The sudden torrential downpours, crazy high winds, and the surprise hail that a July storm brings can wreck a vegetable garden in just a few short minutes by causing plant damage, soil erosion, plant diseases, and flooding. It can be difficult, maybe even impossible, to protect precious vegetables from the wrath of Mother Nature, but here are a few tips for what to do after a heavy thunderstorm.
- Survey any plant damage. Take a survey of any leaf or stem damage that may have occurred. If there is minimal damage to leaves, you may be able to just remove them. Keep an eye on plants that have received moderate or heavy damage over the next couple days, the plant might be able to recuperate. Try to stake up plants that are now leaning. If the main stem of a plant has snapped then more than likely it is a loss. You can try grafting the stem back together. There is no guarantee the plant will survive, but you can try to salvage it.
- Try to avoid walking right next to the plants while the soil is saturated. During this time plants, and root systems, are very vulnerable to damage from stepping on them. Walking near plants can also cause soil impaction, which can limit root growth. This is not a big concern if you have a well-designed, raised bed garden where you can reach each plant without stepping on the soil that is near them.
- Check for any exposed roots due to soil erosion. If you find exposed roots, cover them with soil or compost as soon as possible. Do not let the roots dry out – this could be catastrophic to the plant.
- After a very heavy rain you may need to replenish nutrients. Having heavy water runoff can carry nutrients from the soil and completely wash them out of potted plants. Make sure to replenish these nutrients with fish emulsion or an organic all-purpose fertilizer. I recommend using the fertilizer at ½ the recommended amount.
- During the storm (or soon after) look for areas that may be draining poorly. You do not want areas of long standing water in the vegetable garden. This can be very bad for plants, and could lead to root rot. If you find areas that drain poorly, create ways to get the water to drain away from the vegetable garden. You could implement dry creek beds (rock beds) or use plastic water drains to redirect water from the vegetable garden.
- Eliminate possible slug or snail hiding places. Slugs and snails love damp places that have hiding areas. Remove any boards, stones, or other items that are laying around in or around the garden.
- Keep an eye on emerging weeds. Weeds love to pop up soon after a storm. The sudden charge of moisture to the soil will encourage weeds to spring up almost overnight. Put down some type of mulch to prevent weeds and to help ease soil erosion.
- Empty any containers that have collected water. Overturn any buckets, wheelbarrows, or pot saucers that contain rainwater. These are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If you have a rain barrel, you could dump the rainwater in there. Or use the wonderful, nutrient-rich rain to water your indoor plants!
- Keep an eye out for fungal or bacterial diseases. Damp, humid conditions are perfect for fungal and bacterial disease development. Diseases, such as powdery mildew, will spread very quickly in these conditions. Treat these diseases as soon as they are noticed. Waiting too long to act can mean serious trouble for your vegetable plants.
- Turn off your irrigation system. Stop watering your garden when rain is in the forecast. Even though soil moisture levels may be high, excess rain can remove oxygen from the soil and drown roots.
Excessive soaking after rain showers and storms can ruin plants’ roots, which in turn affects how plants grow. Waterlogged soil will push out oxygen. All parts of plants need oxygen to survive, so if they don’t have oxygen, they won’t survive. Deep roots may be affected first, but shallow roots can also succumb to damage if wet weather continues.