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Jesse Eastman, Fort Collins Nursery
For gardeners, hail can be a devastating, frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and inevitable fact of life. The prudent gardener will plan for hail protection now, not wait until it’s too late. There are many ways to protect your garden from icy death on high. Here are my thoughts on common solutions:
Patio Furniture/Buckets/Whatever you can find
Many things can effectively stand between hail and your precious plants. Patio furniture (chairs, tables, even umbrellas), overturned buckets, tarps, and more are often easily at hand when you see those mean gray clouds boiling on the horizon. The downside is you need to be ready to put them in place every time you even suspect hail and then take them down afterward. Your plants probably won’t enjoy the shade from your umbrella as much as you do.
Purpose-made hail netting is typically a woven white fabric that allows a fair amount of light to transmit to the plants while catching hail. Highly effective, but also very expensive. It really only makes sense for commercial operations where the plants on the ground are the lifeblood of a business.
Also known as poultry mesh, chicken wire makes for excellent hail protection. It is inexpensive and durable. “But wait!” you might be thinking, “I’ve lost gardens to hailstones that were small enough to fit between the holes in chicken wire.” Here’s the secret: hail protection does not need to stop the hail in its tracks. It only needs to slow its descent so that it no longer has the speed to shred your plants. Even a glancing blow to the wire on the way down will absorb kinetic energy, letting the drop gently among your plants. Plus, chicken wire blocks virtually no sunlight, so it can stay in place all season long, no need to rush home when you see the storm clouds boiling to set up buckets and lawn chairs. The main downside to using chicken wire is that it is a little heavy and can be tricky to work with. If you’ve got a big garden, as I do, you may be looking for a solution that can cover the whole garden in one shot instead of individual plants or beds.
In my garden, I use nylon bird netting as hail protection. The concept is basically the same as with chicken wire – it doesn’t need to catch all the hail, just slow it down so the stones don’t have their destructive speed when they find your plants. The big difference is the ease of installation. I ran some string overhead across my garden, pulled the netting across it, and secured it with zip ties. It’s practically invisible, lightweight, and you don’t have to fight the kinks in the wire that make working with chicken wire challenging. I was able to install complete coverage over a 24’x45′ garden by myself in about two hours. The netting comes down in winter so it doesn’t get weighed down by snow, but it’s quick and easy to put back up in spring!