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Food & Drink

Urban Homestead: Raining on Your Garden Parade

Photo: Diana Lyn Roberts, License: N/A

Diana Lyn Roberts


Gardening is a sport best undertaken with a sort of live-and-let-die attitude. The recent glut of rain has left a list of victors and victims in our kitchen plot, and it remains to be seen who will survive, who will thrive, and who becomes compost.

The most heart-wrenching loss was a huge, fabulous, long-established rosemary bush. Herbs like rosemary and sage rely on well-drained soil, but it’s a tossup whether it was being waterlogged or the fact that some of the roots broke in the process of draining it that dealt the deathblow. In either case, our friend is failing. The sage, likewise, is suffering from a combination of soggy soil and insects — probably grasshoppers or caterpillars — munching the tender leaves off at the stems. Many of our greens have developed some kind of disease, in combination with the snails thriving in the moisture, heat, and rotting leaves.

To remedy waterlogged plants, pour off water in saucers and, if the roots haven’t grown through the pot and into the ground, in the pots themselves. Depending on the root system, soil, and hardiness of the plant, you might consider re-potting. For plants that need well-drained soil, add vermiculite, perlite, or large-grained sand to improve aeration. Some sources suggest adding sea kelp (sold as liquid or powder) or other natural fertilizers to return nutrients to flushed soil, or adding a low concentration of molasses to enhance beneficial microbe growth. This is especially useful in beds, where re-potting is not an option. The idea is to remove excess water and remedy the soil, based on the idea that healthy plants are more resistant to insects, disease, and other pests. It’s also a good idea to remove dead leaves underneath plants to discourage mold, snails, pill bugs, earwigs and their ilk, which thrive in moist, rotty environments.

On the other hand, the grapes, figs, papayas, and citrus are sucking up all that water and making nice, plump fruits for later in the summer. Eggplants, cucumbers, melons, and squash grow quickly with more water, producing large fruit with small seeds and tender skins. Our chilies are so loaded we can’t eat them all. It’s all about balance, and coming to terms with life and death in the garden. Tenacity, a healthy dose of realism, and a willingness to pull yourself or your favorite plant up by the bootstraps (or the roots) is important when something like, say, a freak deluge drowns your long-established and recently flourishing plants, or the friend/family member who’s supposed to take care of things while you’re out of town doesn’t take quite the same obsessive interest in your garden as you do. Planning, experience, patience, and the ability to know when to let go all have their place.

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