Help the garden recover from rain

I heard the other day that we suffered the fifth-wettest July since recordkeeping began, and that the fourth-wettest was more than 100 years ago.

Since we’ve been working to dry out for the past few weeks, a lot of people have asked what to do about water-logged plants. The basic advice that I can give is to wait and see.

Gardens that were underwater for several days probably will suffer a majority of loss, depending on the plants.

Most plants can take a good soaking but need good drainage to keep their roots from rotting underground. It depends mostly on the plant. Some are hardier than others, particularly trees and shrubs with thick trunks and deep roots. More tender plants will suffer and over time, could begin to show signs of deterioration.

Like a person who comes down with an illness, the likelihood of recovery depends on each individual and how healthy they were to begin with. Plants are same.

Once the water subsides, the first thing to do after a heavy storm is rinse off the mud and debris that might be covering the plants that were flooded. Certainly, they’ve gotten enough water, but by rinsing the plants, any disease spores that may have landed on them from high winds will be washed away before they have a chance to take hold.

Cleanup begins with pruning away damaged leaves and stems. If leaves begin to turn yellow after a few days, prune them as well. As the plants begin to recover, new growth will begin to appear.

Start with the major damage, such as tree branches and shrubs and work down to the tender plants in the perennial gardens. If a lot of the plant is damaged, don’t be afraid to trim aggressively, but don’t take more than a third to half of a plant. It may take a week or more, but as new growth appears, more trimming can be done.

Be patient. It won’t happen overnight, or even in the first week. Once the cleaning is done, the garden will eventually show what needs to be removed and what can stay.

Accept any changes that might come about from storm damage. Perhaps the weather helped clear out a garden that was intended for change anyway. If not, warm up to the fact that changes might be in order. When old plants come out, find new varieties at local garden centers that can fill in the blanks. Gardens are not permanent structures and always are changing. Embrace the change.

As cleanup continues, it might be a good time to amend the soil. Although its usually done in the spring when new plantings are traditionally done, putting the battered, thinned out mulch on the compost pile and replacing it with fresh compost and mulch can benefit a garden any time during the season. While you’re at it, think about ways you can change the garden for the better, perhaps expand the area or add a new tree or shrub.

If container gardens suffered as well, these same suggestions can apply to them. Rinse off the dirt and mud, prune away damaged stems, leaves and flowers and tend to the soil. It might be easier in some cases to completely repot the container or simply add a layer of compost and soil as needed.

Give the plants a rest. It’s OK to fertilize damaged plants, but let the soil dry out a bit first. Then give them a diluted solution of fertilizer before going back to full strength. A water soluble fertilizer can get to the plants’ roots faster and should be used the first few times.

Don’t forget to put discarded debris and plants on the compost pile. Those plants that gave their lives during harsh weather can decompose and be used to feed the soil for the next generation.