Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Extended rainy spells in the garden

Here we were in a moderate drought and then a tropical wave brings us days and days of heavy rains and thunderstorms. Soggy, saturated soil will kill plants over time just as well as successive hot days with no rain can shorten a plants life. You need to recognize excess water as a problem. Normally, pooling water between will gradually seep into the soil and nourish roots. But after consecutive days of heavy rain, pooling water that remains above the surface for long periods of time indicates that below the surface is extremely waterlogged. The roots are drowning! Here are some tips and tricks for spotting and solving problems in your garden after heavy rains.

Look for any leaf or stem damage that may have occurred and stake up any plants that are leaning over. If there is only slight damage to leaves, you may be able to just remove them. Keep an eye on plants that have received moderate or heavy damage over the next couple days, the plant might be able to recuperate. Branches that are heavy with fruit may have broken, it’s often best to harvest then and try to ripen on a window sill and remove the broken limb. If the main stem of a plant has snapped then more than likely the plant may not survive and need to be removed from the garden.

Root systems are very vulnerable to damage when saturated. Walking near plants in saturated conditions can also cause soil impaction, which can limit root growth. If you have well designed garden beds or raised beds where you can reach each plant without stepping near them this won’t be a problem. If you find any exposed roots due to soil erosion, cover them with soil, mulch or compost as soon as possible. Do not let the roots dry out – this can be disastrous to the plant.

Heavy runoff can carry nutrients from the soil. Make sure to replenish these nutrients with fish emulsion or an organic fertilizer.

As soon as possible after stormy weather look for areas that may be draining poorly in your garden. You want to correct the areas of long pooling water in the garden. This can be very bad for plants, and leads to root rot. If you find areas that drain poorly, create ways to get the water to drain away from the vegetable garden. You could implement dry creek beds (rock beds), French drains, swales, perforated drain pipes or use plastic water drains to redirect water from the garden. Rain barrels are a good way to collect and divert rain water. A rain garden will also provide a place for the water to drain. (More about rain gardens later.)

Eliminate possible slug or snail hiding places. Slugs and snails love damp places. Remove any boards, stones, or other items that are lying around in or around the garden.

Keep an eye out for emerging weeds. Weeds will often pop up soon after a storm. The sudden charge of moisture to the soil will encourage weeds to spring up almost overnight. Mulch will help to prevent weeds in flower and vegetable gardens and to help with soil erosion.

Empty any containers that have collected water. Overturn any buckets, wheelbarrows, or pot saucers that contain rainwater. These are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and we sure don’t need more of those in our gardens!

Keep an eye out for fungal or bacterial diseases. Damp, humid conditions are perfect for fungal and bacterial disease development. Diseases, such as powdery mildew, will spread very quickly in these conditions. Treat these diseases as soon as they are noticed.

Remember never work clay soil when it is soggy. If the soil is too wet, it will pack into hard clods. Test the soil by squeezing a handful into a lump, and then push your thumb into the lump. If it dents like modeling clay, it is too wet. If it crumbles, then it is perfect to work.

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