Am I over watering or under watering my new cherry tree

I planted a new Meteor Cherry tree on June 12 and I’m not sure what’s going on with it. I live in northern Minnesota on the boarder of North Dakota in zone 4/3. It’s been in the ground almost a month or so and the leaves are wilting and the tree is looking sad. I mulched around the tree and kept the mulch 3 or so inches away from the base. The soil around the tree is cool and moist and not muddy at all. The soil outside the mulch ring isn’t hard and I can easily stick a screwdriver into the ground with a little bit of pressure. I was watering it daily but then saw the wilting and wasn’t sure if was over watering. I’m willing to do what it takes to save this tree so any help would be greatly appreciated. All these pictures were taken on July 5 right before making this post. The added link should take you to my Google drive where I have pictures of the tree.

Welcome to the forum Juan! If you add information to your profile such as your zone, general geographic region, and let us know here what kind of soil you are working with (clay, loam, silt, sand etc) as well as how often you are watering, that will help others to help you. You are in the right place for answers though!

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If the soil drains slowly you are likely over watering. But maybe not especially for a potted tree that was recently planted. So it could be over or under watering depending on soil drainage, how much you are applying, and whether or not the water is getting to the rootball.

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the symptoms of over and under watering are the same. (if you over-water, the roots rot, and thus cannot take up enough water, which leads to the same symptoms as under-watering)

From what i know, fruit tree’s like large gifts of water once or twice a week. So rather empty a bucket of water 1-2 times a week. than put the garden hose on it daily. This gives the soil some time to take up some air, which avoids the roots from rotting.

i also always water away from the main stem.


When you plant a tree the soil is disturbed. It then becomes easier for water to enter and often become more of a bowl of water. I would bet on watering to much. For potted trees I usually water at planting and just let go from there.


The first thing to determine is the drain qualities of your soil. Is it more sand or clay?

If you want to measure it look up how to do a soil drain test. It involves digging a hole, filling it and seeing how long it takes to drain.

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A tree that large, transplanted in May or June and probably not dormant then, is bound to look sad. Don’t water any more until you can poke 4 to 6 inches into the soil and come up dryish.

I see no evidence of pots in your text or images. Was this in a pot or was it bare-root.
If potted, how many roots were contacting the side of the pot; if bare-root, seems unlikely it was dormant on the date implied.

Sounds like over watering. I would probably dig a hole a couple feet from the tree…and see if it got some water seeping into the bottom of that hole. If so that could be the source of the problem.

I live in northern Minnesota right on the boarder of North Dakota. I’m in zone 4/3 and from what I can find the soil type is loam or clay loam. I was watering daily a couple gallons or so around 5:30 pm. The weather has been in the mid 80s to 90s pretty consistently. I noticed the tree leaves were wilting and getting yellow so I checked to see if the roots were dry. All the soil around the tree under the mulch was cool and damp but the root ball was dry. I guess I didn’t free up the roots enough when I planted the tree. I decided to pull the tree out of the hole and started to soak and free up the roots. That was a week and a half or so ago and I’m watering every couple days now and not sure if I need more or less water.

When I water the tree I turn the hose on and let it run for a few minutes. The water will make a small puddle and goes away within seconds of moving the hose.

The tree came in a 3 or 4 gallon pot. It’s maybe 5 1/2 feet tall give or take. A lot of small roots were touching the side of the pot if I remember correctly. The tree was in mulch and soil mixture that was really packed in and around the roots.

When I water the tree it just drinks the water down and it never has standing water around it after minutes of watering. I pulled the tree out a week or so ago and the soil was cool and damp not muddy or soaking wet where my hands would get muddy from digging it up. I also started soaking the grass around the tree since you’re suppose to water where the tree is going (encourage wider root growth) and not where the tree was been. I don’t smell any mold or foul smell when I smell around the base of the tree either.

And you didn’t think this was germane to the conversation? To answer your question: you removed the tree from the soil just as it was beginning to get its super tender feeder roots able to take in water.

You say you are willing to do what it takes to save the tree? Do this; stop fussing with it. Water it deep once a week and let it be.


I know nothing about growing trees so I didn’t realize what I did was wrong obviously otherwise I wouldn’t have done it or I would have said something about removing the tree in my 1st post. I’ll follow your instructions and see what happens. Thank you for your help.

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everyone has to start out somewhere. I think with a bit of luck and a bucket of water once or twice a week (depending on weather) your tree might recover.

i must say though cherry’s can be a harder tree to grow. And I’m not sure about your winters. If your cherry tree does not survive, maybe look up some of the members here in your climate zone and try a tree they are successfully growing. (i think they have some apple varieties that can do well for you)

good luck :slight_smile: i hope it recovers.

ps: for your next tree. It’s usually best to buy and plant them in the dormant season (fall/winter) however if you’re truly in zone 3/4 then your ground might be frozen solid. So I’m not sure. There are some zone 4/5 members here that might advise you better though.


I’m not used to having the ground freeze solid in fall, so I think a person in 4-5 would be OK at least until the end of November.

Even and early freeze like we had last year on October 19 won’t freeze the ground; it takes a sustained period of low temps.

You’re getting lots of good advice here and are probably already on the right track. When establishing a new tree, you definitely want to make sure the rootball stays watered (but not soaked) until the roots have a chance to grow into the surrounding soil. Until the roots do that, the tree is basically still in a pot. So, as @don1357 suggests, a deep watering once a week or so should do the trick. I would also suggest that you create a well/berm around the rootball to direct all the water there, at least for the next month or so. By then the roots should have spread into the soil.

Here’s how I plant trees (please note, this may be a bad idea for heavy clay): Next time you plant a tree, dig your hole, then water the hole. Once that water is drained, put the tree in and water some more. Then backfill, pausing about halfway to water thoroughly again. Finally, fill the rest of the way and build a ring/well/berm, water again, then mulch. Then don’t water it for at least a couple days (but DO check soil moisture with your fingers to confirm). Unless it’s super dry or super hot, that initial thorough watering is usually enough to get potted trees going through at least the first week. Bare roots might need a little additional water.

Last year I neglected to do the full royal treatment on the first apricot I put in ground. It was hard to keep watered, and even wilted to the point that new green stems were drooping, pointing straight to the ground. I realized the rootball was dry and gave it a good, deep, targeted watering to soak the rootball. No more problems after that, only a weekly watering, and the tree went on to grow another 3 feet. Trees are pretty resilient, you just have to learn what to pay attention to, when you need an emergency response, and when you need to just leave it alone.

You need to in this heat provide it some medium shade for that intense midday sun since it has been disturbed while not dormant.
And depending your soil type and how fast it dries out, and how hot n dry your weather is now, water deep and it being july probably about every 5 days,±, (probably 5 to 7 gal in the summer), so that the next day it is medium damp 6" deep a foot or 2 away from the tree, but not inundated not dripping like a sponge on the 2nd day. And time to water again when its still mildly damp let it dry out a bit but dont let it dry out too bone dry in this heat, especially since it has been disturbed for the next month in this july sun and heat make sure it stays medium moist± especially if you have drought. There is a delicate balance.

Trees are supposed to only be planted when dormant, in early spring after the ground thaws, april for you, or late fall after leaf drop but before ground freezes so thats october for you.

Planting with leaves, and pulling back up and disturbing roots, while tree is awake, is the best way to shock a tree to death.

There are many things for a beginner to learn…

Most importantly, never give up… If your tree doesnt make it try again and build off of what you learn…
I hope this helps.

I’m sorry if I was too harsh. Pulling it out probably did the bulk of the damage.

I love the term plant nursery because it describes exactly what’s supposed to happen with plants, which is to understand what they need and provide them with the right environment. Heck take a bonsai tree; it is not forced to grow small, it is given an environment where the dwarfing is the most natural expression of the tree. Take this one in the wild:

Your tree is mating with the soil and spreading its roots. Next year you may not even get much growth on top going on but that doesn’t mean that your tree isn’t growing underneath, becoming one with the environment and learning the nuance of your weather. Don’t worry about it, give it water once a week, keep a thick layer of mulch (ideally green, not bark) and it will do the only thing it knows to do.

Speaking of water, we just had two days of rain and I was out this morning watering my bushes. Why? Because all that drizzling that wetted the surface world was about an inch, not enough to put even a dent on the amount of water needed after the long dry period. Install a water gauge, it is the only way you know how much came down and whether it was enough.

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You’ll never be able to tell if a newly planted cherry tree needs water or lacks water by looking at the leaves. You need a moisture meter. A cheap one works just fine. You can buy them at your local hardware or Amazon. Newly planted Cherry Tree’s are finicky!