By Lisa Rayburn, Area Agent- Commercial Fruits and Vegetables
As I am writing this article, it is a chilly 66oF and raining on June 15. The weather feels more like March than just a week before the summer solstice. I'm feeling confused and my garden is too. Let's look at the way this year's unusual weather is impacting our gardens.
Looking back, we had an unusually warm, mild winter. We made it through the winter with very little cold weather and only one snow event. This warm winter was followed by an unusually warm March. These high temperatures were coupled with unusually warm nights. This extended period of warm weather lured many farmers and gardeners, including myself, into planting early.
You may remember from a previous article I wrote that the last average frost in Onslow County is around April 7. That means half the time, the last frost occurs before this date and half the time, the last frost occurs after this date. So those of us who planted out warm season crops the end of March, first week of April were definitely playing the odds that a frost might still occur and damage our crops. And several frost events did threaten us.
Our unusually warm weather came to a sudden end with a frost advisory the night of April 9. We weren't out of the woods yet as we had another frost advisory on April 15-16 and even one more in May. These near-frost events were not at all unusual in their timing, but coming as they did after a long, warm period and early planting, there were lots of crops in the field to be at risk. Luckily, most of us scraped by without significant damage except in exposed locations or recently transplanted crops.
The balance of April was stormy and relatively cool, the 53rd coolest on record according to the state climate office. May was also wet and relatively speaking, cooler, ranking as the 13th coolest May since 1895. May continued to be turbulent - we had a frost advisory on May 10, followed by Tropical Storm Bertha, followed by more rain than we average in a month dumped in a week. What a wild ride!
Now, only two weeks into June, we've had a couple of days in the 90s followed by a week of unusually cool, wet weather again. The high temperature today is forecast to be 68o F here in Jacksonville.
What is the
impact of this on our gardens?
First and foremost, warm season crops are growing more slowly than we would expect. Even if you planted earlier than normal, your crops may not be ready to harvest as soon as you expect. Lower temperatures means slower plant growth and slower fruit development and ripening. Fruit that do ripen under these conditions are likely to be less flavorful and sweet. The upside is that the cooler temperatures have been great for cool season crops like leafy greens, cabbage and collards. Many of these plants are growing better than they would have if the temperatures had been higher.
All of this rain is leaching nutrients out of the soil and away from the plant's roots. You may need to fertilize a little more to keep plants vigorous. If you grow in containers, raised beds or sandy soils, a slow release fertilizer is a good option as it is less likely to leach than a granular or soluble formulation. If we get a period of dry weather, a soluble fertilizer will give your plants a quick pick-me-up but these formulations are easily leached out of containers and sandy soils during rain events. Adequate nutrition is critical to optimize yield and reduce the likelihood that your plants will succumb to disease.
Realize that you may lose some fruit set due to lack of pollination. Crops like squash, cucumbers and melons rely on insects to move pollen from one flower to the next. Bees don't fly under cool, rainy conditions and female flowers that are not pollinated will not grow into mature fruits. Even crops that are wind-pollinated like sweet corn will not pollinate well under cool wet conditions. Rain knocks pollen out of the air and prevents it from moving to the target location. Don't be surprised if you see problems down the road that relate back to poor pollination occurring now.
This rain is doing us no favors when it comes to disease development. Whether the raindrops are splashing fungal and bacterial leaf spot diseases from plant to plant, or soggy soils are setting plants up for root rots, the excess moisture isn't helping. Scout your garden, have diseases identified accurately, and consider using a fungicide, if appropriate, to protect your crop. Fungicides prevent diseases rather than controlling them once they have started. A fungicide applied prior to a period of rainy weather can go a long way towards protecting your crop. Most fungicides will not control bacterial diseases so accurate disease identification is critical for successful control. Make sure you read and follow all label directions.
Expect some initial wilting when conditions change from cool and wet to hot and dry. Plants will not be adapted to those conditions and will likely struggle for a week or two as they transition. Extended periods of wet weather can saturate the soil, damaging plant roots. These plants will exhibit stress when temperatures heat back up and the damaged root system is not able to keep up with the plant's moisture needs. If temperatures go from cool and wet to hot and sunny, plants will be struggling to keep up.
However, don't overlook the risk of root rot diseases. There are many pathogens that can take advantage of plants in wet soils. Bacterial and fungal root rots flourish in wet soils. If you have plants that are struggling, contact the extension office and accurately identify the disease so you can make adjustments for next season or the next crop.
Cool wet conditions can also exacerbate blossom end rot on crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants as well as fruit rots of cucurbits. Assuming that you have limed according to your soil sample report and your nutrition is on point, these diseases should improve with the weather conditions. If they don't, consider a soil sample to fine tune your fertility program and use calcium nitrate as a fertilizer source to provide additional plant-available calcium.
Finally, cool wet weather can cause pre-emergent herbicides to be less effective. If you applied trifluralin to control weeds, it may not do the job as well as it normally does. It may be leached out of the soil. Also, cool soil temperatures mean that some weeds, like crabgrass, will likely emerge later than expected, after the chemical is no longer effective. This holds true if you applied pre-emergent herbicides to your lawn as well.
Many of our programs have been cancelled due to COVID-19, but we will be scheduling some classes virtually and when possible, in person programs will be scheduled.
Thank you for your understanding, and we hope to see you soon!
Below are events we have going on now!
on the name of the event
you'd like more information for:
Every Wednesday, June 24th-July 29th, 2020
(First session is filled - please sign up for our waiting list)
Understand the natural processes at work on your property, so you can harness them to create a beautiful and healthy garden that is easier and less costly to maintain. The program uses the Landscape for Life Student Manual.
July 6th-July 10th, 2020
$20 per participant
We are offering a gardening camp for youth in Onslow County that you can do from home! The camp will offer daily activities for youth to complete during the week of July 6, 2020.
All the materials required for the activities will be included in the kit, and "how-to" videos and online meetings will be available for your children to interact with staff and Master Gardener Volunteers.
Some of the activities in the JMG camp include:
1) A homemade vermicomposter (composting with worms)
2) Hydroponics kit to grow your own herbs
3) Bee house for native nesting bees
4) Seed ball kit to make wildflower seed balls
And MUCH more!
Stay tuned to our social media pages and website for more upcoming classes & events!
Use your smart phone's camera to scan the QR code above to get the links to all of our social media pages, and websites!
Farms, Farmers Markets & Garden Centers are Open For Business
If you would rather do your grocery shopping at the farm or farmers market rather than the grocery store or if you want to find transplants and start growing your own vegetables, those options are available to you.
Farmers markets are spacing vendors further apart, encouraging produce to be pre-packaged, asking customers not to handle produce they aren't purchasing and making hand sanitizer readily available to customers and vendors.
practices to avoid COVID-19
DO NOT shop if you are sick, may be sick or
have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
Stand at least 6 feet apart.
Avoid high touch surfaces.
Wash or sanitize your hands regularly.
Avoid touching your face.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension has came up with a list of local
other local growers
that have fresh produce available for you!
Make sure you
as some of these businesses have chosen to close for their own reasons or may have limited hours or availability.
For resources in Onslow and surrounding counties,
For resources in the entire state of North Carolina,
Would you like to add your business to the list?
We're collecting as many contacts as possible from businesses, produce stands, farms, etc that have
produce, meat, dairy, or grains in North Carolina.
If this is something you would like to contribute to, submit your information now!
The Onslow County Farmers' Market has opened it's 2020 Season!
For more information on operation times, product availability, and vendor applications please
Like their Facebook page:
Saturday, April 18 - Nov 14
830am - 130pm
4024 Richlands Hwy, Jacksonville, NC
(Rain or Shine)
Tuesday, April 21- July 28
930am - 130pm
512 New Bridge St., Downtown Jacksonville, NC
(If weather permits)
Local Foods Coordinator
4024 Richlands Hwy, Jacksonville, NC
Our North Carolina Cooperative Extension - Onslow County Center has started a hashtag
to show our support of our Local Farmers, A
Community & Rural Development
Show your support by using
in your related Facebook and Instagram photos and posts!
Do you live in Onslow County and have garden-related questions?
Are you wondering why your plants are not looking great, or maybe want to know what a certain weed is?
The Plant Clinic is a free service through the NC Cooperative Extension and staffed by Extension Master Gardener Volunteers.
The physical clinic is currently
closed to the public
, but questions are being answered!
Let us know how we can help by:
*Due to COVID-19 our Master Gardeners are temporarily out of the office*
While you are there, you can post your questions to be answered by email using the "Ask an Expert' widget (
in the upper left hand corner).
Email a Master Gardener your questions or sample photos at
North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.