As residents prepare for a second day of forecast hailstorms — including hail larger than an inch in diameter — it’s important to remember that Colorado’s late-spring/early-summer weather is not your enemy.
A fickle guest, sure, but not necessarily your enemy.
“Most perennial crops — trees, shrubs, bushes, things like that — have the capacity to releaf, so just be patient and they should come back,” said Curtis Utley, who trains master gardeners in plant pathology for Colorado State University.
Indeed, most snow-damaged trees should already be showing signs of recovering, provided they’ve been properly pruned and protected since late-winter and spring storms.
But what about the tender vegetable plants and flowers that made their outdoor debuts in recent days?
It’s OK to start digging in with flowers and vegetables since we’ve already passed the average last-frost date of May 15, although some will wait until the psychologically important date of June 1, just to be safe.
“I suppose it would be more financially smart to plant a portion of your annual plants early and save a portion of your budget for later in the season,” Utley said. “It’s up to the individual, but if you do that and we get a freak hailstorm later in the season, you’re not overspending all at once.”
Fast-moving hailstorms offer another unwelcome visitor in the form of fungus, which can set into the flesh wounds of everything from woody trees to petunias. After a thorough post-storm inspection and pruning or trimming of any dead material, spray the cuts with copper soap, which is available at many garden centers.
“Openings into the bark of woody plants allows for cytospora canker, and there are not many protective chemistries out there for every crop. But in stone fruit, there are fungicides that can be applied to wounds to prevent infection,” Utley said. “So it’s something people could proactively do within 72 hours of a storm. But read all the label instructions before making any application.”
More tips: Wait to fertilize until new growth appears, and look for easy ways to protect areas you’re concerned about — including using trees or larger plants as cover for smaller ones, or planting along walls and fences.
Finally, plant with Colorado’s weather in mind. That means selecting narrow-leafed plants that can withstand our pelting storms, or native perennials that are well-adapted to our climate and geography (see Lauren Springer’s book “The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resistant Beauty”). Keep soil healthy and balanced, with neither too much nor too little watering.
And while they are rare, there are those seemingly miraculous plants that seem to brush it all off.
“It may be a little early for it right now, but one fun oddity is crabapple trees,” Utley said. “If you’ve got one that was just done blooming and it was completely damaged by hail, oftentimes you see some of the flower buds that are set next spring opening up in the summer time.”
This story was originally published on May 25th, 2016.
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Hail Crop Damage: How To Care For Hail Damaged Plants
You can feel the ping of hailstones on your skin and your plants can too. Their sensitive leaves become shredded, pock marked or ripped by hail. Hail crop damage can severely decimate the harvest. There is even hail damage to trees, which varies in severity depending upon the type of tree and the force and size of hail that falls. After a hard hail, you will need to know how to care for hail damaged plants and return them to their natural beauty.
Hail Crop Damage
Damage to plant leaves is most severe when hail falls in spring. This is because the majority of plants are sprouting and growing tender new leaves and stems. Hail crop damage in spring can completely kill seedlings. Hail later in the season will reduce harvests by knocking fruit off plants.
Hail damage to trees shows up as split and broken stems. The tips and tops of trees become scarred and pitted by the hail. This can
increase the chance of disease, insects or rot.
Large leaved ornamental plants show the most obvious damage. Plants like hosta will get shot holes through the leaves and shredded tips on foliage. All hail damage can affect the health and beauty of plants.
How to Care for Hail Damaged Plants
Fixing hail damage on plants is not always possible. The best approach is to clean up the debris and trim off broken stems and leaves. The hail damage to trees may require you to prune away the most affected branches.
If hail occurs in spring and you have not yet fertilized, an application of food to the impacted plants can help them regrow new foliage. Remove damaged fruits, which will attract insects.
Wounds that are minor will heal but benefit from an application of fungicide to prevent rot from entering before the wounds are able to seal.
Plants damaged late in the season benefit from a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help it survive winter.
Some plants are too heavily affected and fixing hail damage is not possible. These plants should be removed and replaced.
Preventing Hail Damage in Gardens
In areas that routinely get severe hailstorms, it is possible to be reactive and protect plants from damage. Have ready buckets, garbage cans or other items to put over plants.
Use a tarp tented over the vegetable garden and anchored with stakes. Even blankets are useful to cover lower tree canopies, prevent foliar, and fruit damage.
Preventing hail damage in gardens relies on careful assessment of weather conditions. Listen to weather reports and react quickly to keep plants from experiencing pounding hailstorms. When you act quickly, much of the damage is prevented and plants will produce bountiful crops and beautiful displays.
If your garden was hit with hail, take a deep breath and don’t despair. You don’t have to pull out all of your plants – many can be salvaged.
Start by removing any debris that is not attached to your plants. Keep as much foliage as you can – even if there are minor tears or damage – for photosynthesis. As new foliage emerges, remove more of the damaged parts. Keep plants well-watered and mulched to reduce stress.
Vegetables and annuals: If leaves and stems are intact, keep them. Give the plants time to grow before removing them completely. Keep watered and lightly fertilize. You have the advantage of well-developed root systems which may bounce back. If you have big gaps in your garden, buy a few annual seedling to fill the holes.
Perennials: Clean up debris and deadhead spent flowers. Cut back plants carefully – some will grow back and regenerate, but some won’t. Do not fertilize.
Trees: Safety first – remove debris and assess potential dangers like broken limbs and branches. Do not remove branches that have lost their leaves as new growth may emerge. Make clean cuts on broken limbs. Do not apply wound paint or fertilize.