Master Gardener: Why Soggy Roots Stunt Your Garden’s Growth | Home & Garden

Brian Jervis Ask a master gardener

“We’ve been raining a lot lately and some of my vegetables aren’t looking good, especially the tomatoes. Should I be worried?” — CG

You’re right, we got a lot of rain. As I write this article and look at mesonet.org, Tulsa County has received between 9 and 12 inches of rain in the last 30 days. Rain is usually good, but that much rain can cause some problems for your plants. In addition, we have had cooler temperatures than normal, which can also affect our plants. Here’s the problem.

Good garden soil is about 50% solids, 25% water and 25% air. With this type of sandy loam in our gardens, plants will thrive. The statistic that usually surprises people is that good garden soil is about 25% air. Plants and their roots need air to thrive and survive. Air tends to be pushed out by water and we’ve had a lot of water to deal with lately.

But here’s the interesting part: Uptake of nutrients from the roots takes a lot of energy, and oxygen is needed to generate that energy. When the soil is waterlogged, this lack of oxygen can affect the plants’ ability to take up nutrients and water. Plants that grow in flooded or overwatered soil are actually suffering from a lack of water, causing their leaves to wilt. Interestingly, wilted leaves are a symptom of plants that are either overwatered or underwatered; opposite conditions but similar results.

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In a flooded garden it’s something like “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”. Although water is plentiful, the plants cannot use the water due to the lack of oxygen in the soil. Hopefully the water will recede and the roots will dry out before any long-term damage to your plants occurs.

Drainage is one of the benefits of growing flowers and vegetables in raised beds, as raised beds tend to drain better than in-ground gardens. You don’t see many raised beds with standing water.

If you grow your vegetables or flowers in containers, make sure your containers have drainage holes in the bottom. Without these drainage holes, the containers will become very good at holding water, which will have negative consequences for your plants.

If your plants remain waterlogged for a long period of time, whether in the ground, raised bed or bucket, your plants are at risk of root rot. Root rot tends to be fatal to your plants as rotten roots cannot meet your plant’s needs very well.

Hopefully the soil will dry out soon and our gardens will start growing again. Much luck!

You can get answers to all of your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, stopping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or emailing us at mg@tulsamastergardeners.org .

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