The lone voice of horticultural reason

Storm Damage!

One step forward, two steps back. Our early spring start to this year’s growing season, which by my journal had some plants developing (even blooming!) close to a month ahead, was no doubt devastated for some by last Friday’s storm. My little patch was blessed. All I lost were two very large limbs from an enormous oak tree that has been the bane of my gardening existence for a decade; nature’s pruning job may, in the end, afford me a little wider range of perennial choices for my back yard.

But I shouldn’t make light of the subject; a relative’s property in Orono was devastated, while a friend new to gardening in West Bloomington called me Saturday near tears to report that hail had reduced her garden to stubble.

If hail smashed through your flowerbeds during the storm, the best recourse for now is to clear out the debris, but don’t give up on the plants. You may be surprised at their resiliency.

What a lot of you are probably seeing are annuals and perennials the leaves and stems of which have been bent, snapped, mashed and shredded. Cut below the damaged area, just above the nearest set of undamaged or only moderately damaged leaves. If there are no undamaged leaves, if your hostas were pounded and shredded into pulp, remove the portions that obviously aren’t connected to anything anymore but leave the rest for another week. Your plants have suffered an enormous injury-they are literally in shock-and we don’t want to remove any portion of leaf that might still be aiding the photosynthesis/recovery process.

After about a week it will be apparent what’s living tissue and what isn’t. If you wind up having to cut your perennials right down to the ground, many, many will not only survive, they’ll send up new leaves, and some will even bloom later this season. Probably none of your perennials have died, no matter how bad they look.

Lilies, particularly, took the wind and hail hard. Many were already three feet tall and setting buds when the storm hit. I must be lucky, because mine suffered no damage. If your lilies snapped, or had the buds knocked off, prune the plants as described above. You may or may not see blooms this year, but I recall inadvertently cutting off a lily right at the ground one year prior to blooming; the next year it not only came up, it bloomed.

Annuals are a little more iffy. If hail broke them off at the ground and pretty much wiped them out, best to head back to the garden store, buy new ones, and replant. Get to your nursery center quickly, however; growers tell me they’ve never seen their bedding plants fly out the doors faster than they’ve been selling them this spring. The annuals you buy are a crop, sown in late January and February. Like any product, growers try to predict sales; this amazing spring has taken them by surprise. By mid-June, selection of annuals in our neck of the woods is going to be slim.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener