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Enough Already!

By Paul James

I love rain, especially when it follows a long day of planting or starts right after I’ve finished mowing the lawn. But too much of a good thing is rarely a good thing, and too much rain can wreak havoc in the garden, often in some rather unsuspected ways.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that too much rain can actually drown plants, because all that water in the soil fills spaces that would otherwise contain oxygen. When that happens, plants aren’t able to respire (or breathe, if you will) and therefore suffocate. Carbon dioxide and ethylene gases can also accumulate, both of which can be toxic to plants.

Symptoms of waterlogged soils include plant leaves turning yellow or brown or wilting suddenly. Die back of new shoots is also fairly common. And unfortunately, short of waiting for the soil to dry out, there’s not a lot you can do to reverse the situation. Pulling back the mulch from around plants (or the entire garden) will facilitate drying somewhat, as will stabbing a garden fork in the soil, which also allows oxygen to reach into the soil.

Too much rain can also leach essential nutrients out of the soil, especially nitrogen, so once the soil dries out a bit, consider applying a fertilizer such as Espoma Plant-Tone, Milorganite, or Osmocote, or simply topdress plants with compost.

Dirt and mud that splash onto leaves and stems may – and often do — harbor fungal spores, which is why it’s a good (if not counterintuitive) idea to wash the entire plant with a gentle mist. And on plants that are susceptible to fungal diseases – tomatoes in particular – you might want to apply a fungicide such as all-natural Serenade as a preventive measure.

But be careful where you walk! Your weight – regardless what it is – can cause severe compaction in wet soils, and compaction is the enemy of plants. If you have to work in the garden, place a board on the ground first and walk on it to minimize compaction. Walking in wet soil can also hasten the spread of fungal diseases, especially on beans.

Pollination can also be affected by heavy rains, in part because pollinators have a tough time flying in the rain, but also because heavy, wet pollen simply isn’t as effective at doing its thing. There’s not much you can do to remedy the problem short of waiting for the weather to change.

And finally, we’ve all been frustrated during those times when frequent rains make it impossible to get out and mow the lawn, and by the time it’s dry enough to mow the grass is overgrown. About the only way around the problem is to double cut: raise the deck to its highest notch, mow, then drop the deck height to your preferred level and mow again.

So there you have what you need to know about dealing with too much rain in the garden. Now I’m going to write a piece for the coming months on how to deal with drought.

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8 responses to “Enough Already!”

  1. Kimberly Valles says:

    Hi Paul- I garden in the Pacific NW, and lots of rain can certainly be a problem, but nothing like what you in the Central Plains have been experiencing! Do you have any wisdom to impart on dealing with moles, voles and other tunnelers? We just returned from a week away and the moles have been hard at work making a mess of planting beds and even heaving a couple of new plants out of the ground.

    • Paul James says:

      Kimberly – Oh how I miss spending time in your part of the country! I deter moles using a product called Chase (or MoleMax, which is the same thing). They contain nothing more than castor oil, which sends the moles scurrying elsewhere without actually killing them. Thanks for reading.

  2. Claudia says:

    Thank you. This is very helpful

  3. Janis Wooley says:

    Great information, thank you!

  4. Ellen Gill says:

    Brilliant Information. Thanks!

    • Paul James says:

      Why thank you, Ellen. It’s not every day someone describes my work as brilliant.

  5. Tom Peters says:

    Hey Paul,
    I live in Connecticut and this year the rain has been crazy. In April it rained 21 out of 30 days and the first half of May it rained 11 of the first 15 resulting in a stretch of 32 days of rain out of 45. I’ve been busy catching up. The other day as I showered and notice the dirt flowing down the drain I wondered how many wheel barrows of dirt washed down the drain over the last 37 years. I bet you’d have a few yourself.

    • Paul James says:

      Tom — the real bummer is it rained hard last night and is pouring right now. We can’t seem to catch a break. Tulsa even made it on the Today Show this morning because of severe flooding along the Arkansas River. And the forecast for Sunday and much of next week? You guessed it — more rain!
      Thanks for reading. Stay dry.