Heavy summer rains caused many gardening problems

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It was December 2007 when I started writing a recap of the gardening year.

One thing I struggle with some years is when to write it. Depending on when Fri­day falls on the calendar, I either write them the last Friday in December or the first Friday in January. This year my inclination was to do it in my Dec. 27 column, but because the abnormally large amount of rain we received this year, particularly during the summer, was such a big story, I wanted to wait for today so I could include the year-end total.

Total rainfall for the year at my house was 76.1 inches, about 33 inches above normal. The total at Augusta Regional Airport was 55.52, but as we all know, it never rains as much out there as it does everywhere else in the area.

I have been keeping rainfall records at my house since 2000 (at least those I can find). This is the largest amount ever for me. The closest to this was 2003, when I got almost 69 inches.

The rain got off to a very slow start last January when I had only 1.75 inches. It began to really pick up in February with a 9.425-inch total. Average is about 4.25 inches. March and May were close to normal, but the June rains came with a vengeance. The total was 17.9 inches, and according to my records, it rained for 15 out of the 30 days. Normal June totals are 4.25 inches. It continued to rain much more than normal for July and August, with me getting over twice the normal amount each month.

What happened in the landscape because of all the rain? In my June 14 article, I wrote about turfgrass getting slime mold, gray leaf spot and dollar spot diseases more than normal. Many of our annual flowers were suffering from root rot because of saturated soils.

• On July 19, I wrote about the abundance of millipedes because of all the rain. They were everywhere by the thousands, crawling on driveways, patios, decks and along the walls of the house. Unfortunately, I experienced all of this myself. I tried keeping them out of my house by spraying thresholds and around window sills, but they still made it inside. I believe if I had a dollar for everyone I picked up in the house, I would be a wealthy man. Typically those who live by the woods have more problems with them since they come in large numbers from the duff in the woods.

• My July 26 article was about how sick our lawns were looking not only because of the rain but also because of the cloudy, overcast conditions when it was not raining. Certain turfgrasses, such as Bermuda, need a lot of sun to look good, and we just weren’t getting much. Bermuda lawns developed an off-green color that we were not used to seeing in the middle of summer. We also were not mowing the grass as often because of the soggy ground. When the grass was mowed, we were cutting off most of the green blades, leaving only brown stems. I mentioned that I had seen a freshly cut Bermuda lawn that was 100 percent brown. It looked as if it was either winter or that armyworms had eaten the whole lawn.

Also causing off-color was the fact that many lawns were being unintentionally scalped because the lawn mower tires were sinking in the ground. This gave the grass the same effect of lowering the lawn mower blade a notch or two. I had seen a finely manicured Emerald zoysia lawn that looked like a big truck had driven across the yard.

• Another big story was the warm winter/cool spring. A lot of our February blooming plants were already blooming in January. For a while, it looked like all the flowers would be gone by Masters Week, but the cool spring slowed things down so that it was beautiful during the tournament.

In my March 29 article, I wrote that it was warmer in January than either February or March. I knew that March being cooler than January had to be an extremely rare occurrence. It was so rare that before 2013, it had happened only six times since weather records were kept in 1875, with the last time in 1960.

The May 24 article was about the tiny white specks on the leaves of magnolia trees. The culprit is false oleander scale, a fairly new insect problem that we have only started to see the past year or two.

• On June 7, I wrote about something I saw for the first time this year – cancer root, also called squawroot or bear corn. It is a perennial, nonphotosynthesizing parasitic plant. The plant looks like some kind of mutant pine comb, growing about 4-8 inches tall. This plant is a parasite on the roots of oak trees.

Native trees, sassafras, were dying in landscapes and in the woods, and that was the subject of my June 28 article. It was caused by Asian ambrosia beetles boring into the wood and introducing a fungus called laurel wilt disease. It has also been killing another native, Red Bay. There is no known method to halt the spread of this problem. Like many of our destructive killers on plants, these ambrosia beetles were accidently introduced from Asia.

• In my May 17 article, I wrote about knockout roses, as I said that they were as pretty as I can ever remember seeing them. If you don’t have any of these wonderful plants in your landscape, you are really missing out. You can plant them and pretty much forget them.

Good luck gardening in 2014!

REACH SID MULLIS, THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY, AT (706) 821-2349 OR SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.


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