by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
While you are leafing through your seed catalogs this winter, check out what they have to offer in floating row covers. Gardeners can satisfy their itch to get plants in the ground earlier in the spring and extend the growing season in the fall by using floating row covers to protect crops.
Floating row covers are made of a light, permeable material, usually spun-bonded polypropylene or polyester, and can be laid loosely over plants or can be supported with wire hoops. The material is similar in feel to interfacing material used in sewing. They are available in different weights that provide various amounts of frost protection. Row covers not only provide protection from frost, they also provide a barrier to wind and are an effective, non-toxic barrier to bugs.
The lightest-weight row cover material will allow air, water and up to ninety percent of ambient light to pass through. Because of its thinness it will not provide much, if any frost protection, but it will provide an effective barrier to pests. Medium-weight material will allow about eighty five percent light transmission with frost protection down to about twenty eight degrees. Heavier row cover material is usually used to protect plants from frost in the spring and fall. Due to the density of the heavier material plants will not receive as much light, about thirty to fifty percent, and will therefore not grow as quickly as plants under the other lighter weight materials. You can use two layers of the light weight material to get the effect of one layer of the denser material.
In the spring, transplants and newly seeded beds can be covered, leaving plenty of slack in the material to allow for plant growth. Bury the edges of the material in the soil, cover the edge with rocks (heavy object) or use ground staples to keep pests from entering. Keep in mind that staples have the potential to rip the material. Remove the covers as the plants begin to flower so that pollination can take place.
Wire hoops can be used to support the material if you wish to use them. Garden supply stores carry hoops or you can make your own out of nine gauge wire. Hoops can be used both under and over the material to help hold it in place. There are specially made clips to hold the material to the hoops or clothespins can work too.
Check under the row covers every now and then to make sure pests have not found a way in. If pests are found, treat the infested plants with your choice of defense.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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