By Jesse Eastman
Hail is a fact of life. If you’re into gardening, it’s a devastating, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing fact of life, but a fact, nonetheless, and it’s not going away just because coronavirus has brought society to a screeching halt. The big difference this year is that so many of you have either taken up gardening for the first time or have expanded your gardens like never before, and our supply of herb and vegetable starts as well as seeds has been depleted. We simply don’t have stock to keep up with you maniacs, and we are already seeing our suppliers running out of things with no plans on having more available.
I imagine you can already tell where I’m going with this. If hail hits your vegetable garden, we may not have anything on hand to replace your poor thrashed plants. 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 afterwards. Your plants probably won’t enjoy the shade from your umbrella as much as you do.
We get many requests each year for hail netting. 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. In fact, in all my years here at the nursery, I don’t think we’ve ever actually ordered hail netting after discussing cost. 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 hail stones 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 break and tear your plants to shreds. Even a glancing blow to the wire on the way down will absorb massive amounts of kinetic energy, letting the hail then fall harmlessly 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. I’ve used chicken wire for years, and it has done right by me, however I’ve moved on to…
This year I’m using 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 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 bends 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. It will probably only last one season, but it was quick, easy, and looks good!
Originally published on June 3rd, 2020. Updated on January 27th, 2023.