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Under Our Umbrella

May 9, 2011

Just the other day, I was attending a professional dinner meeting, so I traded my usual work clothes and boots for a simple dress and heels. And just as I arrived at the restaurant, it started to rain … and I don't mean just pitter-patter, pitter-patter. It was the start of what was soon to be a great, big thunderstorm. I stepped out of my car and prepared to run for it, and, wouldn't you know, my first step was into a giant puddle. Needless to say, I was squishing around in my heels with soggy toes for the rest of the night. 

The latest wet weather has left many wringing out their wet socks in search of higher and drier land. It's not a good feeling to be constantly wet - so wet you feel you'll never get dry. If you're in one of these regions with above average rainfall right now, you know this feeling. Now imagine how your trees must feel.

Constant rain, storms and flood watches have us all protecting our socks with good shoes, strategically avoiding puddles and cleaning our gutters so our homes and toes stay dry. But what about our plants and trees? Those poor perennials and conifers, particularly those placed in low areas, are left to tough it out, stuck in the muck. Driving through my neighborhood, I've seen more than one tree surrounded by a large puddle of water that looks like it's not draining anytime soon.

These images might leave you wondering how bad this much water really is for your plants and trees.

Davey Tech Advisor Greg Mazur says this much water awakens the fungus phytophthora, which lies dormant in most soil types just waiting for the right moment to strike. Phytophthora, or, simply stated, a root rot, loves prolonged wet conditions and doesn't mind if the temperatures aren't very warm or humid. It just thrives on the free water.

Phytophthora affecting a rhododendron
Rhododendrons suffering from phytophthora.

The results aren't very pretty. Below ground, root decline could be happening, while above ground discolored leaves, wilting foliage and die-back are occurring. In fact, the name phytophthora means "plant destroyer." Common plants that can take a particularly hard beating from phytophthora are maples, azalea, rhododendron, dogwood, madrone, oak, avocado, eucalyptus, pine, bottlebrush, holly, yew, boxwood, cedar, cypress and juniper.

The main way to beat the "plant destroyer" is to improve soil drainage in your landscape where water collection tends to be an issue. Raising a planting bed or using drain tiles or tubing to lead water away from certain areas can minimize standing water, thereby making the plant less prone to infection. To promote drainage in low areas, avoid using layers of tight mulches, such as cypress bark, that maintain high soil moisture; opt for pine bark instead since it lets the soil breathe. For occasional wet episodes in well-drained soils, use of a fungicide as a preventive treatment can deter disease outbreak as well.

These tips should help until the soil starts to dry out when the rainy weather finally slows down. In the meantime, keep your toes dry. And, as for your trees, we'll help you keep them under an umbrella of proper care so they make it through the storms!

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