How to Treat Hail Damaged Plants
Colorado gardening is no easy task. Our short seasons and unpredictable weather often make it harder than we would like. With all the work that we put into encouraging our vegetable gardens, flower beds, or landscaping to grow and flourish, it is especially disheartening when bad weather blows through, pummeling all our hard work until all that is left is ragged plants stripped of their health and livelihood. Sadly, hail is not all that uncommon throughout Northern Colorado, and when hail storms come, they often blow in furiously and without much warning, leaving cars damaged, roofs in need of replacement, and any trees or plants in your yard ravaged.
While the aftermath of a hailstorm may leave you feeling hopeless, surely not all of your plants are past the point of no return! We are going to go over how to tell if a plant will recover from hail damage, what you can do to help your plants recover, and what your options are for plants that are too far gone.
Can You Save Hail Damaged Plants?
The answer to this is, "it depends." We like this answer no more than you do, but the truth of the matter is that it entirely depends on how much damage your plants have sustained.
How to Tell if a Plant is Past the Point of Saving
If any of your plants have nothing left but stems, you will likely need to replace them. A plant's leaves are the main way they make "food" for themselves. They soak up the sun and turn it into energy for the plant to grow. Without leaves, the plant will have a hard time mustering up the energy required to recover. Especially with plants such as tomatoes or peppers, which take a long time to mature in the first place. If plants like these have lost the majority of their foliage, they likely will not recover from hail damage quickly enough to have a fruitful or productive season. In this case, we recommend seeking out new starter plants at your local garden center and replacing any plants that are damaged to this extent. In general, you will have better luck with a new plant than you will with a damaged, rebounding plant.
What if You Can't Tell if a Plant Needs to be Replaced?
If you are having a hard time deciding if your plants are salvageable or not, a good rule to follow is this: If your plant does not have new growth within a week, it is not worth saving and it is recommended that you tear it out and replace the plant. This is the same for root vegetables. They are very unlikely to recover from hail damage if they have no foliage, but you can give them a few days to regrow, and if they don't show any signs of growth, as hard as it can be to give up on all your hard work, it is best to pull them and replace them, keeping in mind how many days they need to mature. The worst-case scenario would be if any plants with long maturity periods get severely damaged late in the season. In such a situation, the original plant may not recover and a replacement plant may not reach maturity before the weather begins to cool down at the end of the season. We hope you never find yourself in a situation like this, but if you do, it may be best to leave the original plant alone and hope it finds the strength to recover.
How to Help Plants Recover from Hail Damage
If you have decided that your plants are salvageable, there are a handful of things you can do to help them recover from any hail damage they sustained. Here is a list of steps that can be taken to help plants recover from hail damage.
Step 1: Remove broken and shredded leaves, stems, and branches.
Your plants may have damaged bits that are barely hanging on. It is best to remove any broken leaves, stems, or branches as they will no longer be able to contribute to the plant. Get a sharp pair of pruners and trim the damaged parts of the plant back so that there is a clean cut versus a splintered end. This will help the plant heal quicker and will help avoid the chance of fungus or disease infecting the damaged parts of your plants. Try to trim the plant back excessively though. You will want to keep as many of the remaining leaves as possible so that the plant is still able to create enough energy to recover! If more than half of a leaf is intact and it still has a healthy connection to the rest of the plant, leave it and let it create energy for the rest of the plant.
The same goes for any annual flowers, perennial plants, trees, or shrubs. You will want to remove flower stems, broken branches, and any damaged foliage using a sharp pair of pruners. This will aid in the recovery of your plants and they will hopefully spring back to life sooner than later!
Step 2: Treat damaged areas.
With so much damage being caused to your plants, this can leave them very susceptible to fungus or disease. Copper fungicide can be great for helping to protect your plants from such things! Bonide's Copper Fungicide is an organic product that you should apply to your plant's wounds as soon as possible after pruning away any damaged parts of the plant. This will help prevent fungal infections and will give your plants one less thing to worry about.
Step 3: Lightly fertilize affected plants.
Fertilizing your plants can help give them that extra little push towards recovering. Be careful to only fertilize lightly though! Fertilizing too much or using a heavy-duty chemical fertilizer could overwhelm your plants, causing more stress and damage. We recommend using Liquid Kelp, fish emulsion, or compost tea. These fertilizers will help your plants come out of shock without overwhelming them or having an unintended effect.
Step 4: Mulch your plants.
Another thing you can do to help your plants recover is to add mulch to the base of your plants. Even if there is already some mulch, adding a little more will not hurt! This will help your plants as they regrow by supporting them and helping them conserve water and energy.
How to Avoid Hail Damage
This is tricky. Hail damage is hard to avoid because it is hard to anticipate. It is not often predicted in weather forecasts, and very often the conditions of a thunderstorm can change in minutes or even seconds, bringing hail in out of nowhere. If severe thunderstorms are predicted, you can always take precautionary measures just in case. Here are a few things that could be used to protect your plants from hail:
Shade cloth, tarps, or sheets set up between wooden posts
Hail netting or an aluminum mesh screen suspended over an area
Depending on the size of your plants, buckets, cardboard boxes, or trash cans could be used to cover plants. Be sure to weigh them down as high winds could easily blow them away!
Sheets of wood propped up on wooden posts
If you live in an area that tends to get frequent hail storms, it wouldn't hurt to be prepared to quickly set up some sort of structure to protect certain areas of your garden or landscaping. Having wooden posts or stakes set up ahead of time is ideal so that when bad weather looks like it's coming, you can react quickly and easily without putting yourself in harm's way. It likely won't be possible to protect every growing thing around your property, but at least you might be able to protect some areas!
Questions on How to Deal with Hail Damage
If your gardens have sustained hail damage and you need assistance getting your plants back on their feet again, we are happy to help! If you have any more questions or need more advice on how to protect your plants, we are happy to help with that too. Reach out to us any time, or visit us in-store for expert advice from our gardening pros.