Some plants like it wet

Garden Q&A

August 25, 1996

I have an area in my yard that stays soggy even in summers when everyone else is begging for rain. Can you suggest some shrubs or flowers that can tolerate wet soil?

Wet soil can be challenging to gardeners. Water displaces oxygen in the soil, suffocating plant roots. Some plants have the ability to adapt to this condition.

Red maple, river birch, sycamore and bald cypress are shade trees that tolerate wet soils. Red twig dogwood, winter berry, spicebush and viburnums are among deciduous shrubs that do well in wet soil.

Perennials that like high moisture are Japanese and yellow flag iris, cardinal flower, bee balm, ferns, rose mallow, turtle head and goats beard.

American holly, inkberry, false cypress and leucothoe are some evergreens that tolerate moisture and shade.

I have a septic drain field in my yard. Is it safe to plant a garden there?

Many people have asked us about planting over a septic drain field. Here's the lowdown. Shallow-rooted, herbaceous plants are best for this area. This includes grass, annuals and perennials, ground covers and, yes, vegetables. Double digging and tilling deeper than 6 inches are not recommended.

Planting trees over a septic drain field is discouraged because roots can get tangled in the septic system.

How close to the drain field can you plant trees? Determine the ultimate height of the tree you wish to plant. The tree should be planted at least that distance away from the drain field. (Roots grow out in a radius at least equal to the height of a tree.)

When I pick my red tomatoes, the bottoms are hollow, black and crusty. Do my tomatoes have a disease?

The large, leathery sunken spots on the blossom end of developing fruit are symptoms of blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is a nutritional disease caused by a lack of access to calcium in the soil. An inconsistent supply of water prevents the plant from taking up enough calcium to support fruit enlargement.

Pick off affected fruits immediately.

Follow these steps to prevent blossom-end rot among your tomatoes next year.

* Have your soil tested this fall. The pH should be between 6.3 and 7.0. Add ground agricultural limestone to the soil according to the test recommendations.

* Next year, when you're ready to plant, work a handful of ground agricultural limestone into each planting hole to ensure calcium availability.

* Incorporate organic matter such as humus or compost to improve the soil's moisture-holding capacity.

* Don't over-fertilize with nitrogen because too much of it inhibits the uptake of calcium.

* Water often during drought to keep moisture level constant.

* Mulch the soil to help keep it moist.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on the above or other gardening questions, call the center's toll-free hot line at (800) 342-2507 and talk with a horticultural consultant or listen to tapes covering the most common garden problems.

Checklist

* Place mulch around trees and shrubs to conserve moisture, reduce weeds and improve garden appearance. To avoid smothering roots, limit mulch to a depth of no more than 2 inches. To avoid bark decay, don't allow mulch to accumulate on a tree's bark.

* Pick ripe or nearly ripe fruits that have cracked. Cracking of fruits such as cucumbers, melons, peppers and tomatoes may occur when rainfall is excessive or when soil moisture levels fluctuate rapidly, such as when long periods of drought are punctuated by heavy rains.

* Prune the tips of tree branches containing the nests of fall webworms -- if you find the nests' appearance offensive. Leaving the nests in place will not harm the tree.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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