Too much rain!
Do you feel that we’ve had a lot of rain over the past several weeks? This is only my fourth summer in Cape Coral, but I don’t remember as many morning or evening storms as we have experienced lately. I recall instead the reliable 3 p.m. pop-up thunderstorms that seemed to form and erupt the minute you entered Publix without a jacket or umbrella, only to emerge with a cart full of groceries to torrential downpours with thunder and lightning!
Cape Coral averages 53 inches of rain annually, and according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Southwest Coastal area (which includes Cape Coral) has received 47.22 inches of rain through Sept.. 12; this represents 105% of the average rainfall and puts us currently at 2.34 inches ahead of normal. And according to these records, rainfall was quite deficient in the first 5 months of the year compared to average, so the impact of our recent rains is probably understated.
If you answered that you think we’ve had a lot of rain you are correct!
In a subtropical climate, frequent rain during the summer months is a given. Thankfully this year we have not yet had any tropical storms, but those storms can quickly dump a significant amount of moisture over the area in a short amount of time. And while rain brings much needed moisture to our gardens, too much rain can also cause problems in the landscape.
Frequent heavy rains can inundate tender plants, washing away mulch and soil from the roots. When I find injured or dead plants in my garden, I trim away the damage or remove the plant. Since warm temperatures combined with excess moisture create the perfect environment for fungal and bacterial issues, I monitor my plants carefully for signs of disease such as rotting or wilted stems, powdery mildew or leaf spot. Take-all root rot is a fungus that is present year round in our turf, but it can become a problem with prolonged periods of rain. This fungus is initially evident as irregular yellow or light-green patches in your lawn, followed by thinning and dying grass. If you are in doubt about your lawn’s problem, you can take a sample of grass from the affected area to your local County Extension Service for identification.
There are sections of my garden where the soil remains saturated for days at a time after heavy rains; I routinely move mulch away from the base of plants in this area to help with drainage and allow the soil to dry out. Removing fallen leaves and debris is also a good idea, since any accumulation of decaying plant material can foster the growth of fungus. It is also important to avoid walking in these areas as much as possible, since the wet soil compacts more easily and can damage plants’ roots.
Since we can’t control the weather, it is helpful to think of ways that we can approach our drainage issues in the garden. Establishing a rain garden is a creative and easy way to help prevent stormwater runoff. If you have low areas in your landscape that do not drain well, you have a perfect opportunity to add plants that prefer “wet feet.” A rain garden will collect rainwater and allow any impurities to be filtered out before the water is returned to the aquifer. As you design your rain garden, consider the amount of sun the area receives and how much space you have for plants. The plants you select should be water-tolerant and should also tolerate the dry winter season. Flowering plants such as iris, goldenrod, milkweed, spider lily and swamp sunflower are good choices, and attract pollinators and wildlife. Ornamental grasses such as Florida gamma grass (fakahatchee), muhly grass and wiregrass are good choices for your rain garden, and shrubs like buttonbush, Virginia willow or wax myrtle will also thrive in rain garden conditions. You can incorporate gravel, mulch or pavers in your landscape to reduce runoff while adding attractive features to your garden.
A rain barrel is another excellent solution for capturing excess rainwater and reducing runoff – and it will provide you with a free source of water for irrigating your plants. Rain barrels are usually 50 to 80-gallon containers with fine screens to filter out leaves or insects; the barrels usually have a tap or small pump for dispensing the water. The barrel is usually attached to a downspout to capture water from your home’s roof. Most garden centers offer rain barrels, and many county extension offices offer free rain barrel workshops with the containers available for free or a small fee.
While during the dry winter months we are irrigating our landscape and hoping for rain, the summer months can bring an abundance of rainfall that can negatively impact our gardens. You can find more information on heavy rains and the impact of fungal and bacterial diseases caused by the rain, as well as suggestions for establishing a rain garden or installing a rain barrel by searching for these topics on UF/IFAS (University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences).
Cathy Dunn is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com