Rainy summer was more of a perk than problem for gardeners

Kendra Meinert

GREEN BAY - What gardeners may have lacked in their raspberry crop or climbing roses this summer they likely gained on their water bill.

A season that got off to a cool, slow start in spring and then delivered rain showers on a near-daily basis in June and July had both its perks and problems. The overriding theme was certainly wet, and whether it was a blessing or a curse, probably depended on what you were growing.

Cheryl Williams, a volunteer with the Brown County UW Extension offices community gardens program, works in the Maple and Augusta Streets community garden Wednesday in Green Bay.

Most perennials loved it. Annuals and container plants worked around it. Some fruit and vegetable crops were harmed by it.

It was one of the wettest seasons Vijai Pandian can recall in his 10 years as horticultural agent and educator for Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension.

“It looked a lot like Seattle or Oregon. Almost every day or night it rained,” he said. “Many plants had a bit of a struggle to get going this season. The soil was too saturated with moisture.

"I think rain is a blessing, but too much rain, it can be a nightmare," he said. "On a positive side, gardeners didn't have to water that much, so they can save quite a bit on their water bills this year."

Raindrops, like these on a tropical canna, were a frequent accent in the garden this summer.

One of the downsides to persistent wet conditions was an increase in fungal diseases. It caused root rot issues with raspberries, prompting many gardeners to complain about stunted or declining plants. Fruit crops such as apples, pears and plums were also affected by an increased number of diseases, particularly apple scab, which ruins fruit quality and causes non-resistant apple trees and ornamental crab trees to lose much of their foliage by mid-summer.

“This is not a good year for backyard orchard gardeners,” Pandian said.

Even something as simple as walking through the garden was risky business. Foot traffic on ground that is overly wet compacts the soil and causes problems for plant roots. While harvesting peppers and tomatoes during wet conditions, many gardeners also inadvertently spread fungal diseases by foot, Pandian said.

All those pesky Japanese beetles gardeners saw this summer, feasting on everything from roses and hibiscus to grapes and lindens? Expect to see even more next year.

“All this wet weather we had helps the beetles to lay their eggs in the ground,” he said. “They need moist soil to lay their eggs. This is perfect conditions for them.” 

The growing season's wet conditions made fungal diseases more prevalent. Some raspberries, for example, suffered from root rot.

At Green Bay Botanical Garden, it proved an interesting season to undertake planting its new 2.5-acre Grand Garden, which opened this month. On one hand, plentiful rains took care of watering any new plants — something that can be a daunting task in the heat of summer. On the other, the ground was often wetter than the garden’s horticultural staff would’ve liked.