Even the new growth seems to be effected. I water quite a lot thinking the sandy soil is not holding enough moisture. Don't know if I'm underwatering or over watering.
  • The Tree Doctor July 16, 2018 >Hi Susan, Overwatering could be a possibility. I still would recommend contacting a certified arborist in your area to rule that out though. If overwatering is not the issue, they will be able to uncover what the issue is and prescribe a treatment plan accordingly. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area based on the zip code provided. Here is a resource that can help with hiring a certified arborist or reputable tree care company: Hopefully, this helps. Best of luck to you, Susan.
  • Susan Hitchcock July 12, 2018 >Our celestial kousa dogwood was planted during summer 2017. It blossomed during spring 2018, but the leaves are very light green and turning downward. Is it being overwatered? It is planted by itself in a part-sun, part-shade area.
  • The Tree Doctor May 30, 2018 >Hi Roy, I would recommend having a certified arborist come out to take a look at that tree. He or she will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis after inspecting the tree in person. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that will be helpful for finding a certified arborist or reputable tree service in your area: Best of luck. Here if you have any more questions, Roy.
  • Roy Belangeri May 28, 2018 >Will an underwatered tree rebound even if it is dropping some fruit?
  • The Tree Doctor May 21, 2018 >Hi Joann, There are many possibilities to what this might be. In order to provide an accurate diagnosis, I recommend you contact a certified arborist in your area and have them come out to inspect the tree. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that may help you when hiring a reputable tree service or certified arborist: Hopefully, this helps! Here if you have any more questions, Joann.
  • Joann Ridley May 19, 2018 >My small potted oilve tree was okay until I watered it for the first time since last summer. Two days after I did this hundreds if green leaves fell off. Leaves were not drt
  • The Tree Doctor April 25, 2018 >Hi Dennis, Drip systems are great, as long as they don’t oversaturate the ground. Most deciduous trees like to have a good soaking, but to then allow the soil to dry before the next soaking. Hence the instructions to water deeply, but infrequently. Soils that are constantly saturated can reduce the amount of oxygen in the soil, which is critical for root growth. Hope this was helpful! Here is an additional resource that may provide some more useful information on the topic: Here if you have any more questions, Dennis.
  • Dennis Durost April 22, 2018 >Pink Lady Chitalpa Tree Dilemma - The instructions that came with the tree say "deep/infrequent" watering. However, there are many of these trees around town on drip systems and they seem to be doing well. I live in Mesquite, Nevada where it is very hot in the summer. What would be your advice?
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