Martha Stewart Living Radio: The Radio Blog

Dealing with flooded gardens

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We've shattered the March precipitation record here in New York City and all over the East Coast, people are faced with standing water on their lawns, driveways, and roads.

This storm dumped over 4" of rain on my neck of the woods, and that's on top of two other significant rainfalls this month. The ground is 100% saturated, and seeing standing water over your garden is enough to make many gardeners panic - but try to stay calm. Read on for some advice on dealing with excess water in your yard.

Avoid walking on saturated soil, whether there is standing water or not. This includes garden beds, lawns, fields, and woods. Under ideal conditions, 50% of the soil should be space for air. After heavy rain, that space is filled with water. Walking on soil in this condition is a recipe for compaction and permanent damage - it doesn't seem like a big deal, but consider that by putting weight on it, you are forcing the water out of that space instead of letting it drain or evaporate naturally. This compresses the soil and the water comes to the surface, actually worsening the standing water problem and decreasing the possibility of drainage.
The one exception to this would be if you need to walk on soil to access a blocked drain. In that case, it would be worth the risk to tread carefully and lightly, wearing your widest soled closed shoes (not that you'd be wearing high heels for such a job!). Blocked drains are a major cause of flooding, especially at this time of year when last season's leaves and bud scales and spent flowers can combine to really stop things up. If at all possible, try to clear the blockage with a rake or broom to extend your reach and minimize the space you have to tread upon.
Flood waters can contain bacteria, so do not harvest any vegetables that were growing in the flooded area. Compost them and sow new seed. I know, it's a disappointment, but it is better to be safe than sorry! Its still early spring and there is plenty of time for growing a new crop.
Wait until the waters have receded to assess the damage to perennials and woody plants - many plants may look beyond hope, but will recover with the warmer days ahead. Do try to cover any roots that have become exposed with compost, soil, or mulch.
Finally, make a mental note of flooded areas, which can indicate a low spot in your garden or lawn. Turn lemons in to lemonade by planning a rain garden or maybe a bog garden in this area of poor drainage.

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