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Shrub It Off: How to Hail-Proof Your Garden

Hail on Foliage

What the Hail, Colorado?

While Colorado is known for its majestic mountain peaks and unbeatable outdoor lifestyle, our great state is also known for a less welcome natural phenomenon, hail. 

In fact, it’s located in a region called Hail Alley along with Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.

Due to its central location, Colorado is simply situated in an area of the country prone to a high incidence of severe weather. What happens here is that moist air rises up over the Rockies, then cools and condenses, often leading to the formation of thunderstorms. 

As these storms rumble across the state, they can quickly produce hail due to our high altitude, low humidity, and strong updrafts. Beyond the Rockies, large swaths of open spaces and a lack of natural barriers then allow hailstorms to move freely and gain strength.

So, what’s a gardener to do? The sudden impact of hail can damage or even destroy a garden, leaving you with nothing to show for your hard work.

Luckily, there are ways to protect your garden from hail.

How to Hail-Proof Your Garden

Let’s start with the path of least resistance. The best way to prevent damage to your garden is to choose plants that can withstand a storm. Below is a quick rundown. Be sure to ask your local garden store or landscape professional about even more native and hail-resistant plants.

Ornamental Grasses

  • Feather Reed
  • Switch Grass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Giant Sacaton

Grassy/Small Leaves

  • Daylilies
  • Bear Grass
  • Desert Sotol
  • Hyssop (Agastache)
  • Rabbitbrush
  • Yarrow
  • California Fuschia
  • Honeylocust
  • Coreopsis

Tough or No Leaves

  • Agave
  • Yucca
  • Evergreen Shrubs
  • Cacti
  • Ephedra

Beyond what you plant, it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast regularly. If hail is expected, you can then take steps to protect your garden. 

If you’ve planted pots on wheeled stands (smart idea), move them into your garage, home, or a covered area. If your plants are in the ground, have covers handy in case a storm is imminent.

Covers don’t have to be fancy! You can use blankets, tarps, plastic buckets, storage bins, trash cans, or laundry baskets. Weigh down with rocks or bricks to keep them from blowing away.

To take things a step further, there are a variety of DIY cover options out there. 

How to Build a Garden Cover

Using wood, metal, or PVC piping you can frame out a cover. Then complete your setup using hail netting (yes, it exists), mesh, window screening material, shade cloth, or whatever you can find at your local big box store. Keep in mind what size of hail you want to protect against.

As for the build, below is a basic step-by-step. You can also find other tutorials and a variety of more elaborate ideas here, here and here. Here’s the gist:

  1. Determine the size and shape of your cover – Measure the area of your garden and sketch the cover's design. Be sure you can access plants for weeding or harvesting. 
  2. Install the stakes, poles or pipes – Frame the perimeter of your garden. Space out the stakes or poles about 3 feet apart. Tent the middle at a slightly higher to account for flex.
  3. Attach the netting or mesh – Drape your material, pull it as tight as possible, and use cable/zip ties or wire to attach the netting or wire mesh to the stakes or poles. 
  4. Test the cover – Give the structure a good shake and adjust as needed. To further anchor the mesh, use tent stakes, or keep it simple with bricks or rocks. You can also attach sandbags to the framing to keep the whole thing from blowing away!

For plants that can’t easily be covered, you can also use plant supports to prevent them from breaking under the weight of hail. Sturdy supports such as stakes, cages or trellises will help keep your plants upright and prevent damage.

And for plants growing alongside a home or fence, have at the ready tall sheets of plywood, or plastic/steel roof sheeting, and cover your plants if hail is in the forecast Just be sure to remove them after a storm passes so your plants can get the sunshine they need. 

Final tip—maintain your garden. Keeping your plants healthy and strong will make them more resistant to the impact of hailstones. Water your plants regularly, prune damaged or diseased branches, and remove any debris from your garden. This will also help you catch bugs and any other issues early so that they can be remedied without delay. 

While living in Colorado comes with a whole lot of upsides, hail can really challenge your plans for gardening and growing your own food. Luckily, there are ways to protect your plants. All it takes is a little creativity. So, get growing!

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