With all this rain in Western New York, it looks more like April than June. John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County, said some gardeners have water ponding in their yards, and yesterday he saw someone’s riding lawn mower stuck in the mud.
We had a dry spring in Western New York, but so far this month we’ve had about twice the average amount of rain we would get during that period.
This weather poses some challenges. You may have problems with slugs and plant diseases, and you may have to fertilize more.
Slugs and snails
This wet weather provides ideal breeding conditions for slugs and snails, Farfaglia said.
“They love chewing on a multitude of tender garden plants,” he said, including hostas and annuals.
There are a number of things you can try to control them.
Bait is one of the more reliable methods, he said.
There are two kinds of slug bait. The conventional bait is a typical pesticide and probably should not be used near pets and children. The iron-containing bait or iron phosphate bait is safer to use around pets and children, he said.
If you want to avoid the use of chemicals, you can try picking the slugs off your plants by hand.
Another method is to set out saucers of beer. The slugs are attracted to the beer and drown in it.
You can also buy bait stations, which are circular plastic objects that contain beer. Slugs crawl in the small openings and drown in the beer.
Farfaglia also mentioned a couple of home remedies you might try. Some gardeners set crushed egg shells around their plants. The idea is that the abrasive surface might deter the pests.
Some gardeners shake salt or vinegar directly onto the slugs, which dissolves the slugs. If you find slugs grouped together, you can get rid of many slugs at once. However, salt isn’t good for the plants, he said. Vinegar can also harm plants– Vinegar is used as a weed killer and can burn the leaves of plants.
A reader asked whether we should expect other types of garden pests, such as cutworms, to become more abundant because of the rain. The answer is no, the wet weather won’t nurture other pests that might bother your plants, he said.
What gardeners should watch out for, Farfaglia said, is plant diseases.
Plant diseases are much more likely than pests to be an issue with the rainy weather, Farfaglia said. Here are some examples:
- Apple scab fungus can affect ornamental apple trees. The leaves get spots, turn yellow and shed in June or July.
- Powdery mildew can affect lilacs, phlox, squash, pumpkin and many other plants. It looks like a white film on the leaves.
- Black spot can affect roses.
- Late blight can affect tomatoes later in the season.
These diseases like areas that have less sun and less air circulation. If you have a pocket garden on the side of your house, it’s more likely that your plants will be affected. Farfaglia suggested evaluating the plants you have in an area like that. If your plants are prone to these kinds of diseases, you may want to replace them with other plants.
You can also watch for disease and treat your plants at the first signs of disease. Some people use baking soda as a natural, fairly safe fungicide, he said.
There are also fungicides that you can buy. However, before you start spraying your plants with fungicide, make sure that your plant actually has a fungal disease. You can do this by contacting your your county’s Cooperative Extension office. You may be able to email a photo of your affected plant to them to help in the diagnosis.
You can also place some affected leaves in a clear plastic bag and take it to a garden center that has professionals on staff. They’ll be able to tell you what’s wrong with your plant and guide you to the correct treatment. Please check out the garden centers that support this magazine.
Another question from a reader was whether she should fertilize during this excessive rainfall or whether the plants were too stressed.
“With all this rainfall, the nutrients in the soil, particularly nitrogen, gets washed away, so you need to replenish it,” Farfaglia said. “The more rain we have, the more frequently fertilization is needed.”
Everyone wants to know whether this wet weather will continue through the summer or whether the dry conditions we experienced last year will return, and there are folks who try to make long-range forecasts. Almanacs attempt to predict weather for entire seasons a year in advance, and we commonly come across 10-day forecasts. Unfortunately, the almanacs are so vague that they’re not very useful, and the 10-day forecasts are no more accurate than if you had simply looked at the climate data– the average temperatures and precipitation for that date.
Our short-term weather forecasts have become much more reliable in recent decades, but we still can’t make a weather forecast that is accurate nine days or more into the future, according to Nate Silver in The Signal and the Noise.
Even our short-term forecasts have uncertainty in them. The forecasts don’t tell us that it will rain or won’t rain tomorrow; they tell us what the odds are that it will rain. If the forecast is accurate, when there’s a 20 percent chance of rain, it should rain 20 percent of the time. If there’s an 80 percent chance of rain, it should rain 80 percent of the time– 20 percent of the time it won’t rain.
You can read an article adapted from The Signal and the Noise here, but that article isn’t as interesting as the book. I suggest you read the book.
When I asked Farfaglia if he had any predictions on how the weather would play out for the rest of the summer, he laughed.
“The best forecast is that the weather is likely to be very changeable,” he said.