You can blame it on the rain
AS A gardener I have learnt never to complain about the weather. There are a few reasons for this, mainly because it is what it is and there is nothing my petty complaints will do to change it.
There is also the fact that my cries of it being too cold are usually followed by an extended period of extreme heat and it also feels very wrong to complain about rain when we live on the driest continent on the planet.
Too much of anything is usually bad and there is a point when too much rain can be a real problem for the garden.
When your soil is overloaded with water and it is not able to drain it away, it is referred to as saturation point.
Now how quickly your soil reaches saturation point depends on many factors like soil type, topography, slope, how open your site is and the type of plants growing in your garden.
For example a sandy soil on a slope midway up a hill, with an open northerly aspect and large gums growing on it will rarely or never reach saturation point, but a clay soil on a fl at area in shade can fi ll with water and stay that way for awhile after only a short period of rain.
Excessive water can have a profound effect on your soil and therefore your plants.
It can destroy your soil’s structure due to compaction and as the water drains away it can leech a lot of your soil’s precious nutrient leaving it less fertile.
Soil is a living thing, it is fi lled with microorganisms and fungi that help plants grow and develop.
The benefi cial creepy crawlies and fungi that are in healthy soil all need air to survive but in sodden soils these benefi cial organisms die and other harmful organisms thrive.
Many perennial plants will rot if conditions stay wet for a prolonged period, fi rst their fi brous roots rot and then the whole crown, meaning the plant will not recover.
Woody plants can suffer from collar rot if conditions are too wet, to minimise this make sure you pull back any soil or mulch well away from the main stems.
Now prevention is usually the best cure but in some situations it is almost impossible so really all you can do is mitigate or decrease the harmful effects of water logging.
The best and easiest way to do this is smart garden design and plant selection.
There are many plants that are well adapted to wet conditions from ground covers to large trees. Some of my favourites would have to be the native mint, bamboos, Hostas, many maples and of course the Gunnera with its massive leaves.
Building up your soil and planting your plants, so their root zones are proud of the ground level, can be a good way of keeping them dry during wet periods but beware, this also means they can dry out during hot periods.
Digging a small swale or trench around plants can re- direct surface water away from their root zones but they tend to be more effective if the site has a slight slope.
Using a garden fork to core around your plants is a great way of helping your soil to drain better.
Just take a small step back from the drip zone of your plants and drive your fork in all the way up to the hilt and give it a slight wiggle.
Never be tempted to cultivate sodden soil as it does your back and your soil no favours.
Wet soil is heavy and we only get one back and by turning your soil when it is wet you are more likely to destroy its structure making it less able to drain freely.
Improving your soil’s structure will improve its drainage rate and this will aid in its ability to cope with heavy downpours.
Now if clay holds water and sand helps drain it away, logic would dictate that by adding sand to clay you will help with drainage.
This is in part true but in many clay soils you need to add an excessive amount of sand for it to be effective. Organic matter is a far cheaper and easier way of improving your soil’s structure.
Gypsum, a clay breaking lime, will also work on many clay soils.
Simply add a good handful every square meter and lightly fork it in.
If your plants have been affected by fl ash fl ooding and periods of excessive moisture then you can address the problem by using one or a mix of the methods above.
If a plant is really suffering and has lost all or most of its leaves you can cut it back hard and give it a good feed of a fertiliser such as blood and bone to spur it into regrowth.