How to water for maximum production

I need to tell a story for my question.

This year my orchard made very little fruit compared to last year for a number of reasons.

However we had a drought most of the summer. So dry that I remember mowing the yard in July just ONCE!. I used a simple sprinkler a few times throughout the summer on the orchard moving it around in a 100’ x 50’ orchard with 20 trees.

Around comes U-pick season at the local orchard. I fully expected to see less production than last year. NOPE!!! The trees were so full of large apples that you could hardly see leaves. They sustained a lot of tree damage from broken limbs.

Anyway, I suspect the major difference was water (maybe not?). They have the typical black pipes running down the rows, etc.

So, I can and will do what I need to do… But how much do they need? My orchard is so small that I could even water with sprinkler/hose if I knew how much and how often.


Just to add… We bought bags for 2 bushel… I could have stood in one spot and filled those bags. :slight_smile: Their trees are not much larger than mine (ok a little bigger and older). But if my orchard would produce like theirs did then I wouldn’t know what to do with them.

Drip and micro-sprinklers are common in commercial orchards. They both reduce water consumption compared with normal sprinklers and only wet the area beneath the trees. Micro- sprinklers are better than individual drip emitters because the radius of the circle that receives the water is similar in size to the drip line of the tree. I’m short on water and rely on 1 GPH emitters on each of my trees, but they only wet a circle about 2 feet in diameter. A typical micro-sprinkler might consume 5-7 GPH of water and wet a 8-15 foot circle

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Thanks for the reply. So 1 GPH on 20 trees.For how long? 24/7? All summer?

Let us say 1 GPH for 5 hours is 5 gal per tree per day? Every other day? Am I getting close?

My rural deep well works good and makes more than 5 gal per minute. I could put 5 gallons a day on each tree with little effort.

Harvest volume is proportional to the volume of roots. During the warmer months of the year I apply 70 gallons per week per semi-dwarf tree in absence of rain - and less if any rain occurs (fat chance). During the cooler months I slow down the frequency of watering to once every two or three weeks. Since water soaks downward into soil, I do not use drip emitters. That practice causes roots to aggregate beneath each drip head. Instead I employ large basins under each tree so that the water soaks downward under the entire intended drip line of the tree. Note that roots do not explore dry soil, and they recede from soil areas that are only damp seasonally. I deliver water into the basins with 1/2" open pipe + bug trap. I do not use spray heads as they are inefficient in terms evaporation and volume/minute.

It depends a lot on your soil and climate and it might take some trial and error, but I would think that two or perhaps three 12 hour sessions at 1 GPH per week would work OK. I water twice a week for about 12 hours each time if it does not rain. The trees need more water than that, but I don’t have it. I water 5 acres with my house well at 8-10 GPM). The peach PHD told me a mature peach tree consumes about 35 gallons of water a day during the harvest season, but I’m not sure how much water he applies to the trees at the research farm. I do know they use micro-sprinklers and not emitters. I have seen a lot of published research on the subject and some may match your climate/soil.

The size of the trees is important. I only have one emitter on the dwarf apples which are 4 feet apart, but 2 emitters on each of the peach trees, which should have more. My water pressure is regulated to 25 PSI with a screen filter. We use 1/2 poly hose for the laterals and 3/4 or 1 inch poly to connect the the laterals. If I had more water I would use micro-sprinklers on timers.

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Richard, I know you know your citrus, and are familiar with California rains (or lack there of). How often do you water your citrus? As I’ve always read most citrus prefer to be on the dryer side. I’m still not convinced I got my watering regiment dialled in for my 2 yr old (4’)Dwarf Mexican lime. My Washington navel which is mature is no issue, but the lime is finicky lol

Initially the symptoms for under watering, over watering, and anaerobic bacteria in the root zone is the same in Citrus. Through trial and error, I have found my Citrus prefer the same watering schedule and disease prevention as the rest of my fruit trees.

Interesting. I’ve been watering only about 4 gallons a week to two weeks when it was cooler a couple weeks ago. I found if I watered too much the mature leaves were turning yellow.

Maybe I’ll ramp up the watering a bit.


One method for using drip and covering a larger area is to use a spiral of emitter impregnated line around each tree. You can get line with various spacing of the emitters, and different emitter volumes. So line with say a 1/2g/hr emitter every 18" or 2’ spiraled around the tree at the dripline would spread the water over a larger area without the need of sending it thru the air. It also makes it easy to expand an area as the tree grows.

Roots don’t expand into dry areas.

True if the soil is always dry. But where is that true? Not even in CA. They’re talking supplemental water in a climate with summer rain. Drip works even in CA because the roots expand during the rainy season and find the emitter locations when it dries out.

So I’m somewhere between 24 and 70 gallons per week per tree.

I’m cool with that. The point being that I am not watering nearly enough.

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Agreed, for those of us who aren’t in a total desert like environment, the roots do grow out as the tree gets bigger. And even in low water/deserts, if you expand the irrigated area the roots will follow.

… creating tight root masses under the emitters. In my opinion it’s better to flood and let the water soak down evenly under the entire tree canopy.

It depends on your soil type, but for most soils which aren’t pure sand, an emitter’s water spreads to a much larger area underground. It will vary some with soil type and how often you irrigate, but a 2’ diameter circle is quite possible. By choosing an appropriate emitter spacing for your soil type and watering frequency you can get a fairly constant moist zone underground; not just a wet spot every few feet.

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Actually I agree if one has enough water and isn’t concerned about evaporation losses. But drip does work as well in many situations.

It may not be necessary to water the entire root zone in order to get a big benefit from the drip. According to research done at Rutgers on peaches :

"Experiments in arid regions show
water application to 25% of the root
system is sufficient to meet water and
nutrient needs in mature peach trees. A
reasonable design objective for drip
irrigation is to wet 25 - 60% of the root
zone in mature trees. "

I expect the same “rules” apply to apples. Here is the link to the full article.


Gonna bring my topic back up to ask a stupid question.

I can’t find the recent thread where someone recommended dripdepot.

I see how it’s done and it seems relatively inexpensive. but…

Can you mow over that tube stuff?

edit… found the post… Tip of the day.

The drip tape will pick up in any good mower, the layflat most likely won’t but I don’t want to find out either. Just saw this post.

Damemon, almost all of my 1/2" dripline from Drip Depot is burried underground just enough to not be seen. I used a pickax to make little trenches for the line. I think it helps avoid damage by people and deterioration of the pipe by sunlight. Next to the trees I have the emitters slightly exposed under mulch and turned on their side.