KC Gardens

Wet spring can lead to soil problems in the Kansas City area

By Dennis Patton

Soils in this part of the country, for the most part, tend to have high clay content. Clay is poorly drained and aerated, and holds high levels of water, which can be detrimental to many plants.
Soils in this part of the country, for the most part, tend to have high clay content. Clay is poorly drained and aerated, and holds high levels of water, which can be detrimental to many plants. Dennis Patton

The old phrase “history repeats itself” is not only true for many world events but also for weather patterns. It does seem that way these last few years in the water department, as it has either been feast or famine. Only time will tell if this spring and following summer will be more of the same. If the pattern holds true spring will be wet, and then late summer, fall and winter will be below normal rainfall.

Extended wet periods can cause problems with our area soils. Soils in this part of the country, for the most part, tend to have high clay content. Clay is poorly drained and aerated, and holds high levels of water, which can be detrimental to many plants.

Identifying water-damaged plants

Waterlogged soils exclude oxygen from the roots thus causing decline of the plants. What happens is the roots die off leaving the plant unable to uptake the needed moisture and nutrients for proper plant growth. Symptoms of water damage include:

  • wilted appearance
  • rotting at the base and
  • overall poor growth

Many people compound the problem because they think the plants need more water, as wilting is the common dry weather symptom.

Learning to manage our clay soils during extreme periods of excess moisture and drought can be difficult. The importance of good soil cannot be overstressed. The soil supports the roots which in turn supports the top growth. Simply put, poor roots, poor plants. Gardening is really not about growing plants but growing healthy well-established root systems.

Good soil management

Soil management is one of the hardest aspects of plant culture for many people to grasp. It is not easy to see or feel the internal workings of a mass of soil. There are several common practices that can aid gardeners in soil management.

The most effective long-term solution to poorly drained soils is the proper cultivation and additions of organic matter. Many products are on the market offering a quick fix to the problem. To date, no non-biased research exists to fully document their use. Organic matter improvements take time. Additions of compost, peat moss or manures over the long haul will improve the drainage and aeration of the soil.

Compost is the best method of improving soil drainage. When possible incorporate a 2 to 4 inch layer into the garden soil at least 6 inches deep for best results.

Mulch with caution during rainy season. During periods of excess moisture, mulches should be used with caution—they slow the drying effects. Mulches are good for the garden but in a wet spring pull back the layer from poorly drained areas. Another trick is to plant a little shallower, getting establishing roots out of the muck.

Select the right plant

Proper plant selection is also important. There are a few trees, shrubs and flowers that will thrive in wet locations. Be sure to avoid those that do not tolerate wet feet. Plants damaged by wet soils do not need extra moisture until the area dries out. More fertilizer will only compound the problem. It will take time for a plant to recover and develop new roots.

We take the rain when Mother Nature gives us the moisture. And we'll continue to complain about the moisture problems, but in the long run, all rain is good for the garden.

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