If you've gardened in the Texas Panhandle very long, you'll be faced with dealing with the aftermath of hail sooner or later. Some years, any location could get hailed on numerous times, at any time of the year; other years, not at all. Even dry, drought years will bring the rare thunderstorm with hail when it seems more hail than rain fell, leaving us thinking we would just as soon have passed up the opportunity for precipitation if given the choice.
You will also come to know hail a little better as your garden through the years. All hail is not alike. Good hail (if one has to have hail) is the brief, pea or lentil size that comes down with about the speed of rain. Contrast that with this week's terrible hail, a violent, furious hailstorm of dense, pocket change hail – nickel, quarter, half dollar size in my area, to the sports hail – ping pong, golf ball and baseball size hail received in other areas of Amarillo. I didn't hear reports of the largest hail size, the citrus hail – lemon-lime, orange and grapefruit size. While some of the hail could have been fruit size, none was reported in the larger citrus class. Some hail is soft, their impact inflicted minor damage and leaf bruising, other hail is colder and therefore harder, wreaking major damage. While a brief hail will damage a few leaves, longer hail periods will strip and denude perennials, shrubs and trees.
A survey of hail damage this week strongly suggests cold, hard hail, pocket change and sport size lasting long enough to strip trees of over half their leaves in many cases. My unscientific estimate of the hail's coldness and density comes from the visual evidence the next day when even midway through the afternoon piles of hail could still be seen where the wind had driven it in corners and under piles of leaves.
Dealing with hail at different times of the year merits different responses. Winter hail normally causes few problems as plants are dormant and leaf stripping/flower destroying does not apply, although if it is strong enough, tissue damage can occur. Usually, hail in winter falls less furious, causing little damage.
Spring time hail, when plants are still in the leaf and flower forming and growing mode, is the more common occurrence. Most plants will recoup quickly and look presentable from three to six weeks. Strictly spring blooms most likely will not re-bloom, but long season blooming annuals and perennials will do what we all do when faced with a setback—regroup and get on with it.
July and August hail storms is about the worst time for hail to strike. Plants are out of the leaf forming mode, and the late summer/fall blooms can be destroyed. They'll look shabby for the remainder of the growing season. The later in the summer hail batters, the worst looking the plants will limp into fall. By September hail, it is too late to even apply a chemical boost to reboot growth; be careful of stimulating growth prior to an early frost, the combination can be killing.
Patience, Pruning and Nutrient Boost
A day or two after the hail event is the best time to summarize the damage and begin re-constructive pruning. It's best not to launch into a clean-up the same day, tissue damage takes a day or so to manifest itself. Avoid the post hail reaction of pulling out everything until you know for certain it's a goner.
Prune out the broken, damaged stems, limbs and branches with clean cuts down to a joint or node, if possible. Plants will rally and repair if the damage isn't insurmountable. Our job as gardeners is to lessen the entry points for pests and pathogens at damaged, torn tissue.
Established plants with well developed root systems, whether annual or perennial, in well amended soil, will rebound. Just planted annuals or perennials will have a harder time of it. It's best to have a wait and see attitude until the plant either recovers or disappears. Gardeners can consider certain blooms lost for the season, as was in the case of iris this year due to late freezes – daylilies, peonies, penstemons, cactus and yucca flowers with broken stems or knocked off the plant. Spring bloomers have that one window of opportunity and if it's shattered, that's usually it for the year.
I noticed quite a bit of damage to rose bushes. Examine the canes to determine the extent of bruising. Prune damaged, torn and bent canes. Snip off remaining buds to save the plant's energy. Give the rose bushes an ample dose of organics to help it heal and recoup, hoping for a better season next year. Re-blooming roses will pick up as they should.
In looking over plants at my landscape and the Amarillo Botanical Gardens, a good bit of stem and branch bruising took place, not just on soft new growth, but hard older wood. Plants can only take a certain amount of stress before they succumb to insects, disease and weather either quickly, or after a lengthy illness. Indeed, applying an extra helping of organics (compost, Yum-Yum Mix or other organic blend), and/or spraying monthly with an organic foliar spray (Bio-SI, Soil Mender Foliar Spray Plus or Soil Mender Garrett Juice, etc.) over the entire landscape will help the trees, shrubs and other perennials/annuals survive as we immediately face another hot summer. Our plants have already been under undo stress from two years of drought and an erratic spring. We need to boost it's defense and immune system, avoid taxing them further.
The extent of this hail event in many area gardens was devastating. Deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs stripped of a majority of their foliage, other herbaceous perennials and annuals were left standing with only a few jagged stems. Yucca's and agaves with their stiff, thick succulent leaves retained their architectural profile, but upon closer inspection they are deeply scarred and bruised. Softer leaved sedums will re-grow their succulent leaves. Bedding plants, whether for food or flower, suffered mortally. A quick replanting is the best, probably only, solution.
In perusing the few references I have on hail in the garden, the practical sounding suggestion of planting less hail resistant plants under the protection of other plants, fences or buildings does not seem to apply, as I've seen hail come from any and all directions through the years. Even sticking to a plant palette of hail resistant plants wouldn't save one from the fury of this pounding, the hail was hard, densely spaced and long enough to damage most plants. Low growing, small leafed ground huggers seemed to fair the best, overall.
Hail not only disrupts and destroys plants, but it can leave the fauna high and dry as a source of food and shelter. There isn't alot one can do for beneficial insects, bees, butterflies and birds. In fact, sometimes they take a hit as well. We may not notice an individual insect's demise, but birds and even squirrels die from the violence of hail stones, although most take shelter. When migrating birds, such as hummingbirds are in the area, lend them a handout with a hummingbird feeder. At Amarillo Botanical Gardens, a number of hummingbirds had enjoyed nectar from penstemons. By Wednesday, Neal Hinders, owner of Canyons Edge Plants brought several hummingbird feeders to the gardens to keep the hummers at the gardens even though the many of their favorite flowers went down in the hail.
I've come to understand, the key ingredient to a plant's survival and ability to thrive in our capricious climate is the overall health of the soil and plant. Plants growing in soil amended for the soil conditions it needs with ample nutrients and water will excel. Combine proper pruning, trimming and nutrient boosting with timely irrigation to ease your landscape into a thriving condition. At the very least, these practices will give your plants a chance to recover from the scars of hail.
The Undaunted Garden, Lauren Spring, Fulcrum Press, 1994.
The Weather Resilient Garden, A Defensive Approach to Planning and Landscaping, Charles W. G. Smith, Storey Publishing, 2004.
Angie Hanna, May 30, 2013