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Over the Garden Fence

Vegetable garden tips for after a rain

When it finally rains after a dry spell, it is such a relief and gives gardeners a few days off before the watering patrol kicks in again. Our plants get the dust and dirt washed off, foliage perks up, and if the flowers were on the dry side, foliage colors return to normal.

More than just our flowers benefit. Every tree, shrub, evergreen, groundcover and the lawn are happier. The vegetable garden is going to be a big benefactor of that natural rain too. Once vegetables that produce a flower, then a fruit or pod, realize there is a good amount of soil moisture available, those fruits and pods become more uniform in size and develop quickly.

While on vegetables, a reminder that vine crops will produce the male flowers first and usually nearer the crown with female flowers showing up farther along the vine, so do not panic. Another bit of useful knowledge is that if conditions are not right to produce a female flower, male flowers continue to be produced so when conditions improve there will always be a male flower with fresh pollen available.

Before leaving vegetables, tomato fruit skin splitting needs to be discussed. In drying weather, tomatoes develop slowly and at some point, the skin matures and is no longer elastic. When the rain shows up, the tomato plant will absorb soil moisture and pushes it upwards in the fruit causing the skin to split. The remedy is picking those mature fruits just prior to the rain. These fruits will ripen off the plant and have full flavor and nutrient content.

There are, as in most things in nature, some potentially bad things as a result of rain. If mulch was recently applied, that mulch and especially the wood chips it contains are easily floated away and can end up on the sidewalk and in the lawn and even the street. Recovery off a hard surface is much easier than raking up the lawn at least.

Within a few days of a natural rain, weed seeds have begun to germinate and provide a whole new crop of weed seedlings that need to be dealt with. By then, the soil has dried a bit and plants themselves should have been dry within a day after the rain. It is safe to get in there and lightly work the soil, getting those weed seedlings while it is easy. A good example of a grassy weed will be crabgrass. Crabgrass can and will germinate all summer in open ground. Oxalis and purslane are a couple more that can show up regularly.

As mentioned above, gardeners should avoid getting back into the garden while the plants are wet as those are ideal conditions to spread foliage diseases from plant to plant down the row.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.