What a wet winter we are having again! Having talked to numerous lrofessional Horticulturists of the older generation it seems like the hard cold winters of the 60s, 70s and 80’s are making way for a more temperate warm winter which inevitably brings with it rain.
Of course being in the South West we are all used to higher rainfall compared to our South East cousins, but the increased volume of water is now playing havoc with our gardens.
On a moderately to poor maintained garden you may see puddling on the lawns and shrub borders that doesn’t seem to drain and soils that smear to a sloppy mess easily. The excess water fills all the air spaces between the soil particles and this prevents oxygen from reaching the roots. In turn, this causes the soil to stagnate and prevents root growth thus causing roots to ultimately die back and therefore when spring comes and the sap rises the plants vegetation system cannot be supported and either collapse or produce weak growth.
Other issues that affect a waterlogged garden
- Leaching of soils, especially on sandy or loamy soils. Major nutrients Nitrogen , Phosphorous and Potassium as well as minor nutrients (Calcium and Boron…) can all be washed away leaving plants hungry and susceptible to pest and disease.
- Erosion. Exposing the roots to frost and sun damage
- Pest and Diseases. Slugs and snails love the wet weather and will thrive and produce numerous eggs. Fungal diseases such as phytophora, black spot and rust. Their spores spread rapidly around the garden as the rain drops splash their spores around.
There are ways and means of keeping you garden healthy and vigorous. The key is in prevention of problems to start with.
Prevent the problems by
- applying mulch over the root area
- feeding during the growing season to encourage new root growth
- watering regularly in dry spells because plants are more prone to drought stress after prolonged periods of water-logging
- using plenty of organic matter in clay soil. This can be either your composted bin, well rotted manure or I prefer Mushroom compost.
- gently breaking down the sides of planting holes with a fork
- with free-draining soil, add organic matter to bulk up the soil and add nutrients, which would be washed away in heavy rains
- installing a drainage system or soakaway. Dig ditches filled with gravel to drain water away from the garden or talk to a builder about a pipe drainage system if the problem is more extreme
- In containers or pots – place crocks in the bottom and place them on feet to aid drainage
- not overwatering pot plants
- Planting appropriate plants that can cope with heavy water laden soils.
Examples of water tolerant plants
Trees such as Alder, Amelanchier, Willow, Taxodium, Nyssa sylvatica, Quercus palustris, Pterocarya, Birch and ornamental Pear.
Shrubs such as willow, cornus, sambucus, Aronia, Clethra and the guelder rose.
Perennials : Marginal plants such as primulas , gunners, rodgersia, hostas, flag irises, ligularia and lobelia.