Rain and Rain and Rain Again, 5 Tips for Dealing With Constant Damp

In Maine, the chilly rain is now bidding fair to be every day for the entire month of June, and it’s not much better in the Hudson Valley. Or not much less rainy, anyway. It IS better there in general because it was warmer longer sooner, giving plants a good head start  – and the rain itself is warmer.

I keep telling myself this too shall pass – There’s photographic proof from last July, when Lois was painting in the garden.

There can be so much sun you need an umbrella for that

There can be so much sun you need an umbrella for that

But it’s difficult for me to listen to me, so I’m glad there are a few things I can do to help  avoid total catastrophe.


1. Do everything you can to increase air circulation and keep rot from spreading:

* Thin row crops so leaves don’t touch. Weed between rows, even if the weeds are far from the plants, so damp air isn’t trapped..

* In window boxes, where crowding is part of the appeal, keep checking the bases of the plants for dead and dying leaves. Remove them promptly, along with any fallen petals or other decaying material. Consider a bit of discrete low branch pruning; it’s often possible to open things up a bit at soil level without disturbing the lush look.

* Stake up thick foliage that’s flopped over on neighboring plants. Daylilies are the worst offenders.

2. Cut heavy flowerheads that could break branches when sodden with rain. Spent lilacs, late peonies, early dahlias…

3. Be aggressive against the mollusks. Slugs and snails eat day and night when it’s gloomy and wet. Consider multiple armaments, nothing organic works 100 percent  unless you count chickens.

*Iron-phosphate ( Slugo, Escar-go) is a relatively safe snail poison, but it’s not quick acting and must be ingested to be effective.

* Diatomaceous earth will stop them even before they eat, but it loses effectiveness when sopping wet and is easily washed into the earth by rain. Daily reapplication isn’t difficult but even that may not be enough if it’s pouring a lot of the time. And d.e. is not inexpensive if you start using it by the pound.

* Beer and other traps. Traps can  work well when slug pressure is faint. But in extreme conditions like these the baits are rapidly diluted and holding chambers can fill faster than you can keep them emptied.

* Death spray. Mix 1 part household ammonia with one part water in a spray bottle. Keep it by the door with your boots. Take it along every time you go out and spray every mollusk you see. It’s a contact poison, so be sure to aim for the foot when you’re targeting snails. Ammonia is a fertilizer and will not harm plants at this dilution, but it has almost no residual activity. If you’re not shooting, they’re not dying. Two parts water to one of ammonia works fine when plants aren’t wet.

4. On one of the occasions when it’s just gray and humid and it looks like there may be a few rainless hours, spray annual plants with liquid seaweed and fish emulsion, either in a blended product or separately. Leaves that are deprived of sunlight can’t manufacture much nourishment. And  overwatering from the heavens is just like any other overwatering: if it doesn’t rot roots right away it can lead to fast growth at the expense of strength.

5. The rule about not walking on or planting in wet soil still applies. But if you have super-leggy seedlings and can’t pot them up or (like me) can’t face doing it, planting will have to happen. Continue to resist the walking at all costs – go to Argentina if necessary.

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  • lynn Said,

    We’ve a good amount of rain this spring in general in central Va. though apparently still behind for the year. Weird how we can get a torrential rain for at least an hour (I fell asleep at that point) and 25 minutes away my mother got none at all.

    My new question for you is about Juniper Bag Worms – what a fiendishly evil creature with that disguise. My neighbors big low (5ft x 7ft) spreading juniper is covered with thousands of little “cones”. To see them slightly moving and hear the chomping is like visiting aliens. There are far too many to hand pick – any advice? An oil that will render the leaves in edible and starve them? Burn the whole thing? – although I worry I would be able to hear the screaming from my house.

    Also – how!! do they enlarge that sack from the inside will clinging with their mouths to the branch!!!

    I brought a handful home to dispose of and while they pretty much stopped wiggling while I was holding them my hand felt like it it was holding beating heart. I might have nightmares. Well that and the kudzu. But it does keep the Bamboo in check, sort of.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Lynn

    You have my sympathies on the bagworms – and my thanks for the reminder that things could be worse. We may be dying of sog but at least we don’t have THOSE!

    I’m afraid I don’t know just how they enlarge the sacks – or too much else about them. What I do know is that there aren’t many effective controls. Having a lot of birds seems like about the best (although easier said than done).

    Removing the bags comes next (also easier etc., as you point out). Bt works well if you spray when the larvae have recently hatched and are still small, active and vulnerable — usually in May or early June. By the time they’re big enough to give you the wobbles they’re also too big to kill easily, even with strong chemical poisons.

    Mature trees can usually survive one season of defoliation, so your neighbor’s best bet is to spray Bt now, pick off bags whenever possible, and then spray next spring a few times, at 2 or 3 week intervals.

    Bagworms don’t travel as much as some scourges we could name (once ensconced, the females never leave the bags; only the males fly) but they do crawl from plant to plant. And they can extrude silk and sail on the wind for quite a distance.

    I mention this because the very best control is to keep a close eye on your trees so you can remove the bags before infestation becomes severe. It’s likely the worms on your neighbor’s juniper were there for a couple of years, building unnoticed until reaching their present evil splendor.

    As for the kudzu and bamboo, I’d encourage you to move north, but everything else is, too, so it wouldn’t help for long.

    It’s still raining here btw, now something like 19 out of the past 21 days, with rainfall 3 inches above normal.

  • Vee Said,

    Yay! I found it! I’m whipping up a batch pronto.

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