What not to do in the garden after HAIL

AT 4 p.m. the garden - to be precise, the vegetable plot - was a picture of near perfection. I have never enjoyed such a pest-free spring as this year. At 5 p.m. the storm came. And with it the marble-sized hail that bounced two feet high when it hit the paved driveway and slate pathway leading to the front door. My neighbor tells me he has never known a hailstorm of such intensity in the 30 years he has lived in the neighborhood.

At 6 p.m., with a hint of sun breaking through the clouds, I knew why farmers sometimes stand and cry: What was picture perfect two hours earlier now appeared as a thrashed and shredded mess.

At 7 a.m. the following day, I left town on a five-day business trip, which under the circumstances was the best thing that could have happened. It forced me to stay out of the garden for a few days.

When I returned, the vegetable plot was a pleasure to behold!

Sure, the scars were still obvious, but they served only to highlight the new growth. The regeneration, not the damage, stood out.

In the center of all the split and punctured cabbage leaves, there were rosettes of new leaves beginning to curl together to form the heart.

Atop the pockmarked tomato stems, new unblemished growth stretched up six and more inches.

Where the tops had been bludgeoned off altogether in the storm, side shoots had burst forth.

The tale was similar for peppers, squash, and cucumbers. In fact, the garden lost only one plant outright - a tiny seedling, the only watermelon I had planted this year.

Is there a lesson in all this?

You bet there is!

Restrain the desire to go out and start cleaning up immediately after hail has struck.

An experienced gardener, who lives where hailstorms are fairly common, once told me that he refuses to go out ``even to inspect the garden for the first three days after the storm.''

In his view, the damage often appears disastrous immediately after a storm. The temptation to clean up and throw away ``before the plants have been given a chance to show they can recover'' is sometimes overwhelming. In short, the zealous cleanup specialist will often destroy more than the storm.

After several days, when new shoots have become obvious, the cleanup can begin. But don't get out the pruning shears too soon. With some pristine new growth showing, the temptation to cut away tattered leaves is strong.

Even damaged leaves are capable of photosynthesis. Too-speedy removal will curtail the supply of nutrients, and the plant needs all the help it can get at this time.

After new growth is well established, begin removing the old storm-battered growth a little at a time, but never all at one shot.

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