Gardening with Deb Babcock: Dealing with plant damage from hail and hoppers |

Gardening with Deb Babcock: Dealing with plant damage from hail and hoppers

A grasshopper hangs out with many friends in the tall, dry grass north of Steamboat Springs. Grasshoppers seem to be enjoying the dry summer conditions in the Steamboat Springs area and easily are found in the dry grass in the fields north and west of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

Between grasshoppers and the hail storm we experienced a couple weeks ago, gardens in parts of Routt County are in shambles. Plants and trees have been stripped of their leaves and many plants were so beaten down or chewed up that it appears they might not recover from the damage.

By the time you read this column, you should have a good idea whether your plants are going to recover from the hail damage. Usually within one to two weeks, trees will start forming new leaf buds and have a second leafing out and plants will straighten back up and continue growing. If the perennials or annuals haven’t shown signs of recovery by this time, you may need to dig them up and replace with new plants.

Generally, those plants that have established root systems will rally and recover from both of these kinds of damage. It’s the newer and more tender plants that are the most vulnerable.

To help your plants recover from major damage like large-size hail or voracious hoppers, keep the plants well-watered throughout the summer and into fall. Remove any shredded foliage and spoiled fruit.

If your trees lost limbs or need to be pruned because of broken branches, don’t apply any type of wound dressing or any covering over the wounds or cut areas. The tree will be able to heal the wound better without our interference. If you can, wait until some new growth starts to appear before pruning away dead and broken branches. When you prune, use clean tools and cut just outside of a joint or collar on the trunk, not flush with the tree.

Research varies on the use of fertilizer when plants are damaged. Fertilizing with nitrogen will encourage more foliage and require more water while the plants really need to put recovery efforts into their roots. Some researchers say not to fertilize; others state that a very light use of fertilizer can help since the lack of foliage on damaged plants don’t allow them to turn sunlight into nutrients.

If you think the plants need fertilizer, use only a very light application, and look for fertilizers that give roots a boost rather than foliage. This means higher values for the P and K in fertilizer NPK ratings. Potassium (the K) helps with overall vigor and disease resistance and phosphorus (the P) is good for root development.

If you notice any fungi or pests like aphids or leaf borers moving in on your damaged plants, it is helpful to apply a fungicide or insecticide so the plant isn’t further stressed as it tries to recover from the weather-caused damage.

As grasshoppers mature and start heading toward your garden, insecticide treatments will have limited success since there is continual re-invasion by grasshoppers. You’ll need to keep an eye on them until the first frost kills them.

A bran bait product called EcoBran was tested by many of us Master Gardeners several years ago with pretty good success. It targets immature and mature grasshoppers and contains the insecticide carbaryl integrated in bran flakes that are spread on the ground.

What I particularly like about this insecticide is its fast-acting effectiveness (I had overnight results) as well as its relative safety. The dry bran flakes are pretty much a grasshopper-specific killer while the liquid forms of grasshopper insecticide — acephate (Orthene®), carbaryl (Sevin®) and malathion — that are sprayed directly on your plants also are effective but will harm beneficial bees, flies, butterflies and hummingbirds who drink plant nectar from sprayed plants. They also leave residue on edible plants that can be harmful to humans.

It’s best to spray these insecticides at night or early morning when bees, flies and butterflies are less active. Always read and follow label instructions.

One of our Master Gardeners, Kathy Hockin, who has a long history in Routt County and dealing with grasshoppers in her garden, has suggested an old-time use of self-rising flour sifted in among your plants. Grasshoppers apparently eat the flour, thinking they are full, and then starve to death. It’s an inexpensive alternative worth trying.

Best wishes on getting your garden back into top form. Many of the local nurseries are running sales on annuals and flowering perennials this time of year. Might be time to stock up and put in plants for next year’s garden.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener with the CSU Extension Routt County. Products mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Master Gardener program, but are simply provided for informational purposes. Call 970-879-0825 or email with questions.

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