The weather this spring has certainly been erratic, going from calm and sunny to windy and stormy and back again. These winds have created havoc for outdoor events and celebrations, but they have also affected our yards and gardens.
Wind beats plants up. The wind flails leaves about, tearing the tissues and creating small holes in young, tender leaves. As the leaves grow bigger, the holes get bigger too, looking very much like chewing insects are doing the damage. When the wind is severe, some leaves may actually become shredded.
The leaves of squash, melon, and cucumber leaves are very bristly. When beaten about by wind, these bristles puncture leaf surfaces. This leads to small crusty patches that resemble a plant disease instead of typical wind injury. In sandy areas, the wind combined with fine sand particles can “sandblast” the stems and leaves of seedlings or transplants. This sandblasting abrasion can seriously damage young plants or outright kill them.
Dessication is another problem that occurs as a result of windy weather. Wind increases the loss of moisture through plant leaves. Even if the soil is adequately moist when a wind event occurs, the plant roots may not have grown enough to absorb all the water needed to keep up with what is being lost through the leaves. The result can be brown, crispy leaf margins or similarly necrotic spots between the veins on the leaves.
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The drying effect of wind can also cause the dessication of flowers, leading to a lack of fruit set. In addition, the activity of bee and other pollinating insects decreases when it is windy, also leading to a decrease in the number of fruit that develop.
Severe winds and hail can cause wounding and bruising of fruits and vegetables. Bruising is usually worse when the fruit is ripe or nearly ripe. If the fruit is soft, these injuries can easily provide entry to bacterial rot organisms. Remove and dispose of fruit with significant large bruises or soft spots so that potential rot diseases will not spread to healthy, unblemished fruit.
Herbicide injury is an unnatural consequence of winds. When a gardener applies an herbicide spray in their yard, even a very slight breeze can pick up the spray droplets and move the herbicide to unintended nearby plants or even plants much further away.
The phenoxy herbicides, such as 2,4-D, dicamba and mecoprop, commonly used for killing broadleaf weeds like dandelions are often the cause of herbicide damage found in local yards and gardens. These materials distort plant growth, causing twisted stems, cupped, feathered or distorted leaves, and curling of growth. The best way to avoid this type of damage is to use these herbicides only if needed, apply them when the wind is calm, and use a sprayer that applies large droplets instead of a fine mist.
It is interesting to point out that while wind can cause damage to our garden plants, slow their growth and reduce production, some wind stress can be helpful. Researchers have found that light wind, less than 5 miles per hour, can lead to plants with stronger, stockier stems. We can only hope we have seen the last of the extreme winds for this season, but what are the chances of that?
Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.