hail2013.jpgWelcome to our third annual hail post! Why bother writing about hail AGAIN? Well, interestingly, the way we try to work in our gardens after a major hail storm can vary depending on the timing of the storm – when, in the growing season, it occurs. Looking back, the 2011 hail post was written in early July; last year’s was in mid-June. And here we are, in late August 2013, just starting to toy with the idea that we might have escaped major hail this year. But no……

Parts of central Colorado Springs saw quite a bit of hail early last week (on Aug 12), leaving my garden with the tell-tale scent of shredded cilantro and mint, and then a very large, serious thunderstorm yesterday dropped hail as large as golfballs in neighborhoods to the north (my garden, luckily, was spared). And in between those two dates, many smaller storms dropped hail over several places in Colorado Springs.

Vegetables – So here we are in the latter part of the growing season, with vegetable gardens that may look like cole slaw – shredded zucchini leaves, dented cucumbers and peppers, and punctured tomatoes. At this point, it is unfortunately too late to replant any of those warm season growers. Harvest any slightly damaged veggies and eat them soon. Compost anything, both ripe and unripe, that is too damaged to be consumed. Root vegetables, such as carrots and beets, should be fine, even if their leaves are damaged. They can stay in the ground until you’re ready for them. On the upside, if any of those warm season plants are pretty much done in by the damage, now is a perfect time to pull them out and get some cooler weather crop seeds in – like lettuce, spinach, and other greens. And if you haven’t already, it’s also a good time to start planning for better hail protection for your vegetable garden next year, see “Hail Protection for the Veggie Garden.” (Note the hail cover over the tomato plants in the photo at the top of the post.) It’s worth working on hail protection for next year now because it’s amazing how quickly it will fall to the back burner early next year when you’re doing all of your other spring gardening chores.

Annuals – Give any damaged annuals a good cutting back and light fertilization. If you’re lucky, they may perk up quickly and put on new growth. Replacement is an option if you can find what you want still available at the garden centers. Of course, our average first frost date is only about six weeks away, so you may not want to invest too much!

Perennials – The advice for damaged perennials is usually the same no matter what time in the growing season the hail occurred. Try cutting them back to remove the damage and to stimulate new growth. Replacement is an option if the plant is just too far gone. However, if the plant has large, broad leaves or has noticeably suffered in previous hail storms, it’s time to start thinking about what might be a good replacement that can weather a light hailstorm or two. A good reference to look at is The Undaunted Garden by Lauren Springer. The book offers some excellent plant lists, including lists of hail resistant plants for western gardens.

Trees & Shrubs – Remove any damaged branches from shrubs and small trees. Clean up leaf debris from beneath the plants and see how they do. Most likely they will recover just fine (and they probably appreciated the extra water from the storms – especially our large, mature trees).

Contributed by Carey Harrington, Certified Colorado Gardener and Colorado Native Plant Master