Watering in the Summer
I’m sure that some of you have noticed some of your plants looking a little bit stressed with the onset of hot weather and suddenly no rain. Even when you water, things still look a little bit droopy. The main reason for this is that our plants have gotten used to having plenty of rain – in fact, TONS of rain. They haven’t developed deep root systems because of the rain AND/OR they have had their root systems damaged because of all the rain. I watered this morning, and I’m still noticing plants wilting in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. These plants just aren’t able to pull up enough water to make up for what they’re losing.
It can be really tempting in this situation to just keep pouring on the water, but that isn’t the best thing to do. You want to water regularly, but try to gradually wean your garden off of inches and inches of water each week. One thing that will help you do that is to have an idea how much water you are actually giving your garden. Since we have a drip system, here’s what I did:
I buried a plastic lid (about 1.5″ deep) under one of the emitters, and then turned the system on for 1 hour. After 1 hour, my catch cup was just starting to overflow a little bit. When I saw that, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe that I’m putting a whole 1.5″ of water on in only 1 hour, but…I guess I’ll turn it off.”
Silly me. As I’m sitting here thinking about it, I realized that technically, yes, that one spot had gotten 1.5″ of water, but our drip system has emitters only every 12″. Water tends to soak into the soil in a rather triangular pattern. Let’s see if I can explain this clearly. (Probably not, but here goes nothing.) From one drip, the water soaks into the soil, but instead of soaking straight down, it spreads out as it soaks in. (Okay, it just took me 10 minutes to find a reference for that! Here’s a link to a rather poor drawing.) In clay soils, the water spreads out more, and in sandy soils the water soaks in straight down more. Our soil is really rather sandy with high organic matter and not as much clay as you might think. It’s a blessing most of the time, truly! However, that fact means that with emitters 12″ apart and 2 drip lines running down a 4′ wide bed, it is actually pretty hard for these beds to get a good, uniform, thorough drink of water. I should have let the drip system run another hour before turning it off, and even then I should probably plan to hand water any young seedlings that are growing in between the drip lines. (Poor summer lettuces!)
Casualties of the Rain
As I’m sure you can imagine, there are some casualties of the heavy rains in our Demonstration Garden. Some of the casualties will probably solve themselves, others will cause problems for some time.
The pampas grass is flopping over into our walkways. It should straighten back up if it dries out. If not, we’ll be cutting it off!
The cherry tomatoes have not quite producing, and with the rain they are splitting and the overripe ones are falling off. If we don’t get them cleaned up a bit, they will start rotting and turn the garden into a stinky mess. I hate the smell of rotting tomatoes!
I was surprised to find that the Purple Russian Roma has made quite a comeback! It is loaded with tomatoes! Unfortunately, the heavy rains have caused the tomatoes to crack and start rotting from the inside out. This plant is quite a trooper, which is really impressive, given that it has put up with so much abuse from the Kansas weather.
Our friend the Garden Spider in the Family of 4 Garden seems to have drowned in the downpour yesterday. When I went out yesterday afternoon, he was hanging limply from his web by only 2 legs. Today the remnants of the web are there, but he is gone. I’m afraid that is the end of one garden friend.
Rather than end on that note, let me say that the fall seedlings are looking good and seem none the worse for all the rain!
If you are in the Wichita area, you probably already guessed that we are rained out of the Demonstration Garden today!
One thing you’ll notice from looking at this picture (or looking at the plants in general in the garden), is that there are a lot of plants showing pale green to yellow leaves. Nothing is that dark lush green color! We seem to be getting to the point where the available nitrogen from the soil is gone. All this rain is only going to make the problem worse by flushing any remaining nitrogen through!
So, if you have any plants that you are hoping to keep until we get our first frost, you should look them over and perhaps give them some additional fertilizer.
Is it Too Wet or Too Dry?
One garden problem that we are seeing a little bit more this year than some other years is Pythium Root Rot. Pythium is a fungus that is ubiquitous in the soil. It only causes a problem when we have saturated soils for long periods of time.
If you remember, we had a very wet, soggy April and May this year when the soils were still fairly cool. That’s ideal weather for Pythium! The fungus grows when the soils are wet and infects the plants, damaging or killing part of the root system. You don’t even notice the problem for weeks, until the weather starts to get hotter. Then the leaves might start to scorch on the edges and possibly die, even if you are keeping the garden well watered. Because of the damage to the root system earlier, the plant can’t take up enough water now to make up for all the moisture being lost to the heat and wind.
It seems kind of crazy…too much water earlier makes it look like you are seeing heat damage later in the season. That just shows how important it is to pay attention to details throughout the gardening season!
What’s Eating the Spinach?
I don’t know how your gardens are looking, but the spinach here in the Demo Garden is looking pretty sad.
It is rather yellow-colored, especially the older leaves. The new leaves are just getting chewed to bits by some unknown pest. The yellowing is easy to diagnose. The poor spinach plants are tired of all the rain, just like the rest of us! If the soil dries out, the spinach will look much better pretty quick.
The critter munching the leaves is something of a mystery though. It’s not a rabbit, because they would just eat the plant down to nubbins. I have also seen some frass on the spinach leaves. (Frass is the polite and scientific way to say insect feces.) However, no insect to be found. The only thing I can find in the spinach row are some roly-polys (aka Pill Bugs). They may be the source of the problem, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it.
In researching a little about pill bugs, I found that they are actually crustaceans, not insects! Who knew? Their preferred diet is decaying organic matter (like soggy spinach?) and they like moist conditions. So. Reduce the rain and soggy soil and plants, get rid of the pill bugs.