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Too much rain
As Australian's we are often struggling to protect plants from blistering heat and drought. But what can you do in the garden when you get too much rain? Here are some tips and tricks.
Clay makes it difficult for any plants that require a deep root system to flourish. You can overcome the problem by bringing in a few truckloads of compost, mulch and organic soil. This will raise the surface level to offer plant roots more room to grow before encountering clay. In dry conditions that solution works well but after days of rain the upper soil is soaked and drainage becomes virtually nonexistent when the water hits the clay level.
In raised beds compost and organic matter act as a sponge to absorb water and help keep the soil moist. That reduces the need for daily watering during dry days. However, during excessive rainy periods the vertical sides on the beds can create a container effect that holds in the water and your organic sponges actually inhibit plant growth.
Soggy, saturated soil will kill plants in time. You need to recognize excess water as a problem. Normally, pooling water between beds or plants isn't an issue because it will gradually seep into the soil and nourish roots. But after successive days of heavy rain, pooling water is a concern because if it remains above the surface for long periods of time that tells us that below the surface is extremely waterlogged. The roots are drowning!
The immediate response is to dig channels to allow the water to drain away from the garden. Once the soil is saturated the only thing to do is to reduce the addition of more water. Eventually sun and wind will dry out the garden and things will return to normal. Mulch works to keep the soil from drying out. During extreme rain you may need to remove mulch to give the soil extra opportunity to dry out. Pull back soggy mulch from the plants to expose soil to the air (but do not forget to re-mulch later).
Extra dry straw in the low spots will absorb rain. If you pull out soggy straw after extended heavy rain, you can keep some water from adding to your drainage concerns.
When you're planning new beds or redoing an old bed ensure your base has a good sand component if there is inadequate drainage. Sand drains well and can help minimize drainage issues. Try to identify where water pooling is worst. Just as a pot needs drainage holes, you may need to create drainage in areas of your garden you hadn't anticipated. Drill holes in your raised beds, and install overflow hoses, and alternate water channels to divert excess water. You may be able to make some of those corrections during the rainy weather but you may have to wait until the soil has dried afterward. Incidentally don't forget to turn off any automatic irrigation systems, until the garden has dried out. Another smart option is to create a drainage pit in the location the water naturally collects. Once the garden had dried out, dig a deep hole 1m across by 1.5 deep, fill with large screening gravel. Then plant water loving plants around it for example: sorrel, lemon grass, mint, water cress. If you have clay soils in the long term add sand and mulch can improve its drainage.
After a heavy thunderstorm, and extended rainy spells
Look for any leaf or stem damage that may have occurred. 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, its often best to harvest then and try to ripen on a window sill. If the main stem of a plant has snapped then more than likely it is a loss. Although, you can try grafting the stem back together. The plant may not survive, but you can improve its chances by the addition of a little seasol.
Root systems are very vulnerable to damage. Walking near plants in saturated conditions can also cause soil impaction, which can limit root growth. This is generally not a concern if you have well designed garden beds or raised beds where you can reach each plant without stepping near them. If you find any exposed roots due to soil erosion, cover them with soil or compost as soon as possible. Do not let the roots dry out – this can be catastrophic to the plant.
Heavy runoff can carry nutrients from the soil. Make sure to replenish these nutrients with fish emulsion or an organic all-purpose fertilizer.
During a storm (or soon after) look for areas that may be draining poorly. You do not want areas of long standing water in the vegetable 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) or use plastic water drains to redirect water from the vegetable garden.
Eliminate possible slug or snail hiding places. Slugs and snails love damp places. Remove any boards, stones, or other items that are laying around in or around the garden.
Keep an eye on 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. Put down some type of mulch to prevent weeds and to help ease 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. If you have a rain barrel, you could dump the rainwater in there.
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 (see our blogs on Fungal Diseases).
Tomatoes, Pumpkins, Cucumbers and Zucchinis are especially being affected by rusts, spots, fungis. Waiting too long to act can mean serious trouble for your vegetable plants. If you'd like to learn more about establishing your vegie patch, we run beginner's classes in growing your own fruit and vegies …..visit Adam's Garden website for more information.
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