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Weather Woes – What do we do with our water-logged gardens?
Posted on : June 24, 2015

No doubt about it – this has been a wet and wild spring, and summer seems determined to bring more of the same. Climate analysts have reported their observations that we are in an El Nino cycle. El Ninos have an effect on tropical weather patterns.

A recent South Texas Weather Conditions Update indicated that the growth rate of El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean this year is larger than any past event. They offer a 70% probability that these conditions will persist throughout the summer and 80% odds that strong El Nino conditions will develop in June and July and continue through next winter.

What does this mean for us? It more than likely means that we may continue to have these periods of unusually heavy rain. The Gulf Coast is familiar with cycles of drought and deluge, and many of our plants are adapted to it. But what happens when the periods of deluge are wetter and longer than usual? A lot of stress on our gardens.

1Too much of a good thing
All gardens need water, but sometimes we get too much of a good thing. Floods and long-standing water can be devastating to a garden. The damage that is done will depend on the duration of the event, the types of plants affected, the type of soil they are growing in and whether there have been any contaminants in the flood water.

When plants are subjected to water-logged soils for long periods of time, roots are deprived of essential oxygen. Water fills all of the pore spaces in the soil and roots can begin to suffocate and die.

When plants are subjected to water-logged soils for long periods of time, roots are deprived of essential oxygen. Water fills all of the pore spaces in the soil and roots can begin to suffocate and die.

Vegetables and fruits are more susceptible to periods of water-logged soils. Neither appreciates wet feet for any length of time. Herbs are also resentful of wet feet. Many of our favorite culinary herbs originated in the Mediterranean and thrive in drier climates.

If you have had heavy rain for an extended period, or have experienced a flood, there are things you can do to help your garden recover:

Don’t work wet soil
Working wet soil can do long term damage to the structure itself. Soil particles can become compressed, increasing compaction and exacerbating drainage issues in the future. This damage is not easily or quickly repaired.

Allow the soil to dry out for several days. Push a trowel into the soil and wiggle it back and forth, as you would if you were making a planting pocket for a bulb or transplant. If visible water is in the hole, or if the soil at the sides of the trowel looks glossy, or feels sticky, wait a few more days.

When you do start working, use hand tools such as a spading fork. Tilling with an implement has more risk of compaction than lightly cultivating with a fork. If you must till, save it for drier days ahead.

Don’t rush to replant
Soil biology is damaged when soils are water-logged for long periods of time. Soil microbes that require oxygen to live may die off and those that survive without oxygen may flourish. The anaerobic microbes are what cause soggy soil to have that foul, sour odor. Even good soils can be thrown temporarily out of balance.

This imbalance affects the availability of nutrients for plant use. The soil food web needs a chance to recover. This can happen relatively quickly if the soil was healthy before the storm. If sufficient organic matter, nutrients and minerals are present, beneficial soil biology will re-establish itself once oxygen is available again.

Many seeds have a tendency to rot in soggy soils. If you must replant quickly in the vegetable garden, support the soil biology with added compost, dried molasses, and perhaps supplemented mychorrhizae.

Don’t rush to prune
Stress from water-logged soil may cause some leaves on fruit trees and herbs to yellow and drop off, but the branches are not necessarily dead. New leaf buds will begin to grow in a few days. Wait until you are sure there is die-back before you prune.

Clean up the fallen leaves and any foliage that is rotting. They can harbor harmful fungi and bacteria that could affect plants.

2Replace nutrients
Heavy rainfall can leach nutrients out of the soil. A light fertilization will replace those nutrients. Don’t overdo it. It is better to fertilize lightly several times than to push plants that are recovering from stress. Foliar feeding with Ocean Harvest can quickly boost needed minerals to reduce plant stress.

Use only slow-release, organic fertilizers that provide micronutrients and minerals in addition to the macro-nutrients, N-P-K. Arbor Gate Organic Blend is a good choice.

Epsom salts provide essential nutrients, magnesium and sulfur. In addition to aiding the uptake of other nutrients, these can help reduce plant stress. Broadcast over the new seedbed at a rate of 1 cup per 100 square feet.

Be prepared to deal with pests and disease
Water stress weakens plants. Weakened plants are susceptible to attacks. Fungal diseases are common after periods of heavy rain. Pull mulches back from the base of fruit tree, herbs, and vegetables until it dries out. This will decrease the opportunity of fungal disease spores to form and splash on leaves during the next shower. It also helps the soil dry out faster.

Be prepared to take quick action with organic-approved fungicides and pesticides. It can be as simple as a baking soda and vinegar mix.

Fire ants are likely to raise their nests out of the water-logged soil. Use the Organic Fire Ant Solution when they are observed.

Make an action plan
One of the best things you can do after a heavy rain is to assess your landscape. There is no better time to identify problem areas and form a plan to prevent future issues.

Get a clipboard and a camera or your cell phone. Walk the garden making notes and taking pictures of places where water stands for long periods of time. Use this information to help you make future decisions such as raising beds, improving soil texture, and replacement plant selection.

You may decide that you need to seek the advice of a landscape professional if you find that drainage pathways are blocked by landscaping. They can often resolve these issues without destroying beds you have already established.

3You may find areas where all that is needed is increased drainage in your soil. Use a permanent material such as expanded shale. This material increases porosity, which makes a healthier soil as well as improving drainage at soil level. Arbor Gate Organic Soil Complete can be used when both drainage and organic content need to be improved.

Make a list of plants that seem more sensitive to wet soils. Like it or not, storms and floods are likely in our area. If you have to replace plants, you may want to look for something better adapted to the possibility that it will happen again.

Dealing with contaminated storm water
If your garden has been inundated with city storm water, chances are you will have to deal with contamination issues. Storm water is often contaminated with raw sewage and hydrocarbons if the storm water infrastructure has been compromised.

If you have seen visibly contaminated water, such as a visible sheen of oil on the surface, consult a professional. You will need a professional soil test from a laboratory that can identify the contaminants and help you assess the situation and develop a remediation strategy.

Do not harvest and eat vegetables or fruits that are growing in the inundated garden. Washing and boiling may remove bacteria, but it will not remove industrial or roadway contaminants.

All is not lost in this case. There are natural bio-inoculants that digest hydrocarbons. Time and good soil biology will deal with sewage exposure. You can actually start with “washing” the garden. Hose down everything to remove mud and surface contaminants. You can follow this with a foliar feeding that includes compost tea in the solution. There are studies that show this helps colonize the leaf surfaces with beneficial microbes – a first line of defense against environmental pollutants.

Written by Angela Chandler

Angela Chandler is a lifelong gardener with a passion for learning and teaching. She tends a ½ acre garden in Highlands, Texas that includes ornamentals, fruits, a small experimental nursery, a flock of Buff Orpington chickens, and a Lab mix named Harley. Her gardening adventures would not be possible without her husband, Fred – always willing to help unload leaves, compost and help build beds. Angela is a member of the Harris County Master Gardener Association – Retired, and a member of the Garden Writer’s Association.

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Comments

Ole Roy |

A consideration is to purchase a cheap fountain type pump to use to pump excess water off to speed up process. This what I am trying this Spring in NE Texas.

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