Hail

It’s an event more dreaded than frost. It never comes at a good time, unless, maybe, you were looking for a reason to start all over again.

The hail storm that devastated gardens, stripped trees of both leaves and fruits, and piled feet deep in parts of Colorado Springs was especially shocking following such a spectacular and productive spring.

Even when you know what needs to happen following a hail storm, the trauma of such loss can leave a person feeling overwhelmed. That’s why I was so glad to recieve an email from Larry Stebbins of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens with a list of reminders. His calm voice can be read below.

“Here are a few tips:
  • Pick damaged fruit (even if immature) from your fruit trees and discard them to your compost pile
  • Trim back your annual flowers (if there is anything left) and fertilize lightly with diluted fish emulsion and seaweed extract.
  • Veggies can usually recuperate faster than some things in your garden so you may wish to wait a few days to see if they will spring back.
  • If the veggie plant is stripped of its leaves it is still early enough in the season to replant.  Squash, cucumbers and beans should be replanted now. Tomato and pepper plants take a long time to recover so don’t wait too long before deciding if it worth keeping them.
  • Leafy crops like spinach and lettuce might come back if the damaged outer leaves are removed. In one week if the plant is not looking like it will recover to your expectations then replant.
  • If your garlic is stripped of most of its leaves you have two choices: pick now and eat as a green garlic (still yummy but will not store) or lightly fertilize and hope they grow until harvest come early to mid July.
  • Onions will come back so be patient . Trim off the severely shredded leaves but keep as many on the plant as you can.
  • If some of your shrubs were damaged you should carefully remove the minimum number of leaves and branches to make the plant look acceptable. It should grow back.
  • Another tip is to stake up some of your recovering plants and where possible put a one to two inch dried grass mulch around the base of the plant. Lettuce will respond nicely to this extra support and care.
  • Plants whose leaves have been knocked into the soil by the hail can be allowed to dry out a day or two then gently lift the leaves from the soil so it can begin to regrow.”

Granted, most of these tips are for vegetable gardens, but it speaks to the resilience of both plants and gardeners, and gives strategies that can be applied in both productive and ornamental garden.

To this list I would also add:

  • Give the garden several days to rest. It will then show you quite clearly what is mortally damaged and what will recover.
  • Seaweed extract, applied as a foliar spray, is an excellent tonic for traumatized plants.
  • Learn to live with the tattered look. Even battered leaves, if still pliant and vital, are feeding the plant and helping it to recover, at least for a while. As damaged leaves yellow or otherwise decline, remove them.
  • Try not to take it personally. Look, instead, at what’s still doing well, learn something, and see what opportunities can come of the loss.

Penstemon strictus and P. eatonii the morning after a hail storm shattered other plants.

To plan for minimal damage from hail (yes, it can be done), consider using plants native to the plains and foothills of Colorado or ones that look similar. Avoid using plants with broad, tender leaves (hosta in particular). Cabbage-type plants, like Crambe, arching leaves, like daylilies, and the buds of both hemerocalis (daylilies) and oriental lilies are also particularly vulnerable.

The buds on these oriental lilies were still small, and most will survive, though some have dings.

Standing outside shouting “DON’T HAIL!” doesn’t work.

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