Heavy soil and prolonged rains that promote flooding, slows root growth or stops growth completely and the plant goes into a dormant state until the wet cycle passes. Once the sun returns and the soils drain off excess water, the plant will then think about coming out of dormancy. Heavy soils take another week or so for the air channels deep in the soil to be free and clear of any moisture, allowing the plant roots to breathe deeply once again.
Plants like annuals, perennials and our beloved tropical paradise plants are herbaceous (no woody bark for protection) and take a harder hit because when the whole plant is under water for several days, they just drown. How do you know if your plants have a chance to recover? If you start pulling out the damaged plants and their roots are held tightly in the soil, the roots are still healthy and functioning. If the plant is lying down, prune the weight off the top of the plant so it will stand upright. If the plants have root rot they will pull out very easily because the roots cannot hold onto the soil. Do not remove any leaves left on the plant because the plant will drop them when they no longer are of use.
As you go through the garden it is important to remove dead and decaying plant tissue because bacteria is present and will attack remaining healthy tissue in this environment. Rake the beds clean and this will be a clue in identifying the soil structure. Is it compacted, is it silty or sticky, has the soil washed away and are the roots exposed? If you soil is compacted, sticky or silty, you will need to break this up and turn into existing soil and while turning the soil, you need to work as much expanded shale and organic fertilizer as your back and pocketbook can handle!
As you aerate your heavy soil with a tiller or shovel, add expanded shale and organic fertilizer to activate soil microbes. The bacteria and fungi are the wizards of the rhizosphere and whether eating or being eaten they hold nutrients in their cells until they die, and then the nutrients are released in plant available form. This is why it takes longer to see results using organic fertilizers because it has to be processed by the microbes first! The earthworms are attracted to the organic areas searching for food and creating pathways that allow air and water to enter and leave the soil. So now you see why it is so important to use organic fertilizers, “You Feed the Soil and the Soil Feeds the Plants!
Our native, stately trees, whose feeder roots extend out past the drip line, need some special care. Roots that have been underwater for many days or even weeks can be resuscitated by using an auger that is 1” wide and 24” deep. This cool little implement fits on the end of a common hand drill and removes soil as you drill down and pull up. You can work a grid from inside the drip line extending out the same distance past the drip line. Once you have created a grid of soilless tubes, you can fill them with expanded shale and organic fertilizer using a 50:50 ratio. The (porous) expanded shale will be a permanent soil aerator that holds water and nutrients and releases back to the plants as the soil dries out.
Whether your garden has suffered a storm or you are going “back to your roots” in the garden, these garden tips will help you produce the results you are envisioning.
• Stop using the colored mulches as they have no nutritional value as well as hardwood mulch because it forms a hard crust that stops the penetration of water to the roots of the plants.
• Instead of mulch, top dress your plantings at least once a year with an organic fertilizer and cover with a good compost 1-2” to create a new “soil zone” for new plant roots to grow. (Previously this was the space occupied by mulch and we have observed plant roots do not grow in mulch) You have created an “above grade” space for new root growth and in turn, new root growth promotes top growth making the plant stronger than before.
• Trees growing in the lawn need to have the “no grass zone” (tree well – to prevent weed eater blight and reduce competition for water) to a size that is in scale with the caliper and spread of the tree. Remember, tree roots extend out past the drip of the tree. Once removing more lawn from around the tree, add organic fertilizer and top dress with compost.
• Once the lawn starts declining in the shade of the large tree, do not thin out the center of the tree, remove the grass out to the area where it still grows well. The tree is more valuable than the grass! (Those little branches in the center of the tree photosynthesize when summer sunlight is intense and air temperatures are in the high 90’s; as the outside leaves and branches shut down to preserve moisture!)
• As you work your soils, whether planting or renovating, always add expanded shale as this PERMANENT SOIL AMENDMENT keeps the air channels open for plant roots to breathe in the soil. You need to work this down into the heavy native soil, not in your loose soil on top. This effort gets water and roots deeper into the soil making the plant stronger and needing to rely less on you!
Gardening is an activity that promotes creativity, is fun-loving loving and nurturing. Plants respond to the love and care we give them. Plants make us feel good; they make us smile with their happy flowers and beg us to spend more time in the garden. Gardening keeps our body moving, slows the aging process, and begets our brains to be creative in a design process. We need to look at our garden spaces as a whole environment, not just the individual plants because together we are the collective and we thrive together.