A GROWING CONCERN: When April showers bring May problems

WE’VE ALL HEARD the saying “April showers bring May flowers.” The problem is, this year’s April showers were very late in coming!

What makes matters worse, as I looked out through the rain last week, over the koi pond and out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I thought, “water, you’re everywhere but not enough for the plants to drink this summer.”

Let’s look into the meaning of my badly manipulated cliché.

First, are precipitation is down approximately 30 percent this year. Next, the sun has been out much more than usual. This exacerbates the situation by drying out the ground more than expected for this time of year.

To make matters worse, all plants are requiring one of their highest demands for moisture right now as they bloom, root and leaf out.

With these “Perfect Storm” conditions, many plants are in danger.

Foremost on the critical list are those plants just recently placed in the ground. Their root systems are not developed at all outside the little root ball they came with and thus are limited to the moisture they can absorb.

Freshly planted garden items also have not fully interfaced with the natural soils around them. There definitely is a separation between the potted soil and the native soil. Soil shrinks when it dries out. Just like your pots, baskets and containers, a gap develops so that when water does arrive, it runs quickly down the gap rather than sitting on the surface and soaking into the ground.

This dries out the soil even more after watering, because water flows down the sides and away. Water often and heavily, all your newly planted trees, bushes, flowers and shrubs.

Next on the danger list are all plants that have been stressed, diseased or otherwise suffered in years past. They have been weakened by whatever problem beset them last year and soil conditions can push them over the edge, along with our record cold.

So, water long and hard at least once a week. Keep them moist and adequately fed so they will survive.

Mulching is a great idea. Mulch, mulch, mulch!

Next on the trouble list are flowering trees and shrubs, especially edible fruit.

In ornamental plants like rhododendrons, magnolias, wisteria, and even items like roses, flower longevity is in direct proportion to the available daily moisture.

When a plant goes dry, flowers are the first to suffer and unlike the foliage, wilted flowers recover very poorly if at all.

One of the saddest events could be a gorgeous Wisteria coming into bloom and then be totally void of flowers because you were fooled into believing this week’s rain adequately watered this magnificent plant.

Water your blooming plants every 3 to 5 days as they dry out.

Fruit trees, berries, and nuts are another matter.

The ability to produce edible fruit is dependent on a fully developed flower, pollinated and setting its bud. A dry flower is a weak flower, resulting in little or no production.

Such plants abort small, dry, immature fruit. Keep these fruits and berry plants moist now and throughout the year.

Remember that grass around these plants sucks up most of the moisture and fertilizer.

Remove the grass and top dress with a nice, 4- to 8-inch cover of decomposed mulch. Never cover the trunk, rather, leave a small dish or cone around the base.

I have saved the worst problem for last — and it is you.

Few people know how to water correctly. In fact, there are so many people who think it is such a mindless task, it is the hardest thing for me to teach.

Turning the spigot on and off is the shortest and simplest task, yet many people believe that and getting the ground wet is all there is. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is a technique.

When watering, start with the driest items and then water the edges of curbs, planters or flower beds, because these places dry out first and most rapidly.

Then, do the whole area, including the edges and the driest once again.

Finish again by watering these dry areas along with the whole area. Everything is watered well two or three times.

If items are wilting, continue watering the whole yard in this manner. But finish by going over dry plants one or more times.

Always water long enough to soak the ground down 8 to 12 inches. You want the roots to grow down chasing the moisture and cool soil.

The worst problem, especially in lawns, is watering too little (less than an inch) at a time.

Wetting the surface only causes the roots to move upward in a futile attempt to get moisture.

The surface is the hottest, driest, windiest area.

Roots in that area are at great risk of suffering heat and dry stress this summer.

But above all … please stay well.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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