This week we were hit by a hail storm while my son and I were running errands. As we were pulling away from our home, I looked over at the garden and noticed how big and healthy the squash patch was looking, and how glad I was that we were expecting much needed rain. While we were driving around, the rain started pouring in buckets, but I wasn't concerned. Then the hail started, but it was spotty, so I still wasn't concerned. It was only when I turned onto the last stretch of road to our home that my heart dropped.
The road was filled with fallen leaves. As I pulled up to our home, I saw the squash patch – leveled to the ground with hail damage. The rest of the garden had plenty of weather damage, too – damaged fruit, damaged flowers, shredded and stripped leaves – it was pretty awful. Damaged crops are a given. How bad it will be remains to be seen. I can't unmake the storm, but I can share our strategies for dealing with the weather damage in the garden, and options to help prevent hail damage.
The first thing I noticed was the leaves. Broad leaf plants like the squash, melons and cucumbers were hardest hit. The corn damage was pretty severe, too. The corn leaves look like shredded ribbons.
What to do for leaf damage:
Damaged leaves are more susceptible to disease, so we loaded up the backpack sprayer with Effective Microorganisms (EM-1). EM-1 acts like a plant probiotic, seeding plant surfaces with helpful bacteria. A good quality compost tea would also work.
Feed the Leaves
Vining crops like squash and tomatoes should sprout new growth if the plants were healthy before the weather damage. Watch for the new leaves to emerge, and feed them with a foliar feed like kelp extract or fish hydrolsate (such as Drammatic O Fish Fertilizer). Crops like corn are unlikely to put out new leaves (unless the plants are small). Damaged leaves can still photosynthesize, so it's okay to treat them with foliar fertilizer.
Hold off on Trimming
As mentioned above, damaged leaves can still function, just not as well as they once did. Don't trim them immediately. Give the plant a chance to grow new leaves and draw nutrients out of the old leaves before trimming.
With damaged herbs, you may be able to trim back the top leaves, which bore the brunt of the weather damage, to reveal less damaged leaves below. See section on damaged flowers below for tips on how to cut back stems.
Play some Plant Music
The correct type of sounds, like morning bird songs, can stimulate plants to open their stomata wider. These tiny leaf openings let them drink in the morning dew- and better absorb foliar feeds. They're partial to Vivaldi's Four Seasons – Spring, which is similar in tone to bird song, and other similar tones. (I first read about this in the book “The Lost Language of Plants“, a fascinating peek into plant info I had never seen before.)
Play music early in the day (before 10am) to augment the plant's natural cycle. By midday, the stomata should be mostly closed to protect the plant from the heat of the day. For more details, see “Music for Plants – What Helps Plants Grow and What Doesn't“.
Flowers that are bruised or missing petals can't heal. It's best to dead head to let the plant shift resources to growing new blossoms, or let blossoms drop naturally. Damaged flowers are still safe to use dry or make into salve. They should be harvested within a day after the storm damage, before they start to spoil.
When removing damaged flowers, don't cut the stem off right below the flower. Instead, follow the stem down to a leaf branch. Cut the stem at a 45 degree angle, about one fourth inch above the leaf joint. This will encourage new growth to sprout from the leaf joint area and below.
Blossom damage will stall out new fruit set, delaying the harvest.
Damaged fruit is the worst, because it's unlikely to recover. If a fruit has split from hail damage, it's a goner. Process immediately if it's far enough along to be useful. If not, remove and compost. My friend, Tami, lost this beautiful young melon in last week's storm.
My melons are pitted, and may well spoil before ripening, but there's not enough time left in our growing season to start new, so I'm leaving them and hoping for the best. If you have enough time in your growing season, it's best to remove heavily bruised fruit. This allows the plant to start over and put energy into new, undamaged fruit.
Many tomatoes were knocked from the vines. We're gathering and processing the fruit that isn't badly damaged and composting the rest. Fallen fruit will attract slugs and other scavengers, so it's best to clear it out. A number of tomatoes still on the vine split, so they needed immediate processing. Unripe tomatoes that split are likely to rot before they ripen. Use them green, or compost.
Preventing Hail Damaged Crops
Had I known to expect hail, or been home when it hit, I might have been able to lessen the hail damage. Floating row covers and tarps thrown over a plant area can diffuse the impact enough that the plants will be flatter but not shredded.
I also noticed that our vertical plantings fared better than those on the ground, for the most part. The upper leaves took the brunt of the hail impact, protecting the leaves below. The trellises would have made a natural anchor for tarps or row covers, too.
For those who live in areas that are prone to hail damage, there are specialized hail protection products, including:
Floating row covers – Non-woven polypropylene fabric covers protect seeds, plants, fruit and vegetables against frost, bird and insect damage. Porous, strong and lightweight, easy to cut to size.
Heavy Duty Anti-Hail Netting – Protects crops from hail and wind damage. Best attached to a hoop frame or other framework mounted above the plants.
Individual Plant Protectors – Pup tents for your plants offer protection from freezing rain, winds, insects, hail and frost.
If plants are flattened by wind damage or hail, gently prop them back up as soon as possible, so they don't start growing crooked.
It's Been a Tough Year in the Garden
We lost most of our fruit tree fruit to a late frost. June was non-stop rain, July saw almost no rain. August brought hail and temperature swings. How the season will finish is anyone's guess. I'm grateful that we still have food in storage from previous years, and that we aren't completely dependent only on what we can produce ourselves. We'll still get a harvest, but it's not what it could be. It's a humbling reminder that the food on all our tables could easily disappear if crop damage was more widespread. Home food preservation and storage is like insurance for when years like this one hit.
Do you have a garden question or problem, or other tips you'd like to add? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Post shares are always appreciated, too.
Related articles you may also find helpful:
- 4 Reasons your Tomatoes Aren't Ripening
- Summer Gardens – Dealing with High Temperatures in the Garden
- Too Much Rain in the Garden – Managing Wet Dirt and Waterlogged Plants
P.S. – This is the hail that stacked up outside the garage door. It looked like snow in August.