A couple of nights ago, we had quite a huge thunderstorm here on the farm. We knew this only because our piglets started racing around the barn as the wind picked up. It was quite the sight to behold!
That was nothing, however, compared to the coming storm. We had wind gusts close to 60 mph and heavy rains that made it sound like a train descended upon the house. I have to say, I was quite grateful for the shelter of our home!
I was worried, though, about how the thunderstorm would affect my plants. It’s not necessarily the thunder and lightning that you have to worry about with these sorts of storms. Instead, it’s the heavy rain and high winds.
Fortunately, this particular storm did little damage to my plants. I’ve had other storms in which I wasn’t as lucky, though, which is what led me to write this article.
There are several ways you can protect your plants from thunderstorms – and help them recover if you aren’t so lucky.
How Do Thunderstorms Damage Plants?
There’s nothing worse than watching a heavy storm batter your garden. You’ve worked so hard to plant, care for, and harvest from your garden – only to see it ripped away.
While there are steps you can take to protect your plants from thunderstorms and prevent damage, unfortunately, sometimes the damage is unpreventable.
Believe it or not, there are some ways in which thunderstorms are good for your plants. Lightning restores nitrogen to the soil and can help fertilize it – that’s why your plants look so green after a storm!
However, the intense winds from a heavy storm can also have a desiccating effect, drying out your plants and making them brittle. Even worse, high winds can also rip off leaves and pull roots out of the ground, effectively killing your plants.
How to Protect Plants from Thunderstorms
The best way to protect your plants is to just bring them inside if you see a thunderstorm on the way. Of course, this is only possible with containers and hanging baskets. Otherwise, these tips will help you protect your in-ground plants from damage.
1. Cover Them Up
To protect your vegetable garden from wind damage, its row covers to the rescue. You might not have a lot of time to cover your plants as a storm rolls in, so target the younger, more sensitive plants first. Those that are mature have probably already set strong roots and have a better likelihood of fending off any potential damage.
If you don’t have any row covers, you can improvise with 5-gallon buckets or similar containers. Just make sure you weigh these containers down and remove them as soon as the threat of storm damage has passed.
2. Install Fences or Shrubs
Planting a few tall shrubs or hedges or even building a tall fence can be helpful if you get a lot of high winds. Both can serve as a wind barrier that will help shelter your plants from damage, particularly if you live in the middle of an open expanse.
If you have trees that are young or particularly sensitive, you may have to stake them. This will support them should a windstorm arise. Just make sure you tie them somewhat loosely so that they can move a bit in the wind – otherwise, they’ll snap.
3. Wrap in Burlap
Some plants may benefit from a burlap cover. This is usually the case with shrubs, small trees, and perennials that might split in the middle or flatten under heavy rain and wind.
4. Protect the Roots
Protecting plant roots is imperative at all times of the year, but especially when a storm is on its way. Make sure your plants are mulched well to prevent them from flying away in the wind.
One of the best things you can do to prevent damage from thunderstorms and other weather events is to get really good about your pruning and general maintenance. Removing dead growth can prevent storm damage since weak branches and limbs aren’t being torn off in the high winds. By keeping plants compact and healthy, they’re less likely to break and go flying around.
This is especially true for trees that have large branches that could inflict serious damage to your home, lawn, or garden.
Treating Wind and Thunderstorm Damage in the Garden
Once a storm rolls through, here are some things you can do to move forward.
1. Assess the Trees First
You should take time to assess the condition of all of your plants. However, trees should take precedence.
That’s because they pose the greatest risk to you if they are left unattended and are in poor condition. The falling limbs could damage your home, garden, or other parts of your property.
Take stock of the condition of all of your plants. If a plant is ripped in half, it’s probably not going to be saved. However, if your plants are in one piece but are looking a little ragged, don’t panic. Be patient and give them time to recover. Most perennials will make a comeback.
2. Prune Gently
If you’ve waited a few weeks after severe storm damage has wreaked havoc on your plants – and they’re still looking worse for wear – go ahead and prune. You should only prune if no new growth has appeared – if it has, your plants are probably doing just fine.
Cut the stems back to the base. This will give them the best chance at regenerating. You can also prune annuals to get rid of dead plant material that’s wasting the energy of your recovering plants.
Make sure you get your plants back in the ground after heavy storms. Most plants, especially perennial shrubs that are already acclimated, will do just fine if you replant them. You can also re-mulch to cover partially exposed roots – or add a bit of topsoil to cover them back up.
4. Take Care of Rotten Roots
The biggest threat to plants from heavy rains is rotting roots. This is especially true if you have soil that drains poorly.
Over time, if you leave your plants sitting in water, they are bound to develop fungal growths. This can lead to root rot. You can use a fungicide to treat waterlogged plants but in most cases, the easier fix is just to improve drainage.
5. Rinse off Salt
If you’re like me and live inland, this isn’t a concern. However, if you live on the coast and just suffered a massive storm, there’s a good chance that your plants are covered with salt spray. This can be carried in by the wind, even if you don’t live right on the coast. Rinse off all of your plants with fresh water to remove the residue, which can dry out your plants and kill them.
6. Compost the Leftovers
There will inevitably be plants that just can’t be saved. If that’s the case, cut your losses and compost them. Anything green can go in the bin, helping restore nutrients and moisture to the soil.
Prepare for Heavy Storms Ahead of Time
When you get that weather alert on your phone that there is a heavy storm rolling through, you often won’t have time to prepare for the coming onslaught of wind, rain, and sometimes, hail. You might find yourself scrambling to get your plants ready and often, those last-minute efforts just aren’t enough.
Unfortunately, all the planning in the world sometimes won’t make up for a storm that rolls in quickly and inflicts a lot of damage. However, by taking the steps above ahead of time (and having materials on hand to cover plants quickly, if you are able), you may reduce some of the damage.
The good news is that for most people, these sorts of storms are rare. Take comfort in knowing that you’re prepared for anything!