Wet Weather and Your Garden

Marc Montefusco
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Gardeners are hard to please. No sooner do we escape from the threat of drought than we start complaining about too much rain. There's no such thing, of course, as a "normal" season, but excess moisture may account for some of the problems you're seeing.

Plants wilt when they don't get enough water. This can happen if the soil is too dry for too long, or it can happen when something interferes with the plant's ability to absorb and transport water. When most plants become waterlogged, their roots can no longer function properly, and even though the plant may be standing in water, it dies of thirst. 

Roots may also be damaged by fungal or bacterial infections, which tend to flourish with high humidity. Some diseases actually clog the tubes that transport water from the roots to the rest of the plant. Fungal diseases also spread more easily when splashed from soil to plant by water, or when disease spores move along wet surfaces. 

The same types of disease organisms are often responsible for spotted or discolored foliage. It's not just flowers and vegetables that are vulnerable, either turf, shrubs, and even trees can suffer from the effects of too much water. Weeds, of course, invariably thrive on the extra moisture, and actually add to the gardener's problems by interfering with air circulation.

That brings us to the prevention and cure of water-related problems. First, make sure that your planting sites have good drainage. This usually involves not just the layout of your garden, but the condition of the soil. Soil containing lots of organic matter drains better under wet conditions, and retains water during drought.

 If you have problem landscape areas that simply will not drain, consider planting water-loving or at least water-tolerant plants many native varieties do well under these conditions. If you are growing vegetables or cut flowers, consider using raised beds. Second, make sure your plants have adequate sunshine and air circulation, both of which help plants dry out more quickly. 

Move plants away from walls and other plants that may block light or air movement. Keep weed growth down. Along the same lines, keep lawns mowed to the correct height, to prevent the growth of fungal diseases. Above all, remember that given the past few years, a little extra rainfall is preferable to not enough.

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