A wet winter – Wally Richards Weekly Column

This winter has been wetter and colder than any we have had for some time. For us gardeners it is a matter of doing our best to keep plants alive and the gardens in reasonable shape while chaffing at the bit.

Wet feet
One of the worst problems is saturated soil which is a problem for plants that do not like wet feet.  There are a few things that you can do to help dry out areas of the garden quicker and by doing so, save the plants growing there. I live on a section that has a heavy clay pan which does not allow water to seep away once the pan is wet. Surface flooding is not uncommon, with water laying for days until wind and sun do their work.

Evaporation trenches
To aid evaporation, I dig trenches around garden plots about a spade or more deep. The water in the surrounding soil soon fills the trenches and being exposed to the air and sun this water evaporates away faster.  It is an old trick that we used to use when water tables were high.  Unfortunately the weaker winter sun and often still days do not aid fast evaporation.

A couple of years ago I dug a single trench the length of most of the back yard.  In the past it has been surface flooded for days and even weeks. Along the trench a nova-flow pipe was laid covered with pea metal then soil. At the trench end near the house, where electric power is available, a deep hole about 75cm was dug. Inside the hole a large plastic container was placed with numerous holes drilled in the sides. A submersible pump was placed in this container. The pump is one that has a float attachment so when the pump is covered in water, it switches on and runs till there is no water left and then turns off, waiting for more water to arrive. The area above the pump was covered with old wood and sacks to prevent rubbish and sticks from getting into the catchment area and blocking the pump. The water from the pump is carried away to the storm water system where it is removed away from the section.

In the past I have used a similar system but with an open trench and found that I was forever having to clean out the trench and unblock the pump. (Having chooks running around in the area does not help!) These problems were solved by the covered trench, nova-flow pipe and covered pump area.

Submersible pumps are not expensive to buy and the one that I have must be at least 15 years old or more and it just keeps on going. They are not expensive to run either as they use only a small amount of power and turn themselves on and off in relation to the amount of water.

With this system, my surface flooding only lasts for a few hours instead of days after heavy rain.  The plants appreciate it and the chooks are happy too, not having to grow webbed feet.

Root rot
Root rots are the biggest problem for many plants that are under water for extended periods. If the plants are evergreen such as citrus then a spray of Perkfection over the foliage at twice the normal spray rate will help the plants overcome the wet weather diseases. A repeat spray a month later at the normal rate should follow.

Wet soil is difficult to work with but when assisted to dry out to moist soil, it is great for wedding and digging.

Another problem that I came across last year during the previous wet winter and spring was from gardeners that had mulched their gardens. The mulch is great in drier times but is a curse in wet times as it prevents the natural evaporation of water.

These gardeners lost lots of valuable plants and trees because of their mulches.  If you have a mulched garden and some of the plants are not looking too good then it would be a good idea to clear the mulch away from the root zone of the these plants.  Follow up with sprays of Perfection Supa to aid their recovery. The signs to look for are drooping leaves, leaves going yellow and falling. If you have lost all the foliage off a plant then the spray will be useless.

Clear the area of any mulch, make a trench around the plant outside of its root zone and hope for the best.  If not all the roots have rotted then the plant may come away slowly in the spring, if not, leave till summer before removing, just in case.

Container plants in winter
Container plants outdoors should not have a saucer under them to catch surplus water during wet times.  Instead lift the container up and place a couple of slats of wood under the container so that there is a air flow underneath. This will aid the container to dry out quicker.  Wet sensitive plants in containers should be moved to a place where they do not get rained on.

Path-side gardens
Concrete driveways and paths are areas where the rain water can run into adjoining gardens increasing the amount of moisture the gardens receive. If the garden is hemmed in by a fence or building then the water will tend to build up in that garden. Ideally the garden in these cases should be a raised garden but if this is not currently the case then you maybe able to reduce the problem by placing an edging strip along the concrete path/drive to reduce the amount of water flowing into the garden. The water will of course build up on the concrete area unless it has the ability to flow away to a safe area. It will dry out faster on the concrete when conditions allow.

Moss, mould and slime
The wet times also creates a great situation for moss, moulds and slime to grow. These are unsightly and a danger on cobbles or concrete making them slippery to walk on. Many injuries occur as a result every year, so a moss remover such as Moss and Liverwort Control should be sprayed over the problem area to clean it up. The same product can be used over lawns, gardens, fences, roofs etc to also clean up those areas.  It will not harm plants that are sprayed but follow the instructions on the container and lightly water the plants half an hour after the application of the product.

A recent question I received was: “Are there more grass grubs around this year?
My answer: This is one time that excessive rain and waterlogged soils is an advantage, as grass grubs can drown in very wet soils so they come to the surface to breathe. As they are on the surface they are readily brought to our attention and give the appearance of a lot of grubs. In drier times you would not see them and the numbers would likely be the same. Brought to the surface with any luck hungry birds will gobble them up.

In the meantime keep your gumboots handy and hope for better gardening weather.

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