How should I care for my Stewartia tree during the drought?


 I have a 15 ft Stewartia tree that is suffering from the drought. I haven’t been watering it. The leaves are dying, dry, and brown. Will it survive? Should I start watering it?


Liz Stanley, Horticulture Community Education Assistant

Thank you for your question about your stewartia. It’s a beautiful tree – even in the winter because of its mottled bark.

Many trees and shrubs have been stressed by this summer’s heat and drought. If there’s no damage to the trunk and bark, there may be an issue with the roots.

It might just need water. Give the tree a deep watering once or twice a week through the fall. (Be sure the water is not hot when it comes out of the hose.) Roots need oxygen to function, so it’s best to water deeply less often than frequently.

Most sources recommend growing stewartia in dappled sun/shade and somewhat moist (but not wet) well-drained loose soil that’s slightly acidic. The roots don’t tolerate heat, clay, compaction or competition from the roots of other plants.

If the leaf tips and edges are brown, hold on fertilizing. Fertilizers are salts and can damage roots – especially in hot, dry weather. If trees are planted well, they don’t really need fertilizer in general. If you do use it, don’t apply any after mid-summer so the tree can gradually go dormant before winter.

2-3″ of bark mulch can protect the roots from competing grass, heat and will hold moisture. Be sure the mulch isn’t too deep or touching the trunk since stewartia has very thin bark.

Here’s cultural information about Stewartia at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

More about Selecting, Planting and Caring for Trees and Shrubs in the Maine Landscape.

I hope this is helpful and good luck with your tree.