July 8, 2013

Wet weather, slow season

By AMY IVY, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — Home gardeners and commercial growers continue to struggle with this ongoing wet, cloudy weather pattern. Our plants need a stretch of clear, sunny weather to dry things out and put on some sturdy new growth. 

Raised beds are a big help this year with their improved drainage, but there’s nothing a gardener can do to provide more sunshine. However, here are some suggestions to help your plants endure:

The ground is so saturated now that there’s nowhere for the water from these daily rains to go. Anything you can do to draw water away from your gardens will help. Dig a temporary ditch to let puddles drain, build a soil berm to divert water from draining toward your garden, and make plans to build more raised beds in the future.

Wet, cloudy weather promotes leaf growth, and many plants have become very lush. This dense foliage is prone to fungal diseases. Opening things up to promote air circulation so the leaves can dry quickly will help. Some of my lettuce looks nice from above, but it is rotting at the base. I need to thin these beds out by removing at least every other plant. In my perennial garden, I need to remove more of the “volunteers” that popped up this spring. Columbine, poppies, Johnny jump-ups and calendula are some that are crowding out my more valuable perennials.

Some of my taller perennials have flopped over in the rain. Staking them before they flop will help them keep their good looks and prevent them from crowding out their neighbors. I didn’t get to my delphinium before it sagged, but as soon as its flowers fade, I’ll cut the entire flower stalk to the ground. This will give the neighbors more room while the mother plant pushes out new foliage and more flower stalks for a late summer bloom.

My tomatoes are growing slowing without sun, but I still need to tie their shoots to the trellis every few days. They are pale, partly from the clouds and partly because the rains have leached some of their fertilizer away. I have a thick layer of mulch around them so I’m going to use a water-soluble fertilizer that I can pour through the mulch. If your ground is bare, you could sprinkle granular fertilizer around the plants. Don’t overdo it, but they would probably benefit from a small boost.

My sugar-snap peas are covering the trellis area and are at peak production right now. They will be finished in about another week, and then I’ll pull the plants out completely to make room for the cucumbers I’ve got beginning to grow up the trellis next to them. Cucumber beetles can ravage young plants, so keep an eye out for them. Later in the summer, these beetles can spread bacterial wilt to older cucumbers, so you need to be vigilant all summer. Look for neem- or pyrethrum-based products if you want an organic solution.

Slugs have been flourishing with all this wet, cloudy weather. They come out at night and chew ragged holes in all kinds of vegetables and flowers. There is an iron-phosphate product that is approved for organic growers that is very effective and less toxic than the metaldehyde-based slug product. Look on the box under “active ingredients” on the product label to be sure you’re getting what you want. The brand names vary and can be confusing.

The forecast is for a chance of rain for the coming week, but I won’t be surprised if we get hit with a dry spell by late summer. Gardeners need to be observant and nimble in order to respond to whatever nature throws our way. At least we’re all in this together!

Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: Email questions to