Water, water everywhere in Oklahoma

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt
Master Gardener

We have plenty of experience dealing with drought and not enough water in Oklahoma; however, we don’t normally have to deal with too much water. Another problem with all the rain is that I get all the weeds pulled, it rains, and I have more weeds. There are weeds this year that I have never seen before. They probably floated in on the runoff from so much rain.

Plants need water, so what's the problem with too much rain?

Although soil may seem solid, there are lots of spaces between the particles. These spaces hold air and water, and the roots of plants need both. Roots absorb oxygen from the air spaces in the soil. When it rains or you water a plant growing in a container, all of the spaces in the soil fill with water, and the air is displaced. Gravity pulls on the water and it moves downward. As it does, air moves back into the soil spaces. If rain occurs frequently over an extended period, the air spaces in the soil are kept filled with water and the roots are deprived of the oxygen they need. Although the soil is filled with water, the roots cannot absorb it and wilt. I find it ironic that wilting is the symptom of too much water as well as not enough water. If these conditions continue long enough, the roots stop functioning properly and begin to die. At this point, the roots are also more vulnerable to attack by fungal organisms in the soil that cause root rot. Root rot infections are highly damaging to the roots and are usually fatal.

Unfortunately, right now there's not too much we can do. Actually, the less you do, the better. A good soil structure takes time to create but can be destroyed very quickly by walking on it or digging when it is too wet. The very best way to avoid this happening is to make sure your plants have good drainage, and the best way to ensure good drainage is to plant in raised beds. If you have raised beds and/or good drainage in the garden, Mother Nature will get back to normal quickly and plants should survive.

Here are a few tips to help plants survive too much water:

Stay on top of the harvest. Although this advice is rather obvious regardless of the weather, the longer produce stays on the stalk or vine in wet, humid conditions, the more it stands the risk of infection or spoilage.

Dig trenches to redirect water. If a certain area of the garden collects too much rain, digging a temporary trench should help divert water so it can drain away from plants. Laying a French Drain will help and is a more permanent solution. It involves digging a trench that is 2-3 feet deep and put gravel and perforated PVC pipe in the bottom and replace soil on top.

Add mulch. A layer of mulch will help soil stay aerated and well drained and keep it from being compacted when heavy rain falls. It also keeps soil from splashing on plants and spreading disease.

Keep plants off the ground. Disease can spread and moisture can soak into leaves and fruit more quickly if they are in contact with wet soil. Put cages around tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Grow cucumbers on a fence or trellis. Put mulch under plants, so they do not touch the soil.

Don't crowd plants. Good air circulation helps dry plants out and keeps them from staying too wet and getting diseases. This applies to vegetable plants as well as ornamental plants in your landscape. Crepe myrtles hardly ever have problems unless they are planted where they do not get good air circulation and are pruned incorrectly (Crepe Murder) so they are too dense for air to circulate well and keep them dry.

Improve soil with organic matter. Add compost to soil to improve the tilth of the soil so that it has lots of air spaces for oxygen. Not only will the soil be well aerated, it will drain excess water away more quickly. It doesn't matter if you have sandy soil or clay soil or anything else, organic matter will improve your soil. If you take care of the soil, the soil will take care of the plants.

I have two acres of heavy clay soil and grow almost everything in slightly raised beds. Even with all the rain we've had, I haven’t had any casualties yet from too much water. I am waiting until mid-June to give my crepe myrtles a chance to revive from the horrible freeze from this past winter before deciding what to do with them in the way of pruning. I’m hoping I only have a few dead branches to remove. I see more leaves sprouting daily, and, if we ever get any sun, I think it will make a huge difference in growth and recovery of most freeze-damaged plants.

All my holly plants looked absolutely horrible after the freeze caused them to drop almost all their leaves, and now they have already put out enough new growth so that they look almost as good as ever, thank goodness. I just fertilized them with an organic fertilizer made for hollies, and am hoping for a full recovery. I did lose one Carissa Holly shrub and one Yaupon Holly tree; however, I have already replaced them with plants I hope will look even better and I know can withstand colder temperatures.

Even though I thinned and pruned my Garden Phlox in early spring to provide more air circulation, some of them still have Powdery Mildew (white, fuzzy looking stuff on the leaves caused from being too wet for too long). They look kinda bad; however, it will not kill them. I run out between rain showers or thunderstorms to strip the affected leaves off so healthy new ones will emerge and cut the plants back so new growth will occur. At least I haven't had to water anything except new plantings and containers this entire spring. Stay Dry & Happy Gardening,