TONY MELTON: Plants, like people, want to live

October 1, 2018

Hurricane Florence was aptly named because most of the damage was from just below Florence, S.C., northward into North Carolina. In South Carolina this storm had a personality of its own, unlike Matthew. There was no dramatic falling of trees, just some wind, a lot of rain, and the worst of all flooding.

It is now two weeks after and the rivers, creeks, and streams have just started to decline below flood stage. However, if the roads were not washed away or flooded most South Carolinians not living in flood zones would give a sigh of relief and under their breath say, “I hate it for them but I am glad it hit North Carolina.” However, we do have a lot of damage in South Carolina on farms and rural areas hidden from most city folks.

Since most of the water has receded, many folks want to know what all the water will do to their plants. Again, I say plants and people have much in common.

First, the babies and the elderly are always affected worse by any devastating event. Plants that have not been planted long enough to establish a good root system tend to drown quickly. Since roots like people must breathe to stay alive and function, the larger the root system the more of a chance some of the roots will have enough oxygen to live and not rot. These roots may be enough to keep the plant going until more roots are produced to take the place of the rotted roots. Even though the old or elderly plants usually have a large root system, when their roots are damaged they are very slow at regenerating new roots to take the place of rotted roots. Many times, this effort of regenerating roots is too much for an elderly tree to handle, causing the tree to die.

Next, some plants love the water, some tolerate it, and some just hate it. Some plants, like bald cypress, excel in wet conditions; some plants, like river birches, like wet conditions, and some plants, like dogwoods, hate wet conditions.

Next, middle aged plants tend to have more resilience or what I call spunk than babies or elderly plants. They seem to have what I call “a greater will to live and the energy to overcome the bumps in life.” However, it would be much better for the plants that this flooding event did not happen but hopefully most of our plants will overcome and survive. P.S. Don’t expect large trees and shrubs to die immediately from the flood. Like people, plants want to live and leave a legacy. Maybe next spring or even a year or two later, they may leaf out and flower prettier than ever and produce a large amount of fruit and seed and then give up the ghost and die.

Finally, let’s look on the bright side, replace damaged plants, and remember that plants and people like fall and the Fall Plant & Flower Festival. Planting in the fall will allow trees and shrubs to produce an adequate root system so they can withstand the excessive heat of next summer. Our relatively warm winter temperatures allow roots to grow all winter long. This is one of the reasons the Pee Dee Fall Plant & Flower Festival is Oct. 5-7 at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market. Open Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to give you a chance to pick that perfect plant for that perfect place in your yard. The Florence County Master Gardeners will have a booth in the center of the building to give you advice on choosing, planting, and growing that perfect plant.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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