Letting your garden soak in the rains

By Tom Dominguez, Quay County Extension

Thanks for the RAIN! Our thirsty earth has received a much-needed, refreshing soak. As dry as it is, any amount of rain is a blessing. Here are some suggestions on keeping your garden looking it’s best.

Deadheading
This is the removal of fading flowers before they form seed.
You can snip fading flowers stems and stalks out with your fingernail, scissors or hand pruners. Make the cut just above a healthy leaf.
This will direct energy to making more flowers instead of seed.

Nitrogen booster
Keep flowers, tomatoes and other vegetables producing by side dressing with some additional nitrogen. Bermuda grass and other turf grass may also need a dose of nitrogen. Nitrogen deficiency shows up as pale green plants, slowed growth, slowed flowering/fruiting. Most any nitrogen will do, like compost tea, fish emulsion, blood meal, ammonium sulphate (21-0-0) and general water soluble fertilizers.

Trumpet vine
Trumpet vine can become a curse when it starts root sprouting. Digging it up or cutting it down without appropriate treatment results in profuse sprouting.

If you have sprouting trumpet vine, consider treating the shoots with a woody brush killer that contains trichlopyr. Use it carefully, because it’ll damage good trees and shrubs. Trichlopyr can be used in a variety of ways, but stump treatments are very manageable. Cut sprout and vine stems off to a 5-inch stub and immediately painting it with a clean disposable sponge brush filled with the herbicide. Paint the cut, stem and all the exposed portion with the herbicide. You may need to repeat this for a few years before you get rid of it.

Rain
Nothing can match the benefits of rainfall for plants, soils and the remediation of the environment. We can supplement with city and well water, but neither compare to heaven sent precipitation. Rain in good quantities can leach or wash excess salts out of the soil. Salts come from fertilizers, saline irrigation water and low rainfall. Salt loaded soils make it difficult for plant roots to take up water and nutrients because it creates a high osmotic pressure. Plants growing in saline soils can be drought stressed even when the soil is moist (called chemical drought). The high salts causes the plant to expend more energy to extract water and nutrients from the soil.

A cleansing rain, leaches salts out of the root zone lowering the osmotic pressure so plants can take up water and nutrients much easier.
Other rain benefits include pushing carbon dioxide out of the soil and replacing it with oxygen. And when rain is accompanied with lightning, the lightning fixes atmospheric nitrogen that’s washed into the soil with the rain.

Keep rainfall on your property by making wide landscape beds to catch and contain water. Beds can be located next to the house where down spouts spill.

Beds will be even more water retentive if you’ll add compost to the soil and keep a 3-4 inch layer of organic mulch on the surface of the bed. These types of beds are conducive to good plant growth. If you have lots of rain water runoff because of expansive roof or hardscape surfaces, you may want to design and install a catchment system, dry creek bed and or rain garden. Uncontrolled storm water can move fertilizers, pesticides and soil off site into areas that can endanger the public or contaminate surface water and possibly other water sources. Storm water can also weaken structural integrity and be a traffic hazard. How you design and maintain your property can help reduce these and many other landscape problems.

Some useful information on water saving techniques and xeriscape gardening can be found at the State Engineers Office Web site: http://www.ose.state.nm.us/ and then go to publications.
Enjoy the rain!

Tom Dominguez is an agent with the Quay County Extension, NMSU Extension Service. He can be reached by emailing todomingu@nmsu.edu or calling 461-0562.