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Columns

Down the Garden Path: Be patient and flexible this spring

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator
Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

The impact of all our rain is clear while commuting to work, shopping and traveling through the county.

Farm fields to backyard gardens will be drying for some time to come. Farmers will be waiting to return to the fields until the soils can be worked again without damage to soil structure and creating compaction. Farmers will be watching any planted fields closely to see the damage caused by all the water.

Home gardeners will be doing the same thing, yet on a much smaller scale. Gardening has been hard to do this year given our early good weather well ahead of normal. Perhaps procrastination has worked in our favor this spring if you have not been out actively gardening. Home gardeners should be taking a cue from the farmers right now and waiting.

Vegetable seeds may have fungicide treatments to them to prevent diseases and that could help in overly wet soils, but only for so long before the seed begins to rot from all that soil moisture. It does not take standing or ponded ground to get rot started, just saturated soils and limited open pore space in the soil profile. Garden soils may have some advantage here as gardeners often amend with lots of organic matter. Organic matter is well known for holding and conserving soil moisture while creating lots of air space at the same time.

How long the garden seeds stay too wet will make a big difference in emergence or how well they recover if already out of the ground. These kinds of rains will seemingly drive the young leaves back into the garden soil, covering them with dirt.

It is common for gardeners to find two very different soil situations in the home landscape. Garden and rose beds will have good organic matter content while the ground beds for annuals, perennials and landscape beds have not received the same levels of organic matter. Those soils will not be as friable and easy to work.

Established landscape plants can tolerate higher amounts of soil moisture longer than young tender vegetable plants. We will not see any long-term concerns until later in the season or perhaps next year with plants where all the water compromised their root systems.

Gardeners may need to reseed some of our early vegetables, just like the farmer. Delays in planting will be seen as delays in flowering, fruiting and harvest. Do not try to compensate for this by overplanting. For example, putting in an extra tomato plant will cause crowding, more leaf diseases and a competition for the same sunlight, soil moisture later, and even a further reduction in yield.

While gardeners may have had a grand plan for this year’s garden, being flexible will be important this year. Maybe those spring radishes are not going to happen, but plan on fall or winter radishes instead.

• Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with “This Week in the Garden” on Facebook at facebook.com/extensiondkk/videos.

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