Published on 07/28/05

Summer posing different challenges for gardeners

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

At this point in the year, gardeners are usually more concerned with keeping plants alive and vegetables bearing due to the lack of water. This year is different. For the most part, we've had too much rain and wind. Many plants are showing signs of stress.

Disease is always an issue when moisture is abundant and plants don't have time to dry out.

Many ornamentals, particularly annuals and tender perennials, have suffered from leaf spots and root rot. If annuals weren't planted on raised beds, there's a good chance you may have already lost them. The pale, yellow color you see in many of your plants is a result of wet roots and leached-out nitrogen in the soil.

Light applications of fertilizer will sometimes help perk up annuals if the rainfall levels off.

Leaf spots and other fungal diseases can be controlled through sanitation and the occasional use of fungicides. Picking off infected leaves and removing heavily diseased plants will help curtail the problem.

When you need to irrigate, water only at night or early morning (before 9 a.m.) to allow plants time to dry off during the day. This will help with disease management.

Wind, too

Some plants and vegetables have been affected by the strong winds along with the wet soils. Many plants are leaning over. As long as the root system hasn't detached, you can gently stand the plants back up by hand and lightly step on the opposite side of the plant root ball.

In some cases, it may be necessary to use a temporary staking system and guy wires to encourage a plant to grow back in the right direction. Be careful when using wires. Protect the plant with some form of a rubber collar, such as an old water hose.

You can stand small plants back up with the help of a single stake or even tomato cages. Corn that has blown over will often stand up itself in a few days and still produce decent ears.

The vegetable garden will also need attention with all the rain we have had. The weed population seems to love the wet conditions and most likely is thriving in your garden. Control weeds through light tilling and hand pulling. Weeds pull nutrients from the soil and will stunt vegetable plants if left unchecked.

Timely harvest

Harvest vegetables as soon as they're ripe. Leaving them on the plant too long will attract disease and insects and may cause a plant to stop bearing.

Remove vegetable plants as they finish producing and add them to the compost pile. Tomatoes may look pretty bad now but can keep producing if you'll harvest regularly. Prune off diseased foliage to encourage new growth.

Many tomatoes are showing growth cracks near the top of the fruit as a result of all the rain. While it may not look pretty, these tomatoes are still perfectly fine to eat.

To avoid a buildup of disease or insects, remove determinate tomato varieties, or those that put out one or two big harvests and then stop bearing, as soon as production stops.

It seems hard to ever hit a summer that has the right amount of rainfall. We either get too little or all of it at once. By paying closer attention to our landscapes and gardens during times of stressful conditions, though, we can help our plants survive and thrive.

(Bob Westerfield is the Cooperative Extension state consumer horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bob Westerfield is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.