July 2018 Record Rainfall Gardening Tips

july record rainfall in dcThis July set the record for the wettest in weather history, with five times the normal rainfall recorded for the month. It was the fourth wettest July in the DC metro area and records were set at Dulles and BWI. To say we’re pretty soggy would be a severe understatement.

Persistent rains can cause any number of problems in the lawn and garden. In surveying the landscape, you may have noticed:

  • The weeds and mushrooms are taking over, while many flowers are flattened.
  • Other plants have flopped and broken off under their own weight. Some are pale, lanky, or rotted. Areas of the yard are waterlogged and topsoil has relocated to a location further down the street.

One weed that proliferates in wet summer weather is nutgrass, or yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus). Nutsedge thrives in moist areas where drainage is poor. It can infest lawns, vegetable and flower gardens and be difficult to control or eradicate.

Nutsedges are perennials which spread by tuber, rhizome and seeds. Small patches of this weed can be removed in the spring by digging. Spot treating with a selective herbicide is effective in controlling nutgrass once it is identified.

Mushrooms and puffballs in a variety of shapes and sizes appeared literally overnight in July’s rains. They pose no real harm to a lawn as they feed on organic matter in the soil. Fairy ring fungus is a bit more troublesome, however. It appears as a large ring or arc of dark green or brown in the turf. Fairy rings eventually disappear on their own, albeit, slowly.

Perhaps the most disconcerting type of damage to this summer’s garden is the collapse of plants afflicted by the fungal diseases of rot, mildew and blight. These diseases can cause leaves to spot, yellow, brown or shrivel, and stems to simply break off.

Practicing good gardening hygiene is essential in controlling the plant pathogens responsible. Trim or remove diseased plants immediately. Watering the soil but not plant foliage and mulching also help. Sanitize pots that contained diseased plants before reusing them.

But first, just relax and let it rain

It’s not a good idea to walk on or work in a wet yard or garden. Trodding on soggy soil will compact it, cutting off precious oxygen to plants, and killing the roots. Make sure the soil is crumbly and loose before venturing out. Also hold off on bringing out the power equipment, as lawn mowers and tractors also compact wet soil.

Then clean up

  • Remove unsafe debris. Check mature trees for unstable or hanging limbs.
  • Examine bedding plants. Replace and tamp soil around any with exposed roots. Rescue waterlogged potted plants; empty or remove pot saucers.
  • Pinch off diseased or damaged leaves. Prune leggy growth. Remove any plant with a broken main stem.
  • Stake. Support main stems with a stake almost as tall as the plant. Rotate potted plants regularly to keep stems straight.
  • Pull weeds. Because the soil is moist, there’s a good chance even weeds with taproots can easily be removed.
  • Replenish lost nutrients with some compost or fertilizer. (But hold off if rain is expected within 24 hours.)
  • Remove sources of standing water to prevent mosquito breeding.

Planning for next time

A once in a century event is a great opportunity to observe the worst-case scenario and plan accordingly. Observe where water sits or runs through the yard or garden. Consider redirecting water into a rain barrel or rock “bed”.

Try planting specimens that like “wet feet”. While they will not dry out a boggy area, they may reduce it to a damp area. Plant in raised beds or on a berm (a raised mound of earth), thus building the soil up, not digging down.

And, for our commercial landscaping clients, Inside Out Services is well-versed in tackling all of the conditions resulting from the soggy conditions mentioned above. To borrow a phrase from a popular insurance company: Because we've seen a thing or two!

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