This summer has been an unusual one considering the last dry few years, with all the moisture we have been receiving. If you have lived in the Pikes Peak region long you know along with our thunderstorms, we often receive unwanted hail. Our region is part of what is called “Hail Alley”. Hail Alley extends from southeast Alberta, Canada, into Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The most hail-prone city in North America is Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Living and gardening in the Pikes Peak Region requires skill, knowledge, luck and a lot of patience. Not only do we have to deal with drought conditions at times, but when it does rain it is sometimes severe weather. You can garden here and live with the hail we receive if you are proactive and erect some sort of hail protection structures.
A severe hailstorm to gardeners can mean almost certain death to a vegetable garden if it comes late in the growing season and you have no hail protection. Hail protection can range from lying a sheet across your plants, hardware cloth, hoop tunnels, screen lying across your cages to commercial made ones you can buy on the Internet. Basically, all you want to do is protect your plants, but still allow air, water and sunshine to penetrate.
My primary defense against hail is the “Three Season Raised Bed Garden (TSRBG)” made by one of our master gardeners Larry Stebbins. It is multi-functional. In the spring it allows me to start planting early, but when the thunderstorms roll in and the hail starts to fall it provides outstanding hail protection. It is made from PVC piping and 6 mil U.V. treated plastic for extended seasonal usage. If you are interested in one contact Larry Stebbins at ppugardens.org.
My secondary defense against hail incorporates some of the same principles of the TSRBG. I use the PVC piping for the structure but use bird netting as a means of protection. The bird netting not only keeps the birds away from my berries, but also deflects hail. The bird netting is also U.V. treated so it will last a long time in the garden. The PVC piping I just stick in the ground and drape the netting over the piping and attach it with some metal fasteners.
If you happened to receive some damaging hail and your garden looks like someone shot with a machine gun don’t despair. You still have time to salvage some of your garden. Your root crops may be mature enough to harvest. If not, and there is still some green at the top, just remove the damaged parts and hopefully your plants will have enough time to recuperate. Leafy plants, like lettuce, remove the outer leaves and hope for new growth. If no new growth in about two weeks, replant the plants for a fall garden.
Contributed by Rich Young, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com. Photos courtesy of Rich Young.