Soggy Soils Hinder Many Plants

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The recent wet, cloudy, drizzly, and overcast weather has certainly left our soils water-logged. Any one that works with the soil, from large scale agricultural producers to home gardeners, recognizes the need for soil that doesn’t stay too wet for too long.

Soil drainage is a term that refers to the ability of water to move out of the soil. I describe it as the difference as standing in the shower or standing in the bathtub. Ideally, we want soils where the water flows thru the soil and runs off, like what happens in a shower, and not to stand there and stagnate, like a bathtub.

In times of drought we easily see the results of no water where plants die and in times of extreme rain when soils get downright soggy, excess water can kill plants or simply diminish performance.

In one small example of crop being stifled by too much water in the ground, numerous home gardeners (including myself) are trying to plant seed potatoes this past week. But planting a seed potato in soupy soil can easily lead to rotting seed potatoes.

A good gardening friend, Tommy Bryan, told me he decided to plant his potatoes in very large, well-drained pot rather than risk it in his soil. Last year Bryan only had a fraction of what he should have had in potato production because his soil stayed too wet.

And potatoes are but one of the numerous plants that suffer from too much water. Most every plant will do better in soils that are well drained.

So what causes poorly-drained or well-drained soil? There can be several factors but in our area, I often blame the underlying clay in your soil, and specifically how far down that clay is. Now to some extent, nearly all of Angelina County has very good topsoil. The problem is the depth of your topsoil. If it is three feet until you reach clay, then you should have a much better draining soil than clay at the surface.

The northern area of Angelina County has the communities of Redland and Redtown. Unsurprisingly, these names are taken from the red clay soils in the area. Down around Diboll and Huntington, the local name for that soil is that awful “post-oaky” soil with a lot of grey clay in it.

In other areas of East Texas, they have some very deep sandy soils. So deep and sandy, in fact, that they may have the opposite problem of holding enough water for plants to use.

In a perfect soil, about half of every shovel full of soil would be pore space and the other half would constitute of the solids of soil: sand, silt, clay and organic matter. Sand, silt and clay are the mineral components characteristic of the location and parent material from which soils originate.

That “perfect porous half” is occupied with water and air. Indeed plant roots need air to thrive. Too much air would be the result from a drought or extremely deep and sandy soil that never does hold water. Too much water and roots drown.

So how do we cope with poorly drained soils or the temporary conditions with too much water? One thing most gardeners do is to use raised beds. Simply creating a raised planting row in a conventional

garden is the most obvious and widely used tactic. Others use lumber or other materials to create a permanently raised bed to grow produce.

Secondly, chose your planting sites carefully. Watermelons simply doesn’t perform well on a site that is poorly drained. Most fruit trees also demand a well-drained soil.

Adding organic matter is another great method for helping soils drainage. (In fact I would argue that organic matter is the silver bullet for whatever ails your soil.) If you have too much water being held in a clayey soil, the addition of organic matter will break up the clay and should provide pore space mentioned previously.

This week there are two events that will help gardeners understand how to have a more successful garden. Monday, Feb 19 is the regular, monthly educational series held at the Angelina County Extension Office and the topic is Integrated Pest Management. Dr. Erfan Vafaie, Entomologist and Assistant Professor with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will be the speaker. $10 a person, the seminar starts at 6:30 pm.

Friday, Feb 23 is the East Texas Fruit and Vegetable Conference. Held at the Pitser Garrison Convention Center in Lufkin, doors open at 8 am with the first presentation at 8:30 am. Cost is $40 per person (early registration has passed), which covers breakfast snacks, lunch and handouts. This conference is planned to help the home gardener, commercial vegetable grower and anyone interested in orchard or vineyard development. Three general sessions will be in the morning and breakout sessions will occur after lunch to address the various audiences targeted. The conference will conclude by 2:30 pm.

For more information about these events, please call the Angelina County Extension Office at 936.634.6414 x 0 for more information or to reserve a seat.

Author

Cary Sims
Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
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