KC Gardens

Dennis Patton: This week’s rain was just what the plant doctor would have ordered

I'm singin' in the rain

Just singin' in the rain

What a glorious feelin'

I'm happy again.

I'm laughing at clouds.

So dark up above

The sun's in my heart

And I'm ready for love.

As I was listening to the rain come down on the roof this week I was reminded of these famous lyrics from Gene Kelly and the movie. I was happy that finally our fall drought had a reprieve from the dry conditions. According to the US Drought Monitor, the Kansas City area was in an abnormally dry period. This is not a good situation to be in, headed into winter.

Dry fall and winter conditions can be hard on our landscape plants. There is a misconception that because plants are dormant they do not need water. That’s just not true. Plants require a constant supply of moisture at all times to survive. It is true that plants do not use as much water during the dormant period. But without the ability to uptake water year-round our plants would simply die.

The case in point happened this past year. The fall and winter of 2014 was extremely dry — abnormally dry. As a result, this summer many of landscape plants, especially evergreens such as spruce, started to die all over the area.

The issue was not related to summer moisture, as we had plenty. The problem was the plants were compromised before summer ever arrived. They didn’t show any symptoms because of the mild, moist summer of 2015. Then, once the rainfall slowed in August, dead trees. At that point there was nothing that could be done to save them except mourn their loss.

People tend to forget about watering when there is a chill in the fall air. Soils do dry out more slowly under cooler conditions and, as stated, plants use less water. But this loss of moisture from the soil must still be replaced somehow. Ideally that would come from rainfall, but often we need to supply a helping hand in the form of irrigation.

This week’s rain was just what the plant doctor would have ordered. The rain was slow and steady, lasting for hours, allowing the much needed moisture to soak into the soil. According to reports the metro area received between 1 and 2 inches of rain. This combination of slow rain falling and the amount was just what our local soils and plants needed. The reason is it takes about 1 inch of rain to soak the soil to a depth of about 6 inches. The slow, lighter falling rain has time to soak into the soil. A heavy downpour often does little good as the much-needed moisture runs off before soaking into the soil.

This rain provided timely moisture to the upper layer of the soil where the vast majority of plant roots are located that uptake water. This water is then used to keep the branches, vascular system, buds, and foliage hydrated and alive during the harsh winter conditions. Plants most likely to fail due to winter drought are the evergreens as they use and lose more water because of the foliage. They are not native to our region and less able to cope with the harsh Midwest climate.

So here’s to the rain. We should all be just singin’ in the rain as this gift was just what we needed heading into winter. Yes, it is a glorious feelin’ and I know I am happy again with good moisture in our soils.

-- Dennis Patton