By: Rob Sproule
“The green reed that bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak that breaks in the storm.“
Weather happens. Our perfect afternoon picnics can be followed by a monsoon chaser. Rain is usually a gardener’s friend. But when it gets heavy enough to whip once proud petunias into pouting piles of leaves, we need to know how to triage and treat our tender plants. The good news is that, when it comes to the odd rain storm, healthy, established plants will bounce back quickly. If you’ve just planted them, or if they’ve been struggling, you’ll want to keep an eye on them and try to let them dry slightly before watering again.
Assessing the Damage:
We’re not talking about the darling rains of May, here. We’re talking about heavy, pelting, sustained rains, often heralding summer thunderstorms. There’s nothing you can do during the storm other than making sure your car windows are closed and eavestroughs are down. Your trees and establishing shrubs should be fine so long as rain didn’t turn to hail, which is another problem. Stroll the garden and focus on your annuals, perennials, and edibles. Petunias have a reputation for getting flattened, but usually the stems are bent and not broken. Bent will pop back with the sun; broken needs to be trimmed cleanly off before they rot and spread disease (see below).
The picture perfect blossoms the plant had before the rain will be beaten down and probably won’t bounce back. Deadheading them will speed up re-blooming. Don’t just tug the flower off; clip the stem underneath with your pruners. The plant will divert energy into the buds and new growth. Remove wet leaves from the base of your tomatoes and potatoes as insurance against Gray Mold and Blight. Branches on the bottom quarter of tomatoes won’t yield well, anyway.
One rain storm is one issue, a rainy summer is something else. If heavier than normal rains persist over weeks or months (ie. the ground around the plant never really dries out), you’ll want to step up the yard hygiene.
• Clean up leaves and other organic debris around the base of the plant to prevent fungal disease.
• Increase air flow around the plant if possible by pruning or relocating other plants.
• Stop all other watering.
The last point may seem obvious, but a lot of people have things like automatic sprinkler systems that they forget to turn off. If you still want to fertilize (your annuals and tomatoes will get spindly without it), sprinkle some powdered water soluble fertilizer around the plant’s drip line before a rain and let nature do the work. Veggies planted in raised rows and raised beds will fare the best, as they’ll have the best drainage. If the rain persists, expect spindly carrots and runty beets.