You can blame it on the rain

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Tino Carnevale

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.

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