Sixth wettest May in recorded Kansas City history poses issues for NEJC plants this summer

Tomato plants haven't been growing as vigorously as usual on account of the cool weather and excess rain.
Tomato plants haven’t been growing as vigorously as usual on account of the cool weather and excess rain.

Just last year, eastern Kansas was still struggling with abnormally dry conditions that had parched the ground for several seasons.

This spring, though, the area is plagued by the opposite issue: too much moisture too quickly.

May was the sixth wettest month on record in Kansas City history, with 10.25 inches of precipitation falling. The average precipitation for May is just 5.23 inches. All those rainy days put a strain on area stormwater infrastructure, but they also put plants at heightened risk as summer’s hot weather arrives.

Because the heavy clay soil found in northeast Johnson County is slow to drain, excess moisture in the soil can do damage to the root systems of plants.

“Weakened roots lead to weakened plants,” said Dennis Patton of K-State Research and Extension of Johnson County. “If we turn hot and dry this summer the plants can suffer more rapidly as they just will not have as extensive of a root system to pick up water and support all the lush growth as a result of the rains.”

Gardeners may see the impacts of all this rain and cooler weather in the form of slowed growth for hot-weather crops like tomatoes and peppers.

“They are more or less just sitting there,” Patton said. “The issue is simply excess moisture excludes oxygen from the soil and healthy roots need a good balance of oxygen and water.”

On the plus side, because May’s rain was relatively spread out — as opposed to coming in the form of torrential downpours that can cause flash flooding — flood issues in northeast Johnson County were kept at a minimum. And all the rain helped replenish subsurface moisture that had been strained over the course of several dry years.

“The good news is much of the rain came slower and steady,” Patton said. “It also rained often and more lightly, that means that rain had time to soak into the soil.”