Watering Bags ~ Helpful or Harmful to Young Trees?


Submitted by Melinda Dietrich on behalf of Bedford’s Arbor Resources Committee

A watering bag installed at the base of a newly-planted tree at Shawsheen Cemetery – Image (c) Melinda Dietrich, 2018 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

Editor’s Note: With temperatures predicted to be above 40 degrees through Monday, December 3 the coming weekend is a good time to remove any watering bags before more cold weather and snow arrive.

Watering Bags, aka Gator Bags, are great spring, summer, and fall to ease the essential chore of keeping your newly-planted tree well-watered for its first three years.

But When Winter Comes . . .

When it’s cold and dark and the land is snow-covered, squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits get cold and hungry. That’s when a watering bag can become a danger to the health of your tree.

If you leave your bags on the trees during the winter, then, like others before you, you may discover wildlife nesting in the relative warmth of the bags come spring. Some have found their bags chewed through and used as tent flaps — keeping animals dry in the insulation they’d pulled inside their bag-home.

You may also find most of the bark – from the root flare to three feet up the trunk – totally eaten, because bark is an easy food source for these small mammals in winter, and it provided them with many very appealing fast-food meals in the comfort of their new home.

The lesson is this: Remove the watering bag before winter sets in and replace it in the spring before a heat wave and/or drought arrives.

Some precautions you can take to protect young trees:

  • You can apply hardware cloth with 1/4” openings, which can remain year round if securely fastened so that it doesn’t contact the trunk
  • You can apply chicken wire about 8 inches away from the trunk of the tree (less effective against small mice), which can remain year round and stay on for several years
  • You can wrap the trunk of new trees with plastic wrap, which is readily available at local nurseries. It is easy to apply and effective at preventing damage to the trunk. The wrap should extend from the ground up for at least two feet around the trunk. This wrap should be removed in the spring.

With care, your young tree can grow into a mature deep-rooted specimen that provides you with shade and an environment both healthy and beautiful.

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