Preventing Hail Damage
Protecting Your Garden and Your Investment from Mother Nature
When a hailstorm sends you running for cover, or has you rushing to put your car in a sheltered place, your plants are stuck in the garden. If you’re lucky, the storm will pass through with only a few bruised leaves. A big hailstorm, however, can decimate tender plants and strip trees of their leaves in a matter of minutes.
Preparing for a storm
The first step of prevention is keeping an eye on the weather forecast so you can prepare your garden before the hail starts. If a hailstorm is predicted, you can prepare your garden before you leave home for the day, and can plan ahead instead of needing to run through the storm to save your plants. For low growing plants, use row covers to slow or stop the hail. Large or prolonged hail can rip through Agribon or Tufflite, but even the hail that breaks through the cover will have less damaging effects than if you do not use a row cover.
When installing a row cover for storm protection, only put it up for the day of the storm and do not allow the cover to touch the plants so that you limit the risks of heat stress. For potted plants and other individual plants, you can put a bucket or trashcan over them, however be sure to weigh or stake the covers down so they don’t blow off in the storm.
A blowing bucket can cause more damage on its own than the hail you were trying to protect your plants from in the first place. Covers of this type should only be left on for a few hours at most, as they can cause a lot of heat to build up around the plant. Trees, grapevines and other large woody plants are usually able to withstand hail damage. However, if the fruit is still ripening or if the plant is young, you may want to cover them as much as possible with Agribon, burlap, or even with a tarp or blanket to protect green wood and growing fruit. For taller plants like tomatoes, or if you live in an area with frequent hailstorms and need to leave up a more permanent solution, consider using hardware cloth over your garden.
The sturdy metal cloth will deflect most hailstones without trapping in heat or blocking sunlight or rainwater. Vigorous plants recover best. Keep your garden and yard properly fertilized before the storm season for healthy plants that can withstand the damage of hail.
Post-storm garden recovery
If you weren’t able to prevent hail damage in your garden, don’t give up on your harvest dreams! Just because your plants are damaged by hail doesn’t mean they will die. The amount of damage, time of year, and pre-storm health of your plant will all affect recovery.
First, remove severely damaged foliage and prune off broken branches. For perennials, prune back flowers whenever possible to encourage the plant to focus on leaf growth. Apply a small amount of balanced fast-acting fertilizer such as PVFS Liquid All Purpose and a foliar spray of liquid kelp to give the plants a nutrient boost and help them re-grow. Some plants are unlikely to recover from severe damage, and may need replanted. These include many flowering annuals, young vegetable starts, and immature root vegetables. In the veggie garden, root vegetables are less likely to recover than leafy greens.
Harvest any root veggies with severely damaged tops and replant if it’s still early enough in the season for another crop. If you’re not sure a plant will recover, wait a week and look for new growth. If none is present, remove those veggies and replant. If the hail has bruised your fruit, it may still be useable.
For fruit that is ripe enough to harvest, pick it all and eat or preserve it right away, as damaged fruit will not store well. It won’t look pretty for fresh eating, but will still make good juice, jelly, or other preserves. For fruit that is not ready to harvest, you may want to treat with fungicide to prevent infections; keep an eye on these crops for signs of infection and rot until the fruit is ready to harvest.
A little planning can go a long way in protecting your garden from hailstorm damage!