I was fortunate to have very little damage to my garden thanks to measures I took before the hail started. Let me share a few tips for preventing hail damage with you.
I have gardened in Colorado for almost 28 years and have had more than one garden destroyed by hail. I have learned that the best way to protect plants from hail is to keep them covered until the hail season is over. (To be honest, it’s never really over but the storms are less severe after June. Also plants are bigger by then and can better withstand a mild hail storm and not get totally destroyed.)
My hail prevention tips apply to containers as well as garden plots. Don’t count on running out to cover exposed plants with boxes or sheets when a thunderstorm threatens. You may not be home, may be sleeping, or not have enough warning.
Any covering you leave in place needs to let light in and heat out. It also helps if you can water the plants easily. And, of course, they have to be strong enough to withstand the hail. Most hail storms I’ve witnessed here have stones no larger than marble size but even so an intense storm of hail this size can cause a lot of damage.
There are products you can purchase to put, and leave, in place. For individual plants like young peppers and tomatoes, coverings called cloches can do the job. They are essentially mini greenhouses and come in various sizes and materials including glass, plastic and even paper. They also protect from wind and cold in the early season and at night.
Most of the cloches I’ve used last several seasons but are smallish and soon outgrown by the plants. For any cloche type cover, the bigger they are the longer you can keep them in place. They also need to be staked down or the wind will carry them off. A.M. Leonard, Lee Valley Tools, and Gardener’s Supply carry versions.
Also available commercially is hail cloth. I’ve never used it but I know fellow gardeners who have and attest to it’s effectiveness. It’s good for larger areas like garden beds. It needs support; you can’t just drape it over the plants but you can drape it over tomato cages and it doesn’t need to go all the way to the ground. Clothespins will keep it in place.
If you tinker, you can repurpose items to make suitable covers. Five gallon buckets make sturdy hail covers. White will work but translucent is better. You will need to drill a 1- 1.5in hole in the bottom for ventilation. Then turn it upside down over the plant and push a stake through the hole to keep it in place. These also nest and so take up less room in storage.
You can repurpose gallon milk jugs (cut out the bottom), and other big plastic containers like those in which pretzels are sold. Another item I tried is a clear plastic umbrella. These are the type that come down over the face and are called bubble umbrellas.They’re great for larger plants like pumpkins and melons. I stick the handle in the ground to keep it in place. And they are easy to store. They are often sold in quantity to hand out at weddings etc.
Shade cloth will provide good protection especially if it is heavier. Like hail cloth it needs support. Finally, small mesh netting is another option.
For any of these methods, have them in place as soon as you plant. Monitor the plants for any signs of overheating. Some hailstorms are just too severe for a garden to survive but these methods should protect a garden from 90% of the storms we get here.