Cool, wet spring provides perfect conditions for poison ivy

As a professional gardener, I’m on the frontline when it comes to witnessing the impact weather has on gardens. This spring the rain and cold have required me to think and act differently in a garden than I would if we were experiencing usual spring conditions. I’ve put together a list of some of the things I’ve observed, and tips you can do if you find them in your own garden.

Junipers and other drought tolerant plants like pine, lavender and iris need a certain amount of ‘dry’ in their diet. When they’re fed too much water, fungi set in. Soon roots and/or foliage begin to rot, branch tips turn brown and entire branches die out. It helps to trim away dead and diseased twigs and foliage. This improves air circulation around the plant, inhibiting fungal growth.  It also reduces the amount of spore-producing fungi present. Be sure to disinfect pruners after with bleach or isopropyl alcohol.

Cedars, on the other hand, love the abundant moisture. Their shallow roots seem to just soak up water and their foliage thrives in high humidity. If your cedar hedge is showing as much or more brown than it is green, most likely it didn’t receive sufficient water throughout past growing seasons. Installing an inexpensive plastic drip line is a simple way to provide consistent water to these moisture lovers.

One of the most interesting effects I’ve encountered this wet spring is the vitality and swiftness with which poison ivy has magically appeared. It’s an attractive deciduous vine with lush, three-lobed pinnate leaves, the newest ones tinged bronze. If you come across it in your garden, don’t attempt to pull it out. It spreads by seed and by above and below ground runners. Because it quickly develops an extensive underground system, use a systemic “brush killer” herbicide. The more top growth that is treated, the more herbicide that will be carried throughout the entire plant.

Along with using pesticides –and fertilizers – during continuously rainy conditions, comes the problem of leaching and run off. This happens when some of the product is lost from the soil or the plant it is applied to because it dissolves in rainwater. It then leaches into groundwater or runs down storm drains. It’s vitally important to use pesticide and fertilizer products judiciously during wet weather. The wellbeing and safety of our environment depends on it.

Likewise, think twice before you work in your soggy garden. Soil compacts when it’s stepped on or worked up while wet, resulting in oxygen loss to plant roots and the formation of hard, rock-like soil clumps. Before you start, take a handful of soil, squeeze it and open your hand again. If the soil crumbles easily, it’s okay to work in.

One last note for those of you with fruit trees – blossoms are certainly abundant this year, but don’t expect too much fruit. This cool weather is keeping the pollinators holed up in their little hidey holes, and unless it warms up and dries out soon, crops will definitely be light.

In the meantime, I think I’ll go find a hidey hole myself.  Let me know when the sun comes out again.

Margaret Devantier  has master gardener status from Michigan State University Extension and is a BC certified pesticide applicator.  She partners with Patty Siddall and Betty Drover in a local garden business and shares this space with them every other Friday.