Neil Sperry

It’s been raining a ton. Here are the effects it has had on your lawn and garden

Heavy rain floods the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth

Heavy rain flooded part of the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.
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Heavy rain flooded part of the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.

Perhaps you’ve heard: it’s rained a lot in North Texas this fall! And that rain hasn’t fallen without having its effects on our lawns, landscapes and gardens. I’ve collected some of the things I’ve been observing, and I’ll list them for you in no particular order.

We now know why raised planting beds are critical. The soil’s “water table” refers to where water rises if you were to dig a post hole and let it sit for 24 hours. If there’s water up near the surface that means there’s very little oxygen for your plants’ roots. Elevating the beds by just 3 or 4 inches while you’re preparing the soil can make a big difference in the success of your plantings later. You can always add water when it’s dry. It’s much harder to remove it when you have too much.

The high water table also brought out more fire ant mounds than most of us have ever seen in our area. They use the mounds as a means of saving their queens and their colonies. They remind us of the importance of applying area-wide baits to give long-lasting relief from this damaging and painful pest.

We’ve seen dozens of types of mushrooms and toadstools pop up in North Texas turf while all this rain has been falling. Everyone worries first if the mushrooms are going to hurt their plants. No, they will not, because they live off decaying organic matter, not living tissues. Then they worry about whether they’re poisonous. I never know whether the people are planning on eating the mushrooms or if they’re worried about pets. But I tell them always to assume that they could be, because that’s actually the truth. The only mushrooms you want to eat are the ones you buy in the grocery store.

Overly wet soils have caused many large trees to topple. As trees age some of their roots and inner limbs begin to die out. I’ve seen dozens of trees that have fallen in the past six or eight weeks – trees you might have thought to be sound. Fortunately, most were in parks and woodlands where they did little or no damage as they came down, but some have come crashing into houses and cars. Once that has happened it’s become quite obvious how challenged their roots had become. It’s best to have a certified arborist look at all of your trees periodically to watch for early signs of such problems.

Armyworms moved in following the early fall rains and cooler weather. They stripped bermuda lawns of all their leaf blades leaving the turf looking like it had been killed. Fortunately armyworms don’t bother the runners or roots and the grass has already started to green up again.

The incredible rainfall totals left many gardeners wondering if early September applications of fertilizer and pre-emergent granules might have been washed away. I must admit to wondering that, too. However, it’s far too late to apply either to our lawns now so we just move on to another day. The one exception would be that it’s time to fertilize cool-season grasses fescue and rye now, but for St. Augustine, bermuda, zoysia and buffalograss, wait for April.

Fungal leaf spots have shown up on many plants that we usually consider virtually fail-safe. Several of my dwarf yaupon hollies became almost bare a few weeks ago. It rained every day and I was unable to spray. However, the plants are now popping out handsome new leaves, so all is well. Along a similar line, several people have asked me about speckled leaves on their Shumard red oaks. That, too, is due to a fungal leaf spot that has moved in due to the rains. It’s too late to spray for it since the leaves will soon fall. New growth in the spring should be just fine.

If you’ve seen abnormal numbers of small branches littering the ground beneath your pecans, elms and other large shade trees, the trees have probably been visited by twig girdlers. The female beetles score the branches with their sharp mouth parts leaving only a small portion attached. They lay their eggs in the tip ends of the twigs. As the branches die and dry they become very absorbent. When fall rains soak into the dry wood they add weight until the twigs die and fall to the ground. The larvae develop in the dead twigs, then emerge as adult beetles to start the process over again. Pick up the twigs and discard them with your trash if you want to lessen he damage for next year.

Sprinkler systems’ pipes and valves may develop problems in very wet soils. If you have an old system that was constructed from PVC pipe, it’s possible that the expansive nature of our black clay soils might be able to push the aging glue joints apart. I’ve had to repair two breaks in my own system. It’s 37 years old, so that’s somewhat to be expected.

People are asking what to expect for fall color. Honestly, when trees are kept wet late into the fall it often spells continued growth and therefore poor fall color, but early signs of fall are fairly good, so we can always hold hope.

So then you might ask about wildflowers. How are they faring? The answer is that they’re growing quite well – but so are the weeds and native grasses. Our best wildflower displays normally come when there is consistent moisture, but not to the excessive amounts we’ve seen this fall. Keep your fingers crossed on this one.

Neil Sperry hosts“Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: