Gardening along the Front Range of Colorado is not for the faint of heart. We have to deal with poor soil, wild temperature swings, intense sun, a short growing season and hail. Somewhere in the Denver Metro area someone will experience the heartbreak of hail this season. It is hit or miss from year to year, but it is inevitable. The results can be devastating. In a few minutes, a gardener’s hard work can lay in ruin.
The first thing to remember when you experience hail damage is not to panic or lose hope. That is hard to do when everything in your garden has been shredded to confetti. The initial inclination is to give up for the year and pull everything out. Don’t do it. Take a deep breath and stand back. Some plants may be done for the year, but others will come back even if they look terrible right now. Plants want to grow. They have an amazing ability to come back.
In 2015, our garden experienced two severe hail storms: one at the beginning of June and one the last week of June. We knew that most of our perennials would come back with time, but our vegetables were in a sorry state. Most were reduced to green sticks with a few tattered leaves hanging on for dear life. At that moment, it was hard not to throw in the towel for the season and head to the farmers market for produce. After much wailing and hand wringing, we went out in the garden and cleaned up the dead plant material. We took care to leave any foliage that looked like it might have a bit of life left. Then we waited. Within a week or so, our tattered vegetable plants showed signs of renewed growth. Soon they were leafing out with abandon. We helped them along with light applications of liquid kelp fertilizer. By the end of July, we were harvesting vegetables from the same plants we thought were lost in June. It was not our best harvest, but it was very good given the challenges we faced.
One small confession – we did buy a few new plants to hedge our bets. It was late in the season to buy vegetables at the garden center. The selection was not great. The replacement plants got a late start and needed to get established. In the end, the replacements did not do as well as the original plants. Although the foliage on the original plants was shredded, those plants had been in the ground for over a month and had strong established root systems. It’s not always what you see above ground that matters most.
If you have the misfortune this season to be hit by hail, remember:
- Don’t panic.
- Clean up the dead foliage.
- Leave foliage that still has life.
- Do light applications of fertilizer.
- Be patient.
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By Mark Zammuto, Denver County Master Gardener