Waterlogged Soil and Gardens

by Grazzie Warbritton

Have you finished building your ark yet?  So much water.  And we’re told that the lakes haven’t even crested yet.  Oh, our poor soaked gardens.

For gardeners this over-abundance of water surprisingly means that we have much less control over our plants and gardens than we do in times of drought.  Well, that was a surprise to me!  And unless our precious plants are living in moveable containers, we can only appeal to the rain gods to change the weather.  There isn’t much we can do if our gardens are waterlogged.  However, once there are a few sunny days to dry things out, you need to assess your garden’s status.

If your garden is truly waterlogged, your plants are almost certainly stressed—or soon might be.  Why?  Because there is an insufficient amount of oxygen in the soil.  Every plant’s roots must take in and release excess carbon dioxide.  Paradoxically plants look as if they are wilting, but not because of too little water.  They simply are unable to access the available water.  This causes root rot, and plant death.  We might not be able to prevent heavy rains or flooding, but we can be alert for signs that our plants are suffering.  Symptoms of water damage can look just like many other plant problems. Symptoms usually begin with the leaves, although trees and shrubs may not exhibit symptoms for a year or more.   Other symptoms include twisting, yellowing, and dropping leaves; lack of flowers or fruits; wilting (despite abundance of water) and roots that are turning dark (sometimes with a scent of rot).  Look for soft or spongy areas at the base of leaves.

I was surprised to learn that flooding during warm weather is more damaging to plants because in warm weather they are “breathing more” and need more oxygen during cold weather.

Unfortunately, once the garden soil is flooded, the best thing to do is what’s hardest—to be patient.  Just because a plant shows signs of distress doesn’t mean it won’t eventually recover.

Here are a few guidelines for dealing with waterlogged soil

  1. Don’t walk on waterlogged soil. Walking on it usually further compacts the soil and causes even more damage to distressed roots.
  2. Remove plants that are under water and remove any sludge or other residue by cleaning them with a gentle stream from the hose.
  3. Stay vigilant for diseases that take favor stressed plants. These include fungal diseases that thrive on damp weather.
  4. Buy an inexpensive soil-moisture meter from your nearby hardware store. It will tell you the percentage of water remaining in your soil.  Of course, if you still have mud, you don’t need a meter to tell you the soil is waterlogged.  If you want to know if the soil is dry enough for the roots to get the necessary oxygen, a meter will tell you when the soil has reached that level (usually between 40 – 70%).

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