It’s the beginning of hail season! Boy, oh boy, has Colorado had its share over the past few years. There are a few measures that can be taken to protect your flowers and vegetables, but when we have hailstorms that are shattering windshields, breaking skylights, house siding and practically everything outside the only thing to do is pray, pray, pray.
Hail is precipitation that falls in the form of ice. In basic terms, hailstones form as water which is lifted into the upper cold regions of a thunderstorm, where it freezes. Super-cooled liquid water at these heights can continue to add mass to a small hailstone — eventually it becomes too heavy and falls from the cloud.
According to Samuel Childs, Ph.D., a student in Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, over 20 percent of severe hail reports in Colorado through the beginning of September have been at least two inches. Three percent have been at least 3 inches — bigger than a standard 2¾-inch baseball. These are the highest such percentages in state history. Moreover, in 2018, Colorado saw a new record, with hail greater than 3 inches in diameter reported 10 times over seven different days.
A side note for trivia buffs: The highest mortality rate due to hail in the world was recorded in Moradabad, India. On April 30, 1873 there were 246 people killed by hail. The hail size was compared to that of “goose eggs and oranges”. This record has been held from 1873 to present day.
Hail can be devastating for a Colorado garden. Damage can range from a few bruised leaves to total destruction of all foliage (leaves). However, plants want to grow, so with time and some extra care, lots of them may recover.
Flowering annuals with no remaining foliage may not recover after a hailstorm. Petunias usually survive if there is at least some foliage still on the plant. Clean the plants of damaged foliage and apply a light application of fertilizer to help them recover.
Early vegetable root crops with no remaining foliage will not recover. They need the green leafy foliage to produce energy for the roots to grow. Leafy vegetable crops may recover; replanting is an option if there are no signs of new growth after a week or so.
For perennials with foliage intact but stripped, remove flower stalks and cut them back leaving as many intact leaves as possible. Lightly cultivate the soil, and apply a light dressing of low-nitrogen fertilizer.
If there is hail late in the season, root crops may be mature enough to survive and be harvested. Remove damaged parts of leafy crops.
Inspect woody plants for bark wounds and exposed live tissue. If severe wounds exist, they can be treated with a fungicide to help prevent canker diseases. If wounds are less severe, allow natural callusing to occur.
Another thing to do is watch the weather forecast. There might not be enough time to cover the plants once the storm hits. Being prepared and ahead of the weather might help save many plants. Use boxes, gallon-sized milk cartons (bottoms cut off and lid left off for ventilation) and buckets.
Many local nurseries sell hail cloth. Hail cloth is a tightly woven cloth that allows the sunlight to come through while protecting plants from hail. Walls of Water is another way to protect seedlings. Keep in mind that these recommendations are for hail stones that are on the smaller side.
It’s definitely springtime in the Rockies. A daily mixture of snow, wind, rain or bright sunshine. Let us all pray that we don’t have another devastating hailstorm in the year of our Lord 2019. Amen.
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)