Wet weather can have an impact any time of year

This has been a mild winter. We haven’t had any snow or at least none that has stuck to the ground. We also haven’t had a night below 20 that I recall. That’s a far cry from last winter.

Trees and shrubs are flowering almost a month before they normally do. Peaches are blooming. Ornamental pears have already started. Many red maples have already finished blooming and daffodils are in full bloom. Mosquitoes have made their appearance in significant numbers.

There is one similarity to last winter though. The last several months have been very wet. Last winter was one of the wettest I have ever experienced here. It was so wet I lost a 20-year-old white pine tree.

Northeastern North Carolina escaped the hurricanes of last fall, so our soils weren’t saturated for long periods like those from Little Washington southward. Recently we have been making up for it. Ditches are full. My yard looks like an impoundment.

A week ago, folks were discussing the spring planting season. Their reasoning that it was near was based on the mild winter. Water plays a big role in any type of agriculture at any time of the year.

Water is a unique substance. It has a high heat capacity. That means it takes a lot of energy to change its temperature. We can have warm days, but soil temperatures will remain cold for a long time if they’re wet.

Furthermore, soils can’t be worked if they are wet. Our flat terrain causes our soils to collect water even if they are sandy. Naturally, clay soils have greater water problems.

Long-term forecasts continue to predict a wet spring. Regardless of air temperatures, this will signal later planting times. We shouldn’t rush things. If soils are too wet and soil temperatures are too cold, we shouldn’t plant flowers, vegetable gardens or anything else.

Planting in wet soils compacts the ground and destroys soil structure. This will hamper drainage and if weather becomes dry it will hinder water uptake as well. Roots won’t develop properly if they can’t obtain oxygen either. The bottom line is that plants will suffer whenever people try to stretch the season on the front end.

Soil is a collection of different sized particles. Clay soils have tiny particles. Therefore, spaces between particles are small. Small spaces hold water. Larger spaces, like those on sandy soils, will hold air. The sandier the soil the less likely its structure will be destroyed by tilling it when it is wet.

That said, plants still will not thrive when roots can’t obtain oxygen. Roots won’t get any if the soil is saturated with water. Furthermore, wet soil is cold soil. Phosphorus uptake is important for seedling growth, and it is limited in cold soils.

There is an old saying that patience is a virtue. It certainly is. I’m as sick of all this rain as anyone. However, it’s only the end of February. I might be a little nervous if we were facing this situation in mid to late May. It’s too early to panic.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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3 Responses to Wet weather can have an impact any time of year

  1. tonytomeo says:

    It seems to have been odd in several places. Some got more rain. Some got more frost. We got a bit more frost, but we don’t get much anyway. We have only one rainy season.

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