is there such thing as too much rain in my garden?

newtook(6)August 19, 2008

Well, I took a break and went out to check my garden. The raised bed is doing well with all the rains (like 5 inches), only a couple spots with small puddles!!!! However, in the grass where I need to walk between my beds, it's 3 inches of water. Yikes!!!

I'm a little concerned about the seeds I just planted! Last spring I ended up seeding just before a serious 5 day long rain and my seeds washed away. I got a cherry tomato 5 ft from where they were planted! Since I can't recognize all seedlings, they might get pulled like a weed, and that folks is what I'm afraid of! Or maybe they'll get washed out completely and don't like the high moisture in the soil? But since the seeds liked moisture for pre-sprouting them shouldn't they live in that wet soil?

Anyway, I'm soo happy, my corn is through the soil like almost 2 inches and going strong and I just planted it 2 days ago. Soaking the seeds inside then letting them sprout did wonders! I'm sold on that! I used coffee filters and put them on a paper plate inside and kept watering them a little in the mornings and evenings! I'm hoping on corn at the dinner table in a couple months. How many ears do I get off of one seed/corn stalk?

I got a late start on my pumpkins and squash though but the seeds took off great indoors. We'll have too see how they do after these rains, haven't seen them come out yet! (* fingers crossed *)

I planted carrots and turnips and haven't seen anything yet from them but they must not be as quick as the corn. All the turnips sprouted indoors and the carrots were hard to see sprout since they are so small, but I think they were a little. I just put all my seeds directly outside after they sprouted. That's why I'm so excited about corn, I have never done corn.

I'm waiting for my summer tomatos to start fruiting again. They look so healthy and I've been shaking them every day..... just waiting..... My cherry tomatoes and yellow pears are still doing great. (always hoping)

After thorough reading about asparagus online I tried to snip a couple of my little spears coming out of the ground that are smaller than a pencil. Everyone said they'd taste worse but I liked the two I picked. One had not sprouted and the other had tiny ferns starting. Both were great after being washed and eaten raw. I cut then just under the soil then later heard that home gardeners should "snap" them above ground level so we don't accidentally hurt the roots/rhizhones? Ce La Vi.

I think the typical OK asparagus harvest is pretty much over and unfortunately I let mine go all to ferns but oh well.... lesson learned. I just planted these in spring and they said they were 2 yr plants, so this will just be a strong healthy start for the roots for next spring. I heard that sometimes it's best to let it go to fern anyway to let it get stronger in the first couple years. I definitely didn't see any big time spears growing out of the ground. They were all smalled then a pencil and went quickly to ferns before getting more than 6 inches tall. I plan to feed the ferns now with nitrogen, then cut them off when they die out on their own, then feed them again in early spring and watch them come back. Is that a good plan here in OK?

I read alot about how asparagus love nitrogen. So, I can get some corn gluten and use it as that was the general consensus of my reading for high nitrogen. But does anyone know if coffee beans would do the trick (always thinking about cost!), without the weed help of course that's innate in corn gluten?


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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


The short answer, of course, is that yes, there is such a thing as "too much rain" but the sticky issue is just how much is too much, and it varies from plant to plant as well as the plant's stage of growth and how fast the soil drains, etc.

Rarely will too much rain harm lawnturf unless the puddles are so large that the roots/stolons are underwater for a very prolonged period. Even in that case, you are likely to see yellowing and maybe fungal diseases on grass blades, but not actual death of the lawn grass.

With ESTABLISHED trees and shrubs, if the soil is at all well-drained or even moderately slow-draining, long-term damage is unlikely.

With perennials and annuals, too much rain can be a problem and plants that prefer well-drained soil and drier soil may indeed rot. Generally, though, if your rainy period is only a week or two, followed by a drier period, the plants won't suffer long-term harm. (Last year, with weeks and months of excess moisture, a lot of us DID lose plants,)

With veggies, the effect of too-much moisture relates to the growth stage. As you correctly believe, unsprouted seeds are in the most damage, especially since they can wash away before they sprout. Carrot seeds, and other similar tiny seeds, are MOST prone to do this.

Even sprouted seeds can get rot, especially if the rainfall is accompanied by cold temperatures AND if the seedlings don't have at least 3 or 4 true leaves and some well-developed roots to absorb that water.

The corn should be fine. It is at the PERFECT stage for a lot of rain and will respond by growing like mad, which is terrific. The only trouble I ever have with excess moisture and corn is corn smut, and your corn is not at the stage to be affected by it, so that's a good thing, and corn smut is more likely in spring than in fall too. Well, sometimes the combination of hard wind/hard rain will cause cornstalks to lodge (fall over) but not with corn so young. If your corn were a couple of feet tall, lodging might be an issue, but it is too short at this point for rain or wind to knock it over, I think, You might check your corn roots and make sure soil hasn't washed away from that. It SHOULDN'T have, but might have if your rain fell very quickly and very hard.

How many ears you get off of one corn stalk varies depending on the variety and insect pressure and how closely the stalks are planted to one another AND also depending on whether you have raccoons, deer, corn earworms or corn borers. In a perfect world, you should get two ears per stalk. With a very few varieties, you might get 3 ears, or even 4 (though rarely) although anything beyond the 2 ears usually will be very small and perhaps not large enough to bother harvesting. There are a very few old varieties (Six-Shooter is one that comes to mind) that consistently produce more than two ears per stalk. So, hope for two, expect one and be thrilled if you get three. Getting the ears to grow is not the hard part--getting the ears to survive the predators and ripen is the hard part.

Pumpkins and squash, if they don't rot, love water, guzzle it like crazy and grow with wild and reckless abandon. If they are up and have true leaves, it is hard to give them to much water. These seeds also are not especially prone to rotting as long as the soil is relatively warm (above 70 or 75 degrees), which it is.

Turnips and carrots like water and don't mind wet soil, so they ought to be fine, except for the issue of carrot seeds washing away, which could happen. Just watch your soil and make sure it doesn't "crust over" as it dries, because those tiny carrot seeds/sprouts have a hard time breaking through the crusty soil as they sprout. One way to prevent that (next time) is to interplant radish seeds every couple of inches in your beds of carrot seeds. The radish seeds will sprout first and will break through the soil surface, thereby paving the way for the carrot seeds. And, radishes mature fast, often in as little as three weeks, so you can harvest them and the carrots wil have plenty of space to grow.

In the future, you can keep carrot seed from washing away in rain by covering the entire seedbed with cardboard, newspaper, plywood, or a thin layer of straw. If you use the cardboard, newspaper or plywood, lift it and look underneath it every morning and every evening to check for your first green sprouts. As soon as you see those first sprouts, remove the cardboard, newspaper or plywood. The covering keeps the seed in place if it rains and also prevents wind from blowing away the top soil/seed and keeps the soil from crusting over too. To me, the only hard thing about growing carrots is getting them to sprout before the seed washes away or blows away or rots (only an issue in cold soil).

Turnips are easy. They'll sprout and grow and seldom wash away and seldom rot, so be patient and you should see leaves soon.

The temperatures are in the perfect range for tomatoes to bloom right now. The only issue is the humidity and rain. With the larger fruited (NOT cherry, grape, currant or most plum) tomtoes, excess humidity and moisture, especially in combination with higher temperatures, can inhibit the pollen and cause it to be "sticky" or, sometimes, infertile. Just keep shaking the blooming plants, and you should see small tomatoes in 7 to 10 days. If the flowers drop and small fruits haven't formed, your plants aren't happy with either the temperatures or the humidity. In time, though, blooms will set fruit. Some of my summer tomatoes (those that survived the drought after I stopped watering) have new leaves already, and a few have blooms. We've had at least three days of 99-100% humidity, though, so I know that the blooms may not set fruit, but once the rain stops, it should happen.

Dorothy can address your asparagus issues. I had it in Texas, but not here, although it (and a million other things) are on my "one of these days" list. I think the harvest window here is a little later, and perhaps a little longer, that what we had in Fort Worth. As long as you keep the GRASS out of your asparagus beds, all should be well. If grass ever infiltrates, especially bermuda grass, it is nearly impossible to reclaim the asparagus bed from the grass.

I am assuming your soil drains well to moderately well. In those conditions, it would take a LOT of rain to hurt a veggie garden when the soil is warm. Excess moisture PLUS cold soil (below 55 to 60 degrees) is much more damaging than excess moisture plus warm soil. Even if you have very slow-draining clay, I don't think the recent rains are enough to hurt much of anything.

The biggest issue in the next few days for many Oklahoma gardeners will be the possible appearance of moisture-loving fungal and bacterial diseases. These will mostly show themselves via leaf spots. Damping off of very new and young seedlings is a possibility too, and it is hard to prevent when rainfall is heavy.

IF you have a prolonged rainy spell, like Scott, Dorothy, Ilene and a few others had in the spring, then you might see a few nutritional issues caused by the inability of root systems to take up nutrients because excess water clogs up their roots. It usually takes at least 4 straight weeks of extremely wet soil for that to even begin to be an issue though. Some of us experienced that last year, but only because the heavy rainfall occurred while the plants still had pretty small root systems.

Finally, sometimes a VERY rainy period causes some physiological problems, such as cracking and splitting of tomatoes or melons. This occurs because the fruits'/veggies' flesh grows more quickly than the skin so the skin can't keep up and literally splits open. Also, with tomatoes, alternating wet-dry cycles can cause problems with calcium uptake that leads to blossom end rot of the tomatoes (and peppers and eggplants as well, though less often). So, after the rain ceases and your soil dries out, strive to keep it evenly moist, but NOT sopping wet, to reduce the incidence of BER.

Did I cover everything you were wondering about? If not, let me know. And, feel free to pick our brains some more if you want. It may be too wet to be out in the garden right now (words I have NOT been able to say in months), but we can talk gardening!


    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 12:35AM
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Robbie, I have some experience with asparagus, since I have some growing in my raised bed.

I have been told that you should only pick asparagus in the spring -- up to the first of July, and then let them go into ferns. Also do not pick if the stalks are smaller than a pencil. The more you pick, the slower your plant will grow because it's putting all its energy into trying to get shoots up to make ferns.

I bought some stuff called "asparagus food" from Henry Fields when I bought the plants. They also recommend applying blood meal. If you have a dog, though, you should make sure you make a trench and then cover it after you have put your blood meal in, and kind of keep an eye on the dog for awhile. My dog didn't even notice, but I've heard there are some who will dig it up. If your dog does this you might have to put a barrier of some kind down.

My asparagus is doing well and tends to flop out into the walkway. I hate to move it just because of that, but I think I probably will this fall. It gets good drainage in that raised bed, and the soil has been amended so much that you can actually dig in it with your hands. I've tried to grow asparagus along the fence line and that just doesn't work because the Bermuda grass gets into it and the asparagus doesn't compete very well with it.

I'm considering moving it to an area that runs along the edge of my back porch, where it can flop around all it wants to. But that soil has not been amended. And it's very wet there in the spring. The Bermuda has not made it to that area though. I may move one plant and amend the soil around it with compost and see how that goes before I risk the whole bunch of them. Of course, digging them is going to be easier because the soil is soft, but the roots go so deep it may be a much bigger job than I'm thinking.

I enjoy eating mine raw, as well! Mostly because I'm the only one in my household that likes it, and I just prefer to munch on it while I'm out there. When the stalks are nice and fat, they are quite yummy. I break them off where they want to break, usually right above the area where the stalk has begun to get "woody".

Dorothy probably has more tips than I, I think she's been growing asparagus a little longer than I have.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 9:12AM
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I would say, sadly, yes :(

My daughter's little watermelons have SPLIT, and she even found 3 or 4 grape tomatoes that had split, too...! I've not ever had tomatoes split before, but then I don't really remember this wet an August either :)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 10:38AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I am really sorry to hear about your daughter's melons.....I know y'all were really excited about them.

If they were VERY close to being ripe, you still can harvest and eat them within a couple of days of the splitting before any sort of bacteria can set in and cause rot to occur in the split places. Sadly, though, usually if there is enough rain to cause splitting, there is enough rain to ruin the flavor.

Since it is only August, there is a slim (probably very slim, though) chance that, once y'all remove all the damaged melons, the vines might regrow, rebloom and set new melons. Then, IF the first freeze doesn't hit until the end of October, the melons might have time to ripen. This would work if she has the very small mini-melons like Sugar Baby, Yellow Doll, Mickey Lee, etc. It is unlikely to work if her plants produce the really large melons, unless the first freeze doesn't come until Thanksgiving.

If it is any consolation, there's "normally" not enough rain in most of Oklahoma (with northeastern OK being the exception some years) to cause melons to split. So, to repeat an old phrase used often around here, "maybe next year will be better". Of course, that is assuming that next year is "normal" and our weather has been so odd the last two years that I am not sure I remember what "normal" is. I hope the excessively wet weather in much of Oklahoma is NOT "the new normal".

Tomatoes are VERY prone to splitting and cracking when it rains or even when they are heavily irrigated, and the small tomatoes like cherries, grapes and currants are more likely to crack than the bigger ones. If I pick them the same day they crack, we go ahead and eat them.

Yellow pear is one of the cherries (actually, is a pear-shaped, hence the name) that cracks most often. Even SunGold, which is superior to most other small tomatoes, cracks. It just goes with the territory. Sometimes, if I have a lot of ripe or almost-ripe cherry, currant and grape tomatoes and a major rainstorm is forecast, I run out and pick them all before the rainstorm so I can save them from cracking. This is my first year to grow the Grape tomato, and mine have not tended to crack, but then I have not had nearly the rain y'all have had.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 2:00PM
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I planted Sugary tomatoes and had at least a gallon split in June and July before they even got ripe. I wasn't impressed with the variety at all.

Asparagus, I have been raising asparagus for over 30 years. With two year old plants put in this spring it would have been better not to pick any spears. As Ilene said, here in z6 the picking season is from first eruption of spears to July 1st, and in some very dry years I have stopped earlier. Some people say pick every spear bigger than a pencil all summer long, but I don't do that. You want to give the plants time to build up their roots for next year's harvest. Next year you may be able to pick a few spears--those bigger than a pencil--for a couple weeks, but then I would let the plants grow. I know it's hard to leave them but you will reap the payoff in years to come with much bigger harvests. As the years progress you will see your summer fronds getting bigger and bigger until they reaach almost 6 ft tall. Let them grow until frost kills them and then remove them from the patch to prevent diseases from overwintering. Then reapply mulch every fall.

Asparagus likes a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, so it would be a good idea to learn your soil's pH and adjust it accordingly. Generally speaking, eastern Oklahoma soils are more acid than western. We put woodashes over the leaf mulch in the winter to sweeten things up a bit.

A mulch of some kind is important; if bermuda or Johnson grass gets started it can be the dickens to get out.

I'm picking from a patch that is over 20 years old and still going strong, put part of that is because I don't weed out the volunteer seedlings as recommended but move them to a nurse bed for a couple years and then transplant them to a permanent bed. Happy gardening. Dorothy

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 7:31PM
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Dawn...thanks for your commiserating :) Thankfully, one hill had to be replanted and it's a bit behind the other one, so even though the melons close (but not close enough) to being ripe split, there are more coming from that second a way, you'd think there would be "uptake regulators" in the roots of plants so they wouldn't drink in so much water sometimes...but I guess God didn't think those were necessary, lol. We'll be ok - home gardening is an adventure, but not a particularly fatal one. It's the farmers that really are the adventurers; they're never sure what to expect, year to year, and it's their existence that's at stake.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 12:03PM
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Checked my watermelon patch and two had split. That leaves 10. And had already picked 6. Not bad for three hills. Also had some Brandywine tomatoes split. But we needed the rain, so I won't complain too much.

In the fall garden, my green beans are up, along with turnips and some lettuce. The mustard didn't come up. the seed was too old I think. So I'll put rutabagas in there tomorrow. Happy gardening all. Dorothy

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 5:36PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Sorry about the melons too. Mine are fine so far, but then our rain has not exactly fallen in vast quantities, and my poor melons were probably all dehydrated inside prior to the rain. LOL

I do hate that the Brandywine tomatoes split. Were they ripe enough to salvage? You have to wait so long for those Brandywines, but they are so worth it.

Glad the fall garden is up and doing well. I wanted to plant some beans and carrots today, but it is too muddy.....unfortunately heavy clay + water = muck. Maybe tomorrow it will be dry enough, or if not, then surely on Saturday.

The few pumpkins that made it through the drought are growing by leaps and bounds. The okra is kind of going insane too, and I'm hoping the new blooms on the tomatoes make a new round of fruit.

I just hope the cool spell is NOT a sign we'll have an earlier or colder winter. I'm hoping for a long, mild autumn.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 7:10PM
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Thanks everyone.
My carrots didn't make the rains... can't see anything. The soil is not splitting but it is still probably too tough for them to break through. I meant to use the cardboard trick but just plain forgot! Darn it, next time!

I had a couple turnips come through so tried scraping the soil to give them some help. They are very very tiny, look like little weeds and almost pulled them!!! I hope they survive!

My squash and pumpkins are up too.

I had pre-sprouted squash and pumpkin seeds indoors then had company over and put them in a drawer to hide. Then I forgot about them! Yikes. They dried out and I'm not sure if they are doing okay. I need to try to put them in the soil, won't hurt anything I suppose, just more work.
Bummer...... (hubby feels bad since he made me put them away) hehehehe :-)

I just took out about 8 tomato plants, they were over 7 ft tall and very nice looking, but NO fruit. I had maybe 5 tomatos all summer from them combined. I found a huge tomato hornworm on one of them too. I know it's been eating alot but shouldn't I still get fruit if the temperatures and eveything else was okay? I also saw some of my cherry varieties with hornworm symptoms, could this one hornworm make it across 3 ft of grass over to my other raised bed to do damage over there? If I don't see anymore, could they be underground doing their next stage?

Oh, my cucumbers were all light green and tasted sour and bland. Is that from too much rain and not enough sunshine? I was planning on bringing cucumber salad to church tonight - oh well..... I'll need to bring something else!

Sharon, what age daughter do you have helping you in the garden? My sons are 2 and 4 yrs and they don't help mommy too much. I caught that large hornworm and they loved it. We put it in their bug catcher to watch and fed it more leaves. I tried to get them to help me look for more but they weren't having it... maybe I didin't use the right incentives!!! hehehe The hornworm eats sooo fast and just chows down! It made it through about 3 6" cuts of leaves in only 10 MINUTES! Imagine it on my tomato plants when it's feeding!!! Yikes! I'm hoping I can see it turn to a moth, do I need to keep feeding it? Or does it need to go back under ground for something else before it's ready?


    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 11:50AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Robbie,

Sorry about the carrots.

If the turnips have sprouted, they should be fine. I have even grown them in rock-hard clay with very little care or attention and they have done fine.

Be prepared to cover your squash and pumpkins if an early freeze threatens. They take a l-o-n-g time to produce ripe produce, especially in fall's cooling temperatures. Usually, after the first freeze or frost, though, we have "Indian Summer" with nice non-freezing weather for several more weeks, so whatever you can do to get the squash and pumpkins past that first cold spell will really pay off.

Why did you take out your tomato plants? Only because they weren't producing? Or, were they diseased and/or dying? With tomatoes, timing and temperatures are everything and, if you just took out healthy tomato plants, that is a shame because, if they survived the summer heat in a fairly healthy state, they are about to kick back into production.

With large-fruited tomatoes (and in this sense, large-fruited refers to any plant that makes tomatoes larger than a ping pong ball), cold, heat and humidity impact the flowers' ability to set fruit.

In early spring, no matter how large your plants are or how well they are growing, for example, they won't set fruit until the nighttime temperatures are reliably higher than 55 degrees but lower than 75 degrees (more or less). And, to further complicate matters, the plants stop setting fruit once daytime highs begin exceeding 90 degrees. Some varieties continue to set until daytime highs exceed 93 to 95 degrees, but not many do.

So, in order for your plants to set fruit, the plants have to be mature enough AND flowering while nights are in the 55 to 75 degree range and days are below 90 degrees. Depending on where you live in Oklahoma, the "window of opportunity" when the temperatures are "just right" can be fairly narrow.

There are other reasons tomato plants don't set fruit, but usually it is temperature-related. And, to make it worse, the higher your humidity, the more "sticky" the pollen is. In times of high humidity, the pollen clumps and doesn't move around within the flower and self-pollinate. That is why shaking the plants or thumping the flowers helps. Two other factors that can impede fruit set are excessive water and excessive nitrogen in the soil.

Ask yourself why tomato plants make fruit? The answer? To perpetuate their species by creating seed that will ensure another generation of plants. If your plants have a nice, cushy life with lots of water and lots of fertilizer, they don't exactly feel "threatened" and will grow and grow and grow lots of healthy, lush foliage and sometimes not set many tomatoes. Why bother? They aren't in imminent danger of dying. Withhold the fertilizer and water, though, and they get busier making tomatoes because they feel "threatened" by the drier environmental conditions.

In a typical year, I put tomato plants in the ground beginning in March (covering them to protect them from late frosts), have blooms in April, fruit in April or May, ripe fruit in May-July. The process repeats itself as the plants grow and continue to flower, until whatever time the heat shuts down pollination and fertilization, which is often about the third week of June in my part of Oklahoma. During the worst of the summer heat, which is normally from July through August here, the plants may just sit there, ripen "old" fruit that formed before the heat spiked up pretty high but NOT make any new fruit. However, when cooler temperatures return, which normally happens in September in Love County, new flowers form, pollinate, fertilize and set fruit. So, that is the fruit that ripens in Oct.-Dec., depending on the timing/severity of autumn's first frosts and freezes.

I don't feed my tomato plants at all other than the organic tomato food that is incorporated into the raised beds on the same day I transplant the tomato seedlings into the ground. I used to feed them periodically, but found I got huge plants and not so many tomatoes. Interestingly, I still get huge plants without a lot of fertilizer but get lots more fruit. My soil is highly enriched on an annual basis, and I essentially feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants.

So, you probably did not get tomatoes because of the temperatures and humidity. Excess moisture is probably part of the culprit, and fertilizer might be as well. You just need to analyze what you did and then try to make adjustments next time so your plants will bear tomatoes.

Tomato hornworms can travel very far. I often see them crossing the road here when I am out walking the dogs and they can be pretty fast. (We have tons of native nightshades in the fields and they travel from field to field to visit the various nightshades.)

If you have had hornworms, and they were large and then disappeared, they probably have dropped down into the soil to pupate. This early in the season, with freezing weather a long way off, the ones in the ground should hatch and give you another generation of moths.

An off-flavor in cucumbers usually results from stress in general and from hot and dry weather in particular. I always get the best-flavored cukes in spring to early summer and in fall. Some people let cucumbers get too large before they pick them and that can result in poor flavor too.

Robbie, keep feeding the hornworm. You do need to have several inches of soil in the bottom of the container and it will drop and dig its way into the soil when it reaches the right point in its' growth cycle.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 1:50PM
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