Torrential Rains And Plants: What To Do If Rain Is Knocking Down Plants

By: Kristi Waterworth

Rain is as important to your plants as sun and nutrients, but like anything else, too much of a good thing can spell trouble. When rain is knocking down plants, gardeners despair, worried that their precious petunias will never be the same. Although plants flattened by rain are a troubling sight, torrential rains and plants have been co-existing for thousands of years — healthy plants are perfectly capable of managing rain damage.

Will Plants Recover from Rain Damage?

Heavy rain damage on plants may leave them looking like they’ve been flattened to within an inch of their lives, but if you take a closer look at stems and branches, you’ll notice something amazing — most of those rain damaged parts are bent, not broken. Your plants may look terrible, but their flexibility saved them from a monstrous rain storm. If instead they remained rigid in the face of such an intense beating, their tissues would have broken or cracked, causing important transportation pathways to be severed.

A few days to a week after a damaging storm, your plants will perk back up. Sometimes flowers are damaged and leaves slightly torn, but your plants will replace these injured areas much faster than it seems possible if you leave them alone to do it. Don’t try to prop plants that are rain-flattened, since this can lead to additional damage. Let them be and watch them come back from their beating.

Help for Rain Damaged Plants

Healthy plants can take a good pounding from the rain and will come back for more, but if your plants have been over fertilized or are planted in an area where the light is really too low for them, you may have a problem. Under these conditions, your plants may have developed leggy, weak growth that was unable to flex enough to protect them from damage.

If your plant stems are broken, rather than bent, you can help them recover by removing severely damaged tissues within a week after the damaging rain. This makes room for new leaves and shoots, and helps prevent the damaged, browning tissues from encouraging disease. In the future, perform a soil test before fertilizing and make sure that your plants are getting enough light to develop strong stems and branches.

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Ask a Question forum→Bleach damage in my garden

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All's not lost yet but it's going to be tricky to fix. I asked my geochemist daughter and this is what she says:

Bleach is a very strong base. You might want to get a Ph soil test kit. Use distilled water and take your soil sample down by the roots of the plants, not on the soil surface.

The bleach needs to be washed out of the soil but, as you have probably noticed when you get bleach on your hands, it doesn't wash off easily. Her thoughts are that you water a lot and see if that helps. The bleach, as it breaks down, has introduced a lot of salt into your soil - it may be a matter of flushing the salts out.

Next thought: This is the desperation move and shouldn't be tried until you have exhausted the water option. Try to neutralize the bleach by adding a small amount of vinegar (mixed maybe half and half with water) to the garden and water some more. You don't want to cause too fast a reaction so small amounts of vinegar. By adding vinegar, you are hurrying the breakdown of the bleach along. Your soil may suddenly be too acidic, too salty, or hot (from the chemical reaction of mixing a base with an acid) - that would result in plants with BBQ'd roots. She also notes that this is not a chemical reaction you want to start in your house as you will be creating chlorine gas.

I personally would water, water, water. As your plants are not dead after two months, they have a good chance of surviving this. Hopefully, your neighbor will think twice about using bleach on his patio in the future. I'm surprised he didn't kill himself.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada

If you get to this point, you will want to do a lot more pH changing than I did, but my opinionated advice is to try to apply it to the soil and not the foliage, and perhaps one-quarter vinegar might be better. You could always repeat the application, too. Vinegar will drain through the soil with rain and watering much easier than bleach will.

I might also suggest that once your "adventure" is through, and you are kind of back to normal, realize that most of the soil flora has been killed off. This leaves a huge imbalance to a healthy soil that should be a living, vibrant community of myriads of soil organisms. Consider re-inoculating it with shovelfuls of healthy soil from another part of your yard or nearby.

How close are your plants to where the bleach was being used? I'm having a hard time imagining how the patio cleaning is affecting plants not right in the path of the runoff. (but that may be because I live in the middle of nowhere. )

The same thought occurred to me as Sandy, how come it affected such a large area. Did he somehow spray the stuff in all directions?

This University of Maryland Extension article suggests using gypsum:

"Excess chloride can build up in the soil from swimming pool run off, irrigation water, or excess soil salts (sodium chloride). Chlorine (Cl) converts to chloride (Cl-) in the soil and is absorbed by plants in this form. Chloride toxicity is most common in irrigated, dry regions, seacoast areas, and near roads frequently treated with salt in the wintertime. Chloride levels can be reduced with the use of gypsum. Incorporate gypsum into the soil at a rate of 58 lbs. per 1000 square feet, in loam soils. Less gypsum is needed in sandy soils, more in heavy clay soils. Water thoroughly to leach toxic levels of chlorine from the soil."

I agree with Rick, I would go easy on the vinegar, if strong enough it is used as a herbicide itself. I've used it at one teaspoon per litre of water to temporarily lower soil pH but I would be hesitant to go any higher. Another option would be to ask your own local Extension office for advice.

Another fabulous soil amendment that really enhances the new growth of micro-organisms is alfalfa pellets. You can buy it in 50lb. bags as horse food. You can add that to the compost, don't use it exclusively or your neighbor will break out his bleach buckets again (it smells a bit like a stable if you leave it on the soil surface).

You only have a month or two before cold weather will be shutting down a lot of your active growth, so to see improvement in the soil and the stressed plants' condition I'd start collecting your supplies right away.

If you get the chance to speak to the neighbor again about cleaning his patio, advise him that about 1/4 cup of bleach in a 5 gallon bucket would have done the same job without nuking the surrounding neighborhood. Also ask him to rinse that patio off into his own yard, not yours? A power-washer and plain water is another, much better cleaning method.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill

Lots of water to flush the soil is still the best option. The bleach has been there for at least two months - it is breaking down into salt (table salt to be exact) and water. That's what's causing the root burn.

Adding vinegar will speed up the process but the end result is always the same: Salt. Flush the soil with lots of water.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming. "WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada

The ideas about diluting it a lot, distributing it uniformly, and keeping stronger vinegar off the foliage also sound right to me.

I agree that sodium hypochlorite ("regular" bleach) is a strong base in the oxidation-reduction sense, but I didn't realize it was also an acid-base base.

If the soil pH is still basic after thorough flushing, for example if the flushing water is also basic, some soil acidification wouldn't hurt. If the issue is no longer urgent after flushing, you could also do some long-term acidification with agricultural sulfur. Soil microbes turn that elemental sulfur very slowly into dilute sulfuric acid, which instantly combines with basic soil to release sulfate ions, which plants can use as a micro-nutrient.

I wonder what hydroponic people use to raise pH instantly? Very dilute nitric or sulfuric acid?

I used to basify solutions (I'm pretty sure that "base-ify" is not a word!) using a very little hydrated lime greatly diluted in water. That can be as potent a base as sulfuric acid is an acid, but using only very little, and letting it sit sealed with water for a few weeks before using, moderates it's strength.

I think I'd try the vinegar in the hose-end sprayer, very dilute, only drench the soil first and see how that works. Then flush, then amend heavily to restore the soil goodies.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill

But you know, it seems odd that Bleach would have that devastating of an effect.
Folks use high concentrates of bleach to pressure wash their houses, and plants &
shrubs are typically growing at the foundation of the house with no ill effects.

Could your neighbor have used Round-up or heavy duty weed killers on his pavers?
I've seen some of the extra strength weed killers, kill large trees and everything it came
in contact with. I sprayed some on some really tough weeds and the wind took
it to close to a Rose a Sharon bush, and it died rather quickly.

>> We first noticed a problem along the fencing of the perimeter of his yard but now the damage seems to be migrating and affecting our cherry tree and other larger bushes. It has also damaged a wisteria vine (I didn't think you could hurt those:)).
His neighbor on the other side of his house is experiencing the same damage.

The trade-off might favor "do whatever you can to get those chemicals moving somewhere ELSE", over "don't drown the roots of already-stressed plants". If the OP has poor drainage, it might be a painful decision.

We have not asked: was that "old fashioned chlorine bleach" (sodium hypochlorite, very nasty) or new-style "oxygen bleach" ?
Even the neighbor might not know!

Looking it up, I see that:
"Liquid oxygen bleach" is actually diluted hydrogen peroxide. (very safe, DON'T add vinegar. No salts, so don't flush.)
"Powdered oxygen bleach" actually has the active ingredients sodium perborate or sodium precarbonate. (. Salty for sure.)

The I also read that they are said-to-be less toxic and more environmentally safe. I might not always believe that without some substantiation, but in this case, since the alternative is sodium hypochlorite, I'm inclined to believe them.

I assumed that the last-ditch suggestion to add a strong acid to counteract a strong base was based on assuming sodium hypochlorite bleach. But then, the oxidizing agents in "oxygen bleach" are also bases (in the redox sense), so vinegar might affect them also.

Really, I don't know, I'm just extrapolating the suggestion from Daisy's geochemist daughter.

But if the neighbor seems inclined to bleach his patio regularly, I would buy him a big jug of "liquid oxygen bleach" or a small jug of 20% hydrogen peroxide, if that's cheaper.

And bravo to the idea of "flush it onto your OWN yard. " , excpet that it does seem to diffuse out over time.

Another thing we didn't ask, those who favor flushing the heck out of the abused soil: where it will be flushing TO? Who or what is down-slope?

Pests, diseases and fungal issues

In the coming weeks, you're likely to see a cornucopia of garden nasties, as wet weather tends to bring them out of hiding.

Aphids are likely to be the most active pest in your garden post-rain. They present as little black, green or brown dots on your plant, and because they suck the sap out of your plant, sometimes new growth may appear distorted or stunted. If you see ladybugs or ants on your plant, chances are they're there because you have an aphid infestation! The best way to treat this is with Amgrow Pyrethrum.

If you notice yellowing or blackening foliage or that plants are drooping, root rot may have set in as a result of the soil being too wet for an extended period. Spray a systemic fungicide such as Yates Anti Rot onto leaves as directed.

Another fungal problem that rears its ugly head in the wet is powdery mildew. Appearing as a mottled white cast on foliage, this mouldy misfit is best treated with an application of eco-fungicide.

Watch the video: Why Do Plants Grow So Well in the Rain u0026 How Can We Copy it

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