Protect Plants From Hail Damage

How to protect your plants and what to do after the storm.

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Hail damage can devastate a backyard garden.

Garden Damaged by Hail

Hail damage can devastate a backyard garden.

Hail damage can devastate a backyard garden.

Ice falling from the sky during the heat of summer seems like the stuff of science fiction, but hail is a serious concern for gardeners in the late spring and throughout the summer. Hail is a product of he combination of thunderstorm clouds, warm surface temperatures and the resulting updrafts strong enough to push moisture into the upper atmosphere, where it freezes before falling to earth. Ranging in size from small pellets to the size of golf balls or even larger, the effects on this weather anomaly can be devastating to the garden, especially early in the season when plants are still developing.  In some cases, crop loss is all but inevitable, but knowing how to prepare when hail can be predicted or how to clean up when it can’t can mean the difference between total crop loss or a bountiful summer in the garden.

If hail is in the forecast

It is possible to avoid or at least minimize damage to the garden. If available,  greenhouse tunnels, typically used to extend the start of the growing season, can be used to cover plants. For the rest of us, makeshift canopies can be fashioned using tented tarps, screens or even blankets to shield delicate plants from an impending storm. Crops planted along a fence line can be protected by leaning a sheet of plywood or rigid plastic over plants against the fence. In difficult to navigate garden configurations, buckets or trash cans placed over individual plants and weighted down using tones or bricks can be used to shield them from destructive hail.

Unfortunately, hail storms often hit without warning 

And can leave plants severely damaged, breaking stems, tearing through leaves and compacting soil.  Plants can be injured beyond recovery and surviving crops may face an uphill battle as lingering damage can leave plants susceptible to disease and pests. In the wake a hail storm, give the soil a day or so to dry and allow the plants to regain composure before assessing the long-term impact.

  • Clean up debris. Clearing out the detritus will make it easier to assess damage to plants and will minimize the spread of disease to surviving plants.  
  • Remove damaged foliage. Trim damaged leaves as needed, but leave as much behind as possible. The more leaves left intact, the quicker the recovery of the plant as it gets back to the business of photosynthesis.
  • Prune damaged branches and stems. Hail damage to branches and stems is unlikely to leave a clean wound. Torn or broken branches and stems promote disease and leave the plant prone to pest damage and should be cut off to allow the plant to more efficiently heal.
  • Remove and replace severely damaged plants. If the plant has lost all of its foliage or damage to stems or branches is too extreme, the plant is unlikely to recover. If a plant isn’t going to make it, it may be time to make room for new plants in the garden.

Long-term care during the recovery of a hail-damaged garden is crucial. If soil has been compacted, the garden may benefit from a fresh layer of mulch. Plants should be watered regularly, but avoid overwatering. Finally, once new growth has been detected, fertilizer may be judiciously applied to aid in foliage development. 

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