Top Tips for Wet Weather Gardening

Don’t you love it when it rains?

… and hate it when it rains TOO MUCH?

 

Photo: Andrew Rollinger

How do you find a balance with harvesting a valuable resource and preventing problems associated with excess water?

All gardens need adequate moisture but periods of heavy rainfall, storms and runoff can bring you a truckload of challenges including:

  • waterlogged plants;
  • leaching of soil nutrients;
  • erosion; and
  • pest and disease problems.

 

Garden Design & Management Tips to Minimise Problems

I’m into ‘designing out’ problems whenever I can … so a bit of thought and planning can help reduce the impact of water-based problems.  These are some of the strategies I use in my garden to help avoid these issues …

  • Good Drainage: Elevate your garden by planting in raised beds or mounds that will prevent waterlogged plant roots and anaerobic soil.  Grow in containers and use vertical systems such as window boxes, topsy-turvy planters, wall mounted or railing planters, pots on ladders and plant stands which all drain well.  Another alternative is to use pots on wheels or castors so you can move them around to a more sheltered position.

 

Hanging baskets also provide good drainage. Photo: Lachlan Hardy

Hanging baskets also provide good drainage.

 

  • Dig a Trench or Swale: Rather than wasting valuable rainwater in heavy downpours and paying for water when it’s dry, harvest it by redirecting water to where you need it mostSwales are a useful Permaculture design feature and are especially useful if your garden is on a slope.  By building swales on contour, they passively harvest water by slowing it down and allowing it to sit in a shallow trench to soak into the soil.   They are also useful for harvesting water for thirsty food plants like bananas and fruit trees which can be planted on top of the mounds.
  • Add Organic Matter to your Soil: Adequate soil humus holds moisture like a sponge where the plants need it and is a buffer to plants under stress.  A good soil structure helps the excess moisture drain away.  It’s even more important to add organic matter like manures, leaf mould, grass clippings, compost, lucerne and other mulches to heavy clay soils that become waterlogged easily and crack when dry.  Adding gypsum to heavy compacted clay soils will help break them up.
A soil rich in humus and worms is well aerated, allowing tiny pockets of oxygen around the root zone. Photo: Will Merydith

A soil rich in humus and worms is well aerated, allowing tiny pockets of oxygen around the root zone.

 

  • All Tied Up: To reduce the risk of common diseases during wet weather, support plants with stakes and ties or other vertical structures so the foliage is not lying on wet soil.  Growing vertically increases airflow around the plant and avoids overcrowding.
  • Give Pests a Hard Time: Slugs and snails thrive in wet weather and I’m not going to make it easy for them to feast on my plants so using tepees and growing vertically makes it an uphill climb deterrent!  If slugs and snails have to climb a high rise for breakfast, they’re exposed so it’s much easier for birds to see their next meal!  I also sprinkle crushed eggshells around the base of delicate seedlings – the sharp edges are like a ‘bed of nails’ for their soft slimy tummies and extremely effective at keeping them away until young plants are established.  Baked on a tray in a slow oven for 10 minutes, the eggshells become very hard and crunch perfectly into large shards in your hand (I keep a container of these handy for all new seedlings – wet weather or not!)  I know there are beer traps you can make but heck – why waste a good ale when you can use eggshells instead?!
These crushed eggshells were added as a 'bed of nails' to deter slugs after they attacked these nasturtium seedlings. There was no sight of any further damage after this remedy and they fully recovered!

These crushed eggshells were added as a ‘bed of nails’ to deter slugs after they attacked these nasturtium seedlings. There was no sight of any further damage after this remedy and they fully recovered!

 

  • The Magic of Mulch: A layer of mulch helps you take advantage of free rainwater as it helps retain vital moisture in the soil.  Other benefits are that it also reduces splashing which encourages plant diseases and prevents soil erosion by providing a buffer.

 

Sugar cane mulch bale - Mulch slows water down so it can permeate gently through to the root zone and drain more freely throughout the soil.

Mulch slows water down so it can permeate gently through to the root zone and drain more freely throughout the soil.

 

  • Slow Release Fertiliser: Feeding your soil with trace rock minerals and slow release granules, pellets or powdered organic fertilisers will help retain nutrients in your soil and replenish those lost to leaching during heavy rain.  The more humus you have in your soil, the less leaching will occur as it helps bind minerals.

 

Nutrient deficient citrus leaves

Plants will quickly become nutrient deficient if their food source in the soil is depleted and you’ll often notice a change in their leaf colour. If plants look a bit sickly after a week of solid rain the minerals may have leached out. The leaves will give you a clue when to feed!

 

  • A foliar spray of liquid kelp/seaweed  or fish emulsion is a good standby tonic to help plants bounce back quickly.

 

Plants can 'drink' the trace elements through their leaves much faster than they can suck up nutrients from the soil. Photo: Arria Belli

Plants can ‘drink’ the trace elements through their leaves much faster than they can suck up nutrients from the soil.

  • Harvest Your Food Crops Regularly: Pick edible plants promptly in humid wet weather because the longer produce stays on the vine or stalk, the higher the likelihood of spoilage, pest attack or disease.
  • Water Management Practices: As a general rule particularly in humid weather, avoid watering plant leaves.  Splashing creates a breeding ground for fungal spores (which cause mildews and mould diseases) and can transfer them from one plant to another.
Drip irrigation, a soaker hose or a watering can may be safer alternatives. Photo: Paula Bailey

Drip irrigation, a soaker hose or a watering can may be safer alternatives.

 

  • Design IN a water feature: If you have a natural low-lying area in your garden, collect the run-off and harvest water rather than letting it escape!  Add a simple pond and plant or move water loving plants into that zone so their roots soak up the moisture and leave plants that like dry feet alone!
Create habitat for beneficial insects like dragonflies who dine out on mosquitoes (no accounting for taste!) and other small birds, lizards and creatures that help you with pest management in your garden. Photo: Michael Zimmer

Create habitat for beneficial insects like dragonflies who dine out on mosquitoes (no accounting for taste!) and other small birds, lizards and creatures that help you with pest management in your garden. Think ‘win-win’!

 

What sort of water issues do you have in your garden?  How have you resolved your problems?  Learn how to restore a waterlogged garden; read some helpful garden maintenance tips or check out some clever design ideas!  Thanks for stopping by.

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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2010. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

4 Comments

  1. Ken Robinson December 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    Talk about wet weather gardening, up here 220 South of Darwin we are in THE WET, all my plants are in containers, and have to be fed regularly, because the nutrients leach out at a great rate, I am trialling 40 different plants/herbs etc, there isnt much info on tropical gardening, but I have a Thai Pink tomato that seems to give results all year, its great to have fresh tomatoes, the nearest supermarket is Katherine, 90 ks down the track, their “fresh food” is a bit sad.
    I am concentrating on salad vegies, but at the moment the grasshoppers are getting far more than I am.

    • The Micro Gardener December 18, 2011 at 6:46 am - Reply

      Ken

      Living in the sub-tropics, I’m used to dealing with a lot of wet weather also, so I’ve had to learn how to counter this in my soil and especially in pots and containers to avoid wasting money with all the minerals leaching out. Here are a few strategies I use that may help:

      1. Build humus in your soil (if you don’t have a worm farm already, this is essential as the castings are pure humus and you can add to your potting mix). The higher the humus content of your soil, the greater its capacity to hold nutrients and supply them to your plants. It actually PREVENTS leaching during heavy rainfall.
      2. Add rock minerals – these are a slow release fertiliser that don’t leach as quickly.
      3. Add zeolite – also a mineral but lasts forever in your soil and also helps prevent leaching.
      4. Effective design – stack pots one on top of the other if you can so nutrients flow from one pot down to the next or position hanging baskets over the top of other plants on your deck or patio so nutrients dripping out are not wasted but taken up by the plants below. Read more about vertical gardening which provides lots of ideas on how to use your space wisely.

      As for the grasshoppers … exclusion netting is the only effective organic way I’ve found to keep these little party crashers out of your edible garden!

      Don’t give up! You’ll find foods that love your climate … just go with the flow and experiment.

      Cheers for now, Anne

  2. narf7 November 16, 2011 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Hi Anne,
    I just subscribed to your amazing blog. I love hunting out new blogs to check out and yours is now a firm favourite. Its cram packed full of useful and interesting information for we newcomers to the world of small holding and organic gardening. Steve and I are both studying horticulture at our local Polytechnic and intend on heading off to University in a few years to become landscape designers. We went from being urbanites with 900 potted plants to owning 4 acres of land out in the country in Tasmania. Suddenly our lives turned upside down! We need all the good advice that we can get to fast track us from our previously cossetted lives to where we are now…thrown head first into poultry breeding, food forest gardening, permaculture novices and all things sustainable and organic. We are not into pretend gardening, we want real, dirty, hard facts and as such your site is amazing for us. Thankyou so very much for allowing me to share your fantastic site with my small but most loyal group of family and friend readers. I am sure that my mum and my horticultural friends will subscribe to your blog and will get as much joy, fun and invaluable information out of reading it and implementing what they read as we do :o)

    • The Micro Gardener November 16, 2011 at 9:39 am - Reply

      Thanks so much for your generous feedback! A lot of what I share here on my blog has been the result of learning that working against nature is an uphill battle but the failures and mistakes have been opportunities in disguise so hopefully I can save you some heartache and money!! I’ve also learned much from an amazingly knowledgeable circle of friends and organic gardening/horticulture teachers plus my study into biological farming methods. I am a veritable sponge for information and love researching and trying things out before I recommend stuff to others. I don’t know it all … I am always learning but that is the amazing thing about gardening – I love being a student in Nature’s Classroom!
      I am lucky enough to live in a community of like-minded people who are also interested in living more self-sufficiently and sustainably and not relying on the supermarkets, the powers that be and governments for all our daily needs. If you can locate your local permaculture, seed saving or transition town group in Tassie I’m sure you’d find some wonderful people to connect with in your community – but feel free to hang around here for the ride. Whilst our climates may differ, our journeys and goals are very similar. I just wish I had more time to dedicate to writing about what I love and live. I’m up early every morning walking about in my garden observing, nurturing, watching the overnight changes and new life that emerged, digging in my living soil, harvesting nutrient dense produce that’s been grown with love, being thankful for the dew and earthworms and tiny critters that save me time, smiling in my little patch of creation that I can share with my family and friends.
      Your friends and family are welcome to stop by and share their journeys here too.
      May you have many hours of dirty fingernails and baskets filled with homegrown goodness!!
      Happy gardening, Anne

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