Every now and then Mother Nature reaches out and lets us know that she’s still around. One of our premium members just got hit by a major hailstorm, and she sent some pictures asking what she could do or should must do in order to fix the plants and the garden for this year.
My first piece of advice for any garden or facing this kind of damage is to relax. This is a major amount of plant damage but in the larger scheme of things, it’s only one year out of a lifetime of gardening. And as I constantly remind myself when things go wrong, “if that’s the worst thing that happens this month than life is good.”
There were no pictures of woody plan (trees, shrubs) damage, but if there were my advice would have been to ignore any shredded leaves and only prune out broken stems. If there were growing buds behind the crack, I would prune to the first bud behind the crack. If there were no buds then I prune right to the main trunk of the shrub.
But after having done that, I would also prune all of the surrounding branches back to the first bud so that they would fill in the hole that we have left with this major thinning cut.
In case this is in clear, here’s a link to the pruning video about heading cuts and thinning cuts.
In other words, if you have to make thinning cuts with one branch then you want to surround it with heading cuts if you want that area to still back in.
A rule of thumb re annuals and shredded leaves
My suggestion about annuals and shredded leaves is simply to allow the leaves to remain on the plant until they begin to wither, brown, and die. We want all of the energy they can produce to help the plant recover. If we remove them, then the plant has to use its root resources to develop new leaves from scratch.
Bottom line: leave all leaves on the plant for as long as possible until they begin to die.
The same rule of thumb holds true for vegetable plants. If possible, we don’t want to remove any leaves that might produce some energy for the roots.
In the case of this much damage in the image below, the peppers are done and will require replanting.
The beets to the right are likely going to be fine. My best guess at this point is that they will produce new leaves and will go on to produce a big root.
Rule of thumb for vegetables: if there’s a decent sized stem left, the leaves will regrow quickly. If there’s no stem…. (well, then we have a crop loss) Your only options are to replant or make friends at your local farmer’s market)
When it comes to perennials, there is some variation in how much damage each plant can absorb. In the case of the Hosta bed below we may have a problem. Some Hosta will not regrow their leaves the year they are damaged. But, some will.
I’m most familiar with this when it comes to frost damage in the very early spring or cutting back a plant in mid-summer. My best advice for this is simply to cross your fingers. If we’re lucky the plant will throw a few leaves or the roots will be large enough and strong enough to survive the rest of this summer and throw brand-new leaves for next year. But, we won’t know the survival rate for these plants until next spring.
I would suggest that you remove any rotting leaves to stop the rot from going back into the plant roots. Otherwise, leave them alone and wait for next spring.
The good news with these potatoes is that they may very well be fine. Again, remove any leaves as they begin to rot but my best guess is that they will throw new leaves from the existing stems. And with a bit of luck, you will get a small crop of potatoes.
Rule of thumb: If a plant has a surviving stem, it will throw new leaves from the leaf axils.
With these annual flowers, the Zinnia will throw shoots from the leaf axils and will fill right back in within 2 to 3 weeks. I’m not at all worried about the impatiens, it will continue to grow.
The good news with all of these perennials is that they’re very hard to kill. If this were my garden, I would prune off the flowering stems and anything dead. I would simply leave these plants alone to recover.
I’m really glad that our member included this picture because I think the balloon flower (which is the taller stem – like plant without many leaves) is a good illustration of what’s about to recover in her garden. The stem to the right is broken about two thirds of the way up and you can see the top of the stem leaning to the right. I would simply cut that at that point but I would leave the rest of the stem alone. The plant stem on the left should be cut to the same height simply to allow the plant to fill-in equally.
The stems on this plant have dormant buds all the way up the stem. This is true for most of the perennial plants that grow along stem with a flower on top of them. Simply cut the tips of the stems back to encourage new leaves. But, do not cut all the way to the ground. I note you may or may not get flowers from this plant this year.
The Siberian iris on the right should be treated much like all of the other perennials. The dead or dying leaves can be removed, otherwise, don’t do a thing.
Whenever possible, leaves – however badly damaged – should be left on the plants to provide energy to the plant. The honest view here is that you’ve lost the “beauty” of the garden for this season. What we’re trying to do now is provide as much energy to the plant roots as possible. Ugly doesn’t count this year. 😉 And so I wouldn’t be cutting anything back if I could avoid it. Suck the energy from the leaves you have left, remove them only if they die. Don’t count on flowers, but simply be content with survival.
Over the 40+ years I’ve been gardening in Canada, I’ve seen a lot of late frosts, late ice storms, and just ugly weather that takes a toll on plants in the garden. One of the things that constantly amazes me is how quickly a plant will recover and continue to grow.
So my best advice no matter the extent of the damage, is to remove all of the dead and dying leaves, remove any stem that is broken, but allow the plant to recover on its own.
What about feeding
There’s a fine line here between insuring the plant has all the nutrition it needs, and adding too much fertilizer in hopes of getting the plants to recover quickly.
Think of it as if you were sick. You don’t mind some kinds of food, such as a bowl of soup, but you don’t want a full Thanksgiving–level dinner. Your plants are the same. It’s not going to hurt to feed them at half strength liquid fertilizer such as a fish emulsion.
But you do not want to add copious amounts of granular fertilizers or full strength liquid fertilizers until your plants have started to regrow strongly. The perennials will be fine with a single feeding of fish emulsion and/or compost or even being ignored.
The annuals and vegetables will benefit from a regular half strength feeding for the next month and then on to a regular strength feeding weekly after that.
- Remove all obviously dead foliage. Allow anything damaged but not dead to remain.
- Understand this much damage means you have an ugly garden this year but the plants should recover.
- Find some leftover annuals at a garden shop and fill your empty spaces and heart with them.