Did you get hail last weekend? As is usual with spotty hailstorms, some places were pummeled and some were completely spared. The hail at my house was pea-sized. After the storm, I checked out the damage to my eggplant leaves:
These plants are in pots on my deck (which helps me avoid flea beetles). Not much else in my gardens was hurt, but it got me thinking about writing about hail damage for this blog post. And then MG Pam Hosimer told me about what happened in her garden, not too many miles away. This is the hail she got – !!!
Pam sent me some photos that provide an idea of her garden before and after the hail.
I completely sympathize with the despair she felt on seeing the devastation! But all may not be lost. What to do, if your garden is hit by hail this badly?
After surveying suggestions from internet sources around the country, including this video from University of Nebraska Extension, here’s my summary of the advice. This will apply to ornamentals as well as edible gardens.
- Assess the damage, and remove affected plant parts, including broken stems, badly shredded leaves, and fruit with holes in it. (I’ve left my eggplant leaves alone. On Pam’s plants, I would remove some of the most destroyed chard leaves because of fungal disease risk. It’s hard to tell on the tomatoes, but it looks like some of the main stems are snapped.)
- Look at what’s left. (You may be able to skip step 1 and just do this mentally, if the plant is small.) Does the plant still have an unbroken stem, even if shortened, and are there leaves on it? If so, it will probably come back, but you’ll need to count on recovery time, so flowering/harvest will be later. With annuals, it may be easier to start over with a new plant, especially this early in the season. Severely damaged perennials may also need to go. Trees and shrubs will usually be fine, but do remove broken branches.
- You may want to spray damaged areas with copper fungicide to hold back disease. Also consider that pest insects may discover holes, especially in fruit or soft stems (but you’ve removed those in step 1, right?).
- The plants you’ve decided to save need to be taken care of – water regularly (but not excessively), mulch, watch for problems, but DO NOT FERTILIZE until they have recovered from the injury. New lush growth will just stress the plant out (also, it’s just asking for the hail to come back).
- Think now about protective measures for the next storm. Moving delicate plants to spots where they will be protected by walls or taller plants, and using row covers or other structures in vegetable gardens, can help prevent injury. Don’t count on rushing out to cover plants when a storm begins, because you may not be around or have time.
That said, hail is unfortunately just one of those risks we take as gardeners. We can make sure our plants have the support they need, whether it’s trellises, tomato cages, or stakes, and this helps them stay upright in strong winds and minimizes stem damage, but hail can still shred and rip.
Pam certainly had no doubt what caused her broken plants; the evidence was all around her, even though she wasn’t home during the storm itself. Sometimes, though, we’ll look at ripped leaves hours after a storm passes, not knowing what happened while we were away, and wonder – wow, what kind of weird insect or animal did this? It’s always worth remembering that pests and diseases are not the only potential garden issues. About half of all plant problems are caused by abiotic factors, which include not just weather but also soil factors like nutrient deficiencies or poor drainage, gardener errors like under- or over-watering, pollutants and herbicide drift. Check out our Cultural and Environmental Problems page for some examples of abiotic issues in the vegetable garden.
By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener. All photos except the first by MG Pam Hosimer.