Weather damage to plants

Posted: Monday 16 April 2012
by Adam Pasco

I've suffered disappointment in the garden already this year, as the hard frosts of the last couple of weeks have damaged new shoots ...

Hailstones on grass

What a month it’s been on the weather front.

Ever since a hosepipe ban was announced in the East Midlands on Thursday 5 April, it's hardly stopped raining. At least my water butts are now full to the brim.

I'm not really complaining about this, because I know how dry my garden has been. The regular downpours over the past week have really soaked the soil and done some good, delivering water to the roots of trees, shrubs and perennials that are starting back into growth.

I don’t mind ordinary April showers, but I do have a problem with hailstorms. I've just spent the weekend dodging hailstones – cutting the lawn in brilliant sunshine one minute, then mowing over a carpet of hail the next.

My heart sinks every time I see hail. At the end of last week, I’d carefully removed a delivery of young plants from boxes, and spread them out on the patio for fresh air and a drink. "The sunshine will do them good" I thought, as I popped inside for a cup of tea. But no sooner was my back turned than I heard tapping on the window, as a vicious hailstorm started.

Large hailstones can rip through leaves and flatten seedlings, so I quickly brought all the plants into the kitchen for shelter, before moving them into the protection of the greenhouse.

Unfortunately, the same couldn't be done with my border plants, and they just had to fend for themselves. Thankfully, these hailstones were quite small and didn't appear to do any lasting damage. But in the past, large hailstones in late April have punched holes straight through the leaves of my hostas and other perennials, just as they started to look perfect.

I've suffered disappointment in the garden already this year, as the hard frosts of the last couple of weeks have damaged new shoots, on what I thought was a hardy perennial. When Bob Brown chose Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' as his favourite plant in the 20th birthday edition of Gardeners' World Magazine last year, I went straight out and bought three. These took up residence in a shaded border beneath a silver birch, establishing well despite the dry summer.

This perennial has been sending up the most dramatic spotted leaves, but a hard frost caused them to collapse. The leaves won't recover, but hopefully a flush of new foliage will soon develop. Next year, I'll keep a small cloche handy, to pop over them to provide protection from frost and hail.

This morning, there are reports that the Midlands and South West are now under drought order, with claims that water levels could be worse in many areas than during the last great drought of 1976. Recent rain will be used by growing plants, or just evaporate, doing nothing to fill reservoirs and rivers. Save what you can to use in the short term, and start recycling grey water too.

Yes, the April weather is proving challenging. Roll on May!

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Evilstampywoman 16/04/2012 at 17:36

I put my crown imperial in pots earlier in the year as I was too late last year to plant them out. They are now dead as the frost has got them. I wish I had kept them indoors.

Warthog 16/04/2012 at 18:26

Up here in the North Pennines I have for the last two nights covered all my newly planted stuff, mostly with light packaging material, some with weed barrier, anything to give a bit of shelter! It does seem to have worked in temperatures up to -4C.

MacMatt 17/04/2012 at 09:45

Hello, just to say, there isn't a hosepipe ban in the Midlands!

Adam Pasco 17/04/2012 at 10:55

Hi MacMatt. Anglian Water serve my part of the East Midlands in Cambridgeshire, and they have imposed a hosepipe ban. Much of the MIdlands is now under drought order, and everyone is being encouraged to use water wisely to avoid a hosepipe ban being enforced.

Dahlia13 20/04/2012 at 08:50

Sadly, I also lost an acer which was already suffering from wind burn and the frost finally killed it off. Have planted another so I'm hoping it will survive this unsettling weather, although we do need the rain, we can do without the frost.