April 2013

Garden could be a mess once flood waters recede

Debbie Clark’s rose garden and portions of her perennial garden were under water last week along White River north of Broad Ripple. The flooding also displaced timbers and bricks around some of the beds. © Debbie Clark

If your landscape has been under water, here are a few things you should know.

For vegetable gardeners, the big rains came before we planted tomatoes, peppers, corn, green beans and other warm-season crops. Cool-season vegetables, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lettuce and spinach, may have to be declared a loss.

We don’t really know what is in the floodwater, which could contain animal manure, human waste or other contaminants, such as pesticides or oils. It is really hard to rinse off these contaminates from the cracks and crevices of lettuces, broccoli heads and other plants.

Seeds and seedlings likely were washed away, so you will need to sow again or replace with transplants.

How much damage trees, shrubs and perennials sustain will depend on how long they were under water. Water saturates the soil, displacing oxygen, a critical element for root and plant survival. Worms and beneficial microorganisms also need oxygen to survive.

Dead or compromised roots will be reflected above ground with tip or branch die back, yellow, limp or droopy leaves and stunted growth on trees and shrubs. Top growth on perennials will be yellow or dead, but new growth may develop from the base or crown of the plant. Some perennials likely drowned and will need to be replaced.

Besides drowning plants, the floods may have eroded the soil from tree and shrub roots, in garden beds and lawns. Replace soil as needed.

Once the water drains away, most of us will be anxious to fix things. As difficult as it may be, wait until the soil dries out. Working with soil that is too wet destroys its texture, damaging it even more.

Finally, to get the microorganism active again, add compost, rotted cow manure, chopped leaves or other organic matter to the soil surface, or work it in the soil when planting or sowing seeds.