Saturday, May 26, 2018
Home and Garden

Heavy rains flood gardens, leaving gardeners to rethink how they plant

Earlier this year, during income tax season, I told my husband, "We really need to use our refund to replace the roof. It's time. Hurricane season's coming."

Our current roof was laid just as our baby girl was becoming a wobbly Homo erectus. Now she's tooling around the country in a box truck with a college degree, turquoise hair, and a boy who plays the accordion. I long for the security of a new roof.

But as tax season became hurricane season, my husband continued to brush aside my concerns.

"It's never a good idea to hire roofers during the hottest time of the year," he told me. "We'll wait."

On the first full day of Debby's deluge nearly two weeks ago, we stood in the kitchen looking out at my drowning, wind-whipped garden.

"I guess you're thanking me now we didn't start replacing the roof yesterday," he said with that baffling logic of husbands.

There's no way to anticipate everything life tosses at us, but in the garden at least, we have a pretty good idea what to expect as one season slides into the next.

During Debby's wet and windy onslaught, Florida gardeners quickly noted what they'd done right — and wrong. Since we've got another two or three months of summer storms, and another five of hurricane season, I thought I'd share some of their lessons from Debby:

Laura Barber of South Tampa: The previous owner of this home planted sweetgum trees in a line on the side of the house. Even during mild winds, the limbs break and fall everywhere. I hope they don't land on the roof or sail through a window!

Lots of people had falling limbs that crushed plants and generally made a mess. But I also saw a few comments like this: "So glad I had the dead limbs trimmed a few weeks ago!"

Professional tree and palm trimming can be an investment, but I figure it's preferable to pay less up front for prevention than deal with heartache later.

Please be careful when hiring tree trimmers and don't just go for the cheapest deal! Mistakes in trimming aren't just an aesthetic misstep; they can be a waste of money at best, dangerous at worst.

Make sure the company is licensed, bonded and insured, ask for references and investigate it online. An arborist is the best way to go.

To find reputable tree-trimming companies visit the International Society of Arboriculture's website,

Susan Gillespie of Riverview: In the spring I should have added way more mulch (I ran out of mulch money). The rain makes everything sprout, and that includes weeds. I have a lot. On the bright side, they are a glorious, pretty green color.

Mulch is essential. It helps hold water in our soil (or sand), protects roots from intense heat and cold, and when it biodegrades, it feeds our dirt. It also helps suppress weeds. I like pine bark nuggets for their look and environmental sustainability, and they don't form an impenetrable mat like some shredded mulches.

Don't use cypress mulch. Cypress trees are essential to the environment and the mulch has an aggravating tendency to form those mats. You can find a nice run-down of your options at this University of Florida Web page:

Melaleuca (the punk tree) is an invasive species, so using mulch from these trees makes you an environmental hero. Forestry Resources Inc. produces FloriMulch, made entirely from melaleuca. It's termite-resistant, state-certified nematode-free and — best of all — cheap. A 1.5 cubic-foot bag sells for $1.98 at Lowe's. Not all stores carry it so call ahead.

Lisa Broward of Karma Acres Farm in Callahan: Thank God for raised beds.

I saw lots of comments about how well raised beds fared with all the rain. Lisa lives near Jacksonville, which had 12.56 inches on June 25 and 26 alone — an all-time record for that city.

The reason most of us use raised beds for vegetables and herbs is because we can fill them with good dirt and avoid the never-ending process of amending sand. Who knew they could also be a lifesaver in a flood?

For helpful information on creating raised beds, visit this page from the University of Florida's "Solutions for Your Life" website:

Me! (of Town 'N Country): I brought my desert roses inside — they're succulents so I figured they wouldn't do well with all the water. But I left some heavy dish gardens filled with beautiful succies outdoors to fend for themselves.

Most fared well; I pot cactus and succulents in well-draining containers with a half-and-half mix of potting soil and perlite, so they didn't sit in all that water.

Sadly, my prize — a concrete Roman head with half her cranial cavity scooped out for planting, suffered. A partial skull isn't the best-draining container. My girl now has a big bald spot.

As for the roof, it held up, thank goodness. But after the storm, while our neighbors were cleaning up fallen branches from their yards, we were picking up shingles.

My husband thinks it's time to get it replaced.

Penny Carnathan can be reached at [email protected] Find more garden stories at or join in the local gardening chat on Facebook. Look for Diggin Florida Dirt.