BARBARA LEACH: Spring Garden Problems in Wet Years

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Water is a double-edged sword in the garden.  Things are green and growing fast and we don’t have to spend time watering, but with it has come a big dose of problems.  Here are some of the things we are facing this spring.

Expect soft brown and black rots on soft fruits such as peaches, plums and grapes.  In our climate, these diseases bother all of the stone fruits, especially.  The unfortunate thing is disease may not become evident until just before or after harvest, yet establishes early in the season.  Prevention is the only cure.  As long as weather conditions are predictive of disease you should stay on top of your fruit spray schedule, with either an organic or synthetic fungicide.   These are readily available at most independent hardware stores or those catering to farmers.

Because the thatch rotted out of most lawns, the weeds are germinating like mad with this sunshine and moisture.  Manage them early, while they are young.  If you choose to use herbicides to supplement hand pulling and raking, be sure to spot treat and time it to avoid rains.  Be aware that some crops, like roses and tomatoes are especially sensitive to herbicides and will be damaged if the fumes move off site or the herbicide migrates through soil.  Every year we get calls from folks wanting to know if they can still eat the tomatoes on damaged plants.  No.  Protect your plants from damage.

Root rots and twig blights abound.  Depletion of organic matter in soils and compaction lead to rots where plants may have lived happily for years.  Fertilizing or top-dressing with organic matter and periodic aeration may save plants that are in marginally percolating soils.  Be light-handed with the mulch, as oxygen to roots is vital.  While fungicides do exist for soil-borne fungi that attack roots, it is often like brushing your teeth.  It is clean for the moment but will soon be attacked again, creating a vicious cycle.  Planning ahead and preventing problems can go a long way towards a happier landscape.  Look for vulnerable areas in the landscape such as old plants, low spots, or areas near down spouts.

Twig blights often attack low stature plants, like junipers and groundcovers.  Twigs that have cracked during drought summers or frost, stubs from poor pruning, breaks from traffic, voles, or areas that deer bed down create spots that allow fungi to attack.  Pruning to remove blighted branches will both cut down on the spread of the disease and stimulate new growth to compensate.  Do not work in these areas when the plants are wet and sterilize your pruners with rubbing alcohol.  Keep leaves and debris raked or blown out.  In herbaceous groundcovers, like ivy or periwinkle, you may need to rejuvenate the bed, which involves cutting everything down to a few inches off the ground with sharp hedge shears, raking out all of the tops and debris, fertilizing and putting a pre-emergent herbicide in to thwart the germination of weeds until the crop can recover and fill back out.   Do this in spring or very early summer.  When trying to diagnose fungal problem, look for tiny black spores on the branches of damaged plants.  They can often be seen with a hand lens.  Application of a fungicide may be called for in addition to cultural controls, if the problem is severe.

Be thankful for our rain and cool temperatures and use this opportunity to scout and be ever watchful.  Preventing problems now will save much angst later.  Watch for emerging insects, too, as they can spread disease and sap your plants’ strength.