Thursday, June 25, 2015

Plant Life-Saving 101

Soggy soil and rotting roots

It's an understatement to say that spring rainfall has been more than adequate. This year even the River birches and willows are looking longingly toward higher, drier soil. While you can't stop Mother Nature there are actions to take to save plants after the recent downpours:

1) It seems obvious, but do override the in-ground sprinkler system. When air spaces in soil are full of water rather than oxygen, roots become stressed, roots may die. Even lawns, with their comparatively shallow root systems, have had enough for the time being. Save the water, save the money, save the plants.

2) Consider pulling mulch away from root systems to encourage surface drying. This might be a particularly keen idea for any soft-stemmed annuals, perennials or veggies. It may prevent rotting at the soil line. Pots of succulents should probably be brought under cover.
3) Water-compromised plants may show symptoms that include yellowing of lower, older foliage. Leaves may show unusual colors at the edges, or between the veins, which might indicate a nutrient deficiency. Compromised root systems don't transport nitrogen and "minor" elements efficiently.

4) Don't be surprised if plants with big soft leaves (Hydrangeas, for example) wilt even when you know soil is saturated. Yes indeed, your plants may wilt in both cases, whether they're too wet or too dry. So, be sure to check soil moisture levels before adding water to wilted plants that may already be floating.

5) Remember that plants in containers have more positive drainage than plants in beds. Most potting mixes are "soilless" and contain large amounts of bark or coarse peat to promote positive drainage. The minimal nitrogen content these mixes provide can be leached out of the bottom of the pot with heavy rainfall. You can apply: water solubles (Dyna-Gro), earth-friendly naturals (Dr. Earth, Espoma) or timed-release (Osmocote) to maintain optimal growth and beauty.

6) If you have hanging baskets or containers with saucers (either attached or otherwise) be religious about pouring off the drainage water within 30 minutes. After that, roots are drowning.

Drain those saucers

7) Slug populations will be exploding soon. Protect hostas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage and other slug favorites with Sluggo, which is indeed safe around edibles. Slugs will eat the bait, lose their appetite, stop feeding and die within a few days!

Slugs in the rampage

8) Fungal problems (black spot on roses, tomato blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots) will undoubtedly blossom with the abundant rainfall, heat and humidity. Remember that fungicides must be applied ahead of an infection. They will not reverse symptoms that are already present.

9) As the summer wears on we will reach a time when the soil is dry again. Rainfall is not cumulative. So,be sure to do regular checks of newly installed trees and shrubs even after measurable precipitation. Any plant that was container grown or had a small root ball will dry out more quickly than an established plant. Don't be lulled into thinking you don't have to water "new" plants for the rest of the summer. You will at some point in time.

10) Few plants tolerate standing surface water for long periods of time. If your garden has areas that flood and you aren't planning to correct the drainage (for whatever reason) research and use plants that are "flood tolerant". Even if those areas are bone dry later in the season you must plan and plant for worst case scenario. Baldcypress, River birch, Swamp white oak, 'Huron' gray dogwood, winterberry and a number of hardy ferns will endure challenging moisture conditions.

Rain, rain, it will go away. In the meantime, are any of these actions you can take right now to save lives in your garden?