Cambrian: Opinion

Rains bring danger of fungi and root rot to gardens

Chickens meander up a path that is acting as a drain in a saturated garden.
Chickens meander up a path that is acting as a drain in a saturated garden. Special to The Cambrian

At last, the rain has come. The song by South African a cappella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo plays in my head.

Touring with Paul Simon in the late ’80s, the band’s African songs spoke of nature, politics and the human condition. The lyrics, sung in deep breathy tones, expressed the mixed emotions regarding rain; fear of drought, fear of flood — never enough and too much.

Rain, rain, rain, rain

Beautiful rain

Rain, rain, rain, rain

Beautiful rain.

Oh come, never come, oh come, never come

Oh come to me beautiful rain.

Those of us in Cambria have shared this feeling over the years, now reveling in the sweet moisture nurturing our gardens.

Forecasts predict more rain to come. During the break between storms, we have an opportunity to observe conditions around our houses and gardens to see whether improvements need to be made, redirecting runoff and improving proper drainage.

The pooling of water around your foundation may need attention, and the standing water around shrubs should be addressed. Sitting water in the garden creates an unhealthy environment for plants. Plants sitting in standing water are susceptible to root rot.

Root rot comes from fungi that exist in soil. The most common species include fusarium, pythium, phytophthora and rhizoctonia. These pathogens infect more than a thousand species of trees, vegetables, ornamentals and fruit. Spores of the fungi spread through water in the soil and infect roots and crowns (where roots flare). The disease attacks plants of all sizes; house plants to large trees. Fungal spores spread rapidly through soil and water, infecting roots and crowns. A plant infected by root rot most often displays wilted leaves, mushy stems and discoloration of the main stems turning yellow, brown, even red. Roots infected by root rot soften and turn mushy.

Preventing root and crown rot is easier than dealing with it after your plants are infected. If you have infected plants, it is worth the effort to try to save them by digging them up and removing the infected, soil around the roots. Discard by putting it into your green container. Do not compost it. Replant in new soil. If the infected plant is potted, remove the plant and disinfect pot with bleach diluted to a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Cut back infected roots and repot in clean soil.

Since “curing” a diseased plant is difficult, take the time to select plants that are not susceptible and properly prepare the area of planting so that conditions will not be conducive to infection. Add amendments to the soil, raise the planting site to avoid poor drainage, plant shrubs or trees at the level at which they were planted in the pot, group plants with those of similar needs for water, and remove soil that has built up, covering the crown (or “root flare”). If replanting in the area of previously infected plant, select plants that are tolerant of fungi causing root rot.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. She shares her garden and chickens online at and Email her with gardening questions at cambria\

Tip of the Month

On moist, clear mornings, get out and stroll through your garden. Be on the lookout for snail damage. They will be arriving soon.

Lay any potted plants that are getting overwatered with the winter rains on their sides. Empty saucers under plants so that outdoor potted plants will have an opportunity to drain. Stake any plants that have lain down in heavy rain or wind. A little care now will make your garden thrive.