Fall is for planting, but is the soil too wet for planting?
Resist the urge to work wet soil. First, dig up a trowel full of garden soil and squeeze it in your hands. If it crumbles it is okay to work. If it forms a muddy ball that holds together, it is too wet for planting. Let the soil dry a day or two longer and check it again. Keep in mind that conditions likely vary from one garden area to another. Soil remains wet longer in shady and low areas.
Tread lightly, if at all, on wet soil. Walking on waterlogged soil can compact it, thus eliminating tiny air spaces between soil granules.
Plants need oxygen for good root growth. They take oxygen from the small pockets of air between soil particles. When soil becomes wet water replaces the air in those pockets. The resulting lack of oxygen in the soil causes plants to suffocate and die.
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An excess of wet weather is stressful for many plants and potentially damaging to soil structure. It also presents gardeners with a set of problems that need attention. Here are 15 tips and reminders to help you deal with the aftermath.
1. We have weeds in all seasons. Expect a new flush of weeds after wet weather. Rain offers small compensation by softening the soil which makes pulling out the nasties easier. Mulching should follow weeding because it blocks out sunlight and thereby helps prevent new weeds from growing. In the fall mulch provides additional benefit by helping to hold heat in the soil as nights cool.
2. Weed to help control insect pests now and next spring. By removing weeds in the fall insect pests will have less food and shelter as they try to overwinter in your garden.
3. Heavy rain not only erodes soil but washes away nutrients, too. Counteract depleted nutrients by top dressing plants with compost. Cover exposed roots with compost or soil.
4. Mulch helps prevent erosion. If mulch has washed away consider laying down cardboard over the soil first then laying mulch over that. It will deprive weeds and seeds of sunlight thereby preventing their growth. The cardboard biodegrades over the winter. You can lay a cardboard layer on raised beds or conventional garden beds.
5. Heavy rain points up areas that don’t drain properly. Minor flooding can be a prompt to improve drainage in those areas.
6. Wet weather sets an environment for fungal diseases like powdery mildew, Southern stem blight, black spot, anthracnose and others to proliferate. Watch for both fungal and bacterial disease and treat plants as necessary. Dispose of all diseased plant material.
7. Sanitation is critical to preventing disease. Remove diseased fruit and leaves from the ground. Sanitize pruners in water and bleach. Dispose of garden debris.
8. If you have an open compost bin or pile turn over the waterlogged compost to give it the oxygen it needs.
9. Expect a boost in the insect population. Watch out for fire ants that may have relocated. Treat the new mounds or your entire yard if it was not already treated this year. Follow all directions on packaging.
10. Slugs love wet weather. Keep an eye open for them and do away with as many as possible. Check their hiding places under bricks, boards, containers and be prepared to remove them to soapy water.
11. Empty, turn over or remove containers that hold water to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
12. Some plants that have been bent over by wind and heavy rain can be staked up, but if the stem is snapped it’s a loss.
13. If wind and wet soil cause a young tree to lean, you need to straighten it. It will only become worse with time. If you are unsuccessful at pushing it straight and restaking it yourself, call in a professional landscaper or arborist (as necessary) for help.
14. Attend to outdoor containers. They can become waterlogged. Remove saucers, and elevate pots on pot feet for better drainage. Add slow release fertilizer to their soil.
15. Be aware that extreme wet weather limits pollinators’ activity which affects blooming and fruiting.
Take heart, some of these chores are part of the yearly fall garden cleanup.
Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at firstname.lastname@example.org.