If your landscape plants were damaged by the hail yesterday, first of all, I am so sorry. I know how disheartening it is to watch your plants be destroyed in minutes when it took months– and sometimes years– to nurture them along. I remember one summer when hail hit my garden six times. I almost stopped counting!
However, all is not lost. Here are a few tips for dealing with hail damage to your trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetable gardens. I’ve also made a video about what to do– and not do– to help your landscape plants recover from hail damage.
Damage to trees and shrubs
Hail damages woody plants in several ways. First, it can shred the leaves and knock them to the ground. Second, it can break twigs and branches. Third, it can rip the bark on the upper side of branches.
Before you do anything major, take note that the three best things you can do for your trees and shrubs is rake up any leaves, prune any branches that broke in an odd place, and water the plants well over the next few weeks. Fertilizing is not necessary.
First, let any remaining leaves stay on the tree or shrub, even if they’re partly shredded. Don’t clip them off because they look ugly. It’s the leaves that produce the food for the plant, so any remaining leaves will speed its recovery.
Furthermore, don’t cut any branches back simply because they were defoliated, since many plants will produce a second set of leaves if they have enough reserves. It’s important to note that the process of growing new leaves may take weeks, so don’t make any rash decisions out of impatience. Simply rake or sweep up any fallen leaves right now.
Next, look for broken branches. Most branches that are knocked off trees by hail are pretty small, twigs mostly. It’s not necessary to worry about broken twigs. However, walk around the tree or shrub and look for any larger branches that are broken in the middle of the branch. If you find any, prune the branch back to a crotch (where two branches meet) with a clean pruning cut so the wound can heal more easily.
There’s no need to apply pruning paint or any other wound healing product. A good pruning cut is the best medicine. If the damaged branches are higher than 12 feet, it’s best to call a professional arborist to do any pruning that’s needed.
Next, hail can rip the bark on the upper side of branches, causing small pits or pock marks to appear. You don’t have to do anything about these small wounds. The bark will usually heal over pretty quickly, even though you may notice small scars in the future.
Last, make sure to water your trees and shrubs well over the next few weeks so they aren’t drought stressed on top of the hail damage. Having enough moisture will help them grow new leaves. Do not fertilize hail damaged trees.
If a tree has been severely stressed by drought or other factors in the past, it may not have enough reserves to overcome the damage. But it will take months (not days) for this to become apparent, so it’s okay to wait and see what happens.
Damage to flowers
Hail can shred flowers in seconds. If we’re talking about perennial flowers in your garden, they’ll probably be okay after going through an ugly period. If the damage affected 50% of the leaf surfaces or less, you can leave the plant and cut off any dead material later. Although unsightly, letting the leaves remain will speed up the plant’s recovery since the plant will be able to generate more food for itself. You can cut off any partially damaged leaves after the new leaves start to grow. If most or all of the leaves are damaged or gone, cut any remaining stems back to ground level. The plant will often regrow from the crown.
Unlike perennial flowers, annual flowers usually get pummeled to death by hail. Annual flowers are the ones you buy every spring, like petunias, geraniums, marigolds, pansies, etc. By the time they recover–if they’re even still alive–it’s usually late summer. Since annual flowers only have a few months to grow and flower, the best approach is to completely remove the damaged plants and replant, if feasible. It’s okay to simply take a year off from annuals after a big hail storm, too, especially if you’ve had it with this storm.
Seeing your vegetables get pounded by hail just as they’re starting to really grow is not fun. Deciding what action to take should be based on how many leaves are left. If there are still some intact leaves, it may be worth giving the plants a light dose of water soluble fertilizer (like Miracle Grow or another brand) to see if they will outgrow the damage.
If the plants only have stems left and no leaves, they won’t recover. Your choices are to either replant the same type of vegetable or plant something else. Keep in mind that it’s the right time of year to plant vegetables that grow best in warm weather, like beans, cucumbers, squash and corn. So, if you lost most of your cool season vegetables, it’s not too late to plant the warm season crops. As they say, when you get lemons, make lemonade!
If you need to replant your tomatoes, be sure to buy new transplants quickly. Garden centers and nurseries often run out of tomato transplants in mid-May, especially if lots of people have been affected by hail. So, don’t wait too long or you might have to buy your tomatoes at the farmer’s market this summer.
On a final note, be sure to take a few days to assess the real damage. While it’s important to clean up leaves and branches, it’s okay to wait and see if your plants will recover before you remove them. Even though the drama of a wild hail storm can seem devastating, many plants will recover with a little time and some extra care. Let hope for great weather the rest of the summer!