Coping with heavy subtropical rainfall

You should apply granite dust or rock phosphate more often if the season has been excessively wet, together with good quantities of animal manure, green manures or compost. Although rock phosphate is not water soluble, the important micro-organisms, which are essential for the release of phosphorus to the plants, may be depleted due to the excess moisture in the soil. The manures will supply these tiny creatures with much needed nourishment.

Understanding Tropical Soils and Rainfall 43

If your garden is a wet soggy mess after heavy rainfall there is a solution to this problem. Heavy, wet soils should not be dug over — the result will be large sticky clumps of soil which will dry out into hard, rock-like lumps. If the wet weather has passed and you wish to plant some more crops, simply pull out the old crop together with weeds, spread animal manure, lime and compost, and mulch heavily with blady grass hay, lucerne or straw.

Make 'holes' or 'lines' in the mulch, fill these with compost, and plant up with seeds or seedlings. When the roots of the plants have reached down to the wet soggy soil, it will have drained enough for them to penetrate. Crops grown this way are quite successful. This method is of course similar to no-dig gardening, where the ground does not have to be dug over.

Waterlogged plants can become very susceptible to insect and disease attack. If the plant roots have started to rot, they can be left in place, and when the soil dries out, amazingly, they will develop a new root system and grow vigorously once again. Sometimes however, it is easier to pull some crops out and begin again.

When you're establishing a vegetable garden in warmer climates, always ensure that the garden has adequate drainage. A slight slope is ideal because most plants do not like 'wet feet'.

Before planting fruit trees or ornamentals, check the land to see where the excess water drains or lies on the ground. Plant trees on high mounds of soil if there are no suitable high areas, or select the higher parts of the garden for planting.

When I first moved to my own property I was anxious to begin planting my fruit trees. I chose a suitable slope for growing citrus, and soon oranges, mandarins and limes were becoming established. It seemed a perfect place — until the first heavy seasonal rains. The area became a huge drain for the land bordering my own orchard. Within weeks, most of my citrus had died, leaving one lonely orange tree together with one lime. This area is now planted up with Australian native trees and shrubs particularly selected to withstand 'wet feet'.

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