KC Gardens

Something new for us this year: Lots of winter moisture, which is mostly a good thing

By Dennis Patton

Winter rain and snow in Kansas City can be a springtime blessing for gardeners.
Winter rain and snow in Kansas City can be a springtime blessing for gardeners. ALLISON LONG

From Dennis Patton:

Winter conditions have finally arrived in the Kansas City area. November and December were mild with pleasant temperatures and above average rainfall. The New Year arrived with normal temperatures and additional rainfall. The above normal participation has led to soil conditions we have not experienced for a number of winters — saturated soil.

In the past few years we have experienced dry winters as a result of lack of moisture during the fall months.

Wet soil conditions over the winter bring with them mostly positives in the gardening world. Ample soil moisture keeps plant roots hydrated. A good supply of available soil moisture for plant roots help them fend off brutal temperatures and reduces the stress placed on the buds and foliage from the desiccating effects of dry winter winds.

The plants most at risk during dry winters are evergreens due to the large foliage surface area. Wind burn has occurred the last few years because of a lack of soil moisture and fluctuating temperatures.

Ample moisture in the fall and winter months saves us time and energy as there is no need to drag hoses and water establishing plants. The rain that has fallen over the last few months should carry us through the rest of winter and into spring in very good shape. Because of the cooler temperatures and lower sunlight levels, the soils don’t dry out as quickly as during the summer months. That means that an ideal inch of moisture lasts a lot longer in January and February than under the hot, intense August heat.

The rainfall is providing other benefits that may not be as obvious to see. The timely rain has been able to soak deep into the soil helping to recharge subsoil moisture which will be available to our plants later this summer. Rainfall has also helped local lakes and ponds, filling them to the shoreline, which means this is available water for summer use.

Of course with all the positive benefits of ample fall and winter moisture there are some potential negatives. For example, since local ponds, lakes and stream’s banks are full, there is the potential for spring flooding if much moisture continues. Look at what happened to our neighbors over in the St. Louis area. Heavy rains quickly became a flooding situation.

Excessive soil moisture can lead to lack of oxygen available to the roots. Cool soil temperatures and wet soils are not a good combination for plant roots. During periods of saturated soil conditions during the growing season we are concerned about root rot diseases. This combination leads to the collapse of roots and the plant dies.

Root rot is also very common under the same conditions over the winter months. Plants that require well-drained soil often suffer more in wet winters than wet springs or summer. With that being said we could see some issues with poorly drained soil conditions come spring.

Gardeners are going to be itching to get out and start the spring season in a few short months. Working wet soil is an issue. Wet soils tend to compact easily, which can lead to many problems during the growing season.

The temptation is often strong and people just cannot resist digging or planting. Turning wet soil destroys the structure which causes the problems. The best option is to just wait for the soil to dry out and resist the temptation to mess around in the wet soil.

For now all these observations are just thoughts. As we know, predicting weather even a few days out is difficult let alone guessing what spring will bring. All we can do now is appreciate the moisture that has fallen. The rest is just a waiting game to see what the spring gardening season will bring.