Heavy rains test drought-tolerant plants

08/02/2013 2:59 PM

08/02/2013 3:00 PM

After two dry summers created a push toward drought-tolerant plants, wouldn’t you know we’d get a succession of gulley washers to test the plants’ mettle on the other side of the equation.

Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston, which is full of native plants, flooded earlier this week after about 5 inches of rain fell and the creek rose.

“It comes and goes down pretty quickly,” arboretum director Scott Vogt said. “As far as the plants, if they’re situated in the right places, even in heavy rain like this, they should be fine. It’s not ideal, but I think they handle it all right.”

Wichita gardener Ronnie Hardesty of southeast Wichita started his collection of cactuses, succulents, and hens and chicks two years ago, and found that they did better in 2011 and 2012 than they’re doing this year. And after the recent rains?

“It’s hard to say up or down on the succulents and cactus, because I can’t remember this much dang rain in this period of time,” Hardesty said. “Are they OK or not OK? Then we got more rain coming. Basically, I’ve got good soil; when you have cactus and succulents, water has to drain away real quick.”

Drainage is also the key when locating other drought-tolerant plants such as natives, Vogt said.

When rains continue without opportunities for the plants to dry out in between, plants can develop crown rot, Vogt said, or foliar diseases such as powdery mildew, and black spot on roses.

And when flooding occurs such as it did at the arboretum, debris is washed up on plants’ leaves, and it needs to be washed off, Vogt said. Otherwise the leaves aren’t able to breathe, and sunlight is blocked from entering them.

But even corn plants that get bowled over by a heavy rain bounce back after a couple of days, Vogt said. “I think the plants recuperate pretty quickly.”

Next time it’s dry you can do a “perc test” to see if a site has good drainage: Dig a hole about 12 inches deep and fill it with water. Check it regularly for the next 24 hours. If the test hole drains in three to four hours, you have good drainage; five to 12, moderate drainage, meaning that plants susceptible to root rot diseases must be planted above the ground in such a spot; and 12 to 24 hours indicates that you should plant above rather than in the ground, as in raised beds.

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