There are several natural rules that apply to yard and garden tasks.

When pulling a water hose a great distance, it always kinks way back by the spigot, never within easy reach. If your spade spears a tuber while digging potatoes, it’s the nicest, largest one of the hill. The reddest, most appealing apples are located a few inches beyond your farthest reach, even on tiptoes.

And no two growing seasons are alike. How would you rate this gardening season? In many ways it was less than ideal, challenging us to keep the sunny attitude that working with plants normally brings about.

Avoiding harsher terms, I’ll call the 2019 growing season the “yo-yo year,” reflecting the season’s wide swings in growing conditions. Spring came late and heavy winter snows took weeks to melt, keeping soil cold and soggy. My wife, Mary, and I didn’t get our vegetable garden planted until June 8, which was weeks later than the usual preferred window of May 15-25.

Although it had been very wet previously, a lack of rain after planting made the soil too dry for seed germination, requiring watering to coax seeds to sprout. Then the weather warmed, producing weeks of heat and humidity that potentially would boost tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and other crops that require warmth, possibly catching them up after spring’s late start.

Heat and lack of rain caused many midsummer lawns to become brown and semi-dormant. Then the rains came in an all-or-nothing pattern, and soil alternated between too wet and too dry, causing hard-baked, cracked ground.

The midsummer heat that was benefiting warm season crops gave way to a cool August. Tomatoes, cucumbers and similar crops were late, but most gardeners reported plentiful harvests. Long-season, warm-loving crops like watermelon and muskmelon were skimpy, however.

Wet, heavy, blizzard-proportion snows in October weighed especially heavy on trees and shrubs, as most were still in full leaf. Trees bending nearly double, branch breakage and shrubs splitting apart were common around the region.

Although this growing season would probably be considered less than ideal for some vegetables, flower gardens bloomed beautifully, with some perennial gardens the showiest they’ve been in years. Plentiful winter snow had protected perennials well.

The 2019 season included multiple storms across the regions that damaged many trees, such as this crab apple tree as seen June 29 in south Fargo. Forum file photo
The 2019 season included multiple storms across the regions that damaged many trees, such as this crab apple tree as seen June 29 in south Fargo. Forum file photo

Besides the yo-yo weather, what were the greatest issues of the 2019 growing season?

  1. The extended cold winter caused branch dieback on some younger trees, including Autumn Blaze maple, honeylocust and some varieties of hybrid elm.
  2. Prolonged snow cover promoted snow mold disease on many lawns.
  3. Voles, the short-tailed field mice, continued at cyclical highs, damaging lawns, trees, shrubs and underground vegetables in many areas.
  4. Rabbit damage was epidemic last winter, as rabbits climbed high on deep snow to damage the upper branches of fruit trees and shrubs.
  5. Ash anthracnose, a fungus disease that defoliates ash trees, was prevalent, intensified by the cool, wet spring.
  6. Green cankerworms attacked trees in greater numbers through midsummer.
  7. Iron deficiency chlorosis continued to cause yellow foliage and weak growth on Autumn Blaze and other maples.
  8. Tree damage from lawn herbicides has become an increasingly alarming problem.
  9. Stem girdling roots and too-deep planting were increasingly diagnosed as causes of decline on trees aged 10-20 years.
  10. Fireblight on apple trees was more common this year than in recent decades.
  11. Tomato blossom end rot was prevalent, worsened by the uneven soil moisture caused by erratic rainfall.
  12. Spotted winged drosophila and sap beetles continued to plague raspberries, strawberries and cherries.
  13. Slugs went wild in the late summer, favored by moisture.
  14. Apple scab on flowering crabs was common, causing leaf-spotting, yellowing and premature defoliation on susceptible cultivars.
  15. Summer storms injured many trees, with damage ranging from fallen branches to total tree destruction.
  16. Blights and leaf diseases, including gray powdery mildew, were worsened by humidity and rain.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.