What Is Row Cover And How And When To Use It


Row Cover

Gardening can sometimes be a little challenging. Especially when dealing with things like early and late frosts, windy conditions, scorching temperatures, and pest pressure. The good news is that there is something that can help you with all of those things, Row Cover!

What Is A Row Cover?

Also known as Garden Fabrics, the floating row cover is mostly a thin plastic or material that is either transparent or semi-transparent and is used to shield plants from harsh weather conditions such as frost and intense sunlight. It also acts as a protective cover for the plants against harmful insects. The materials do not absorb any moisture but allow rainfall to pass through.

Different types of floating row covers apply in different seasons. Some are used to retain heat during the cold seasons, others controlling the sun’s intensity, and so forth. You should use the appropriate floating cover for your crops.

Types Of Row Covers

They are made out of various materials:

  • spun-bonded
  • woven plastic
  • polyester
  • polypropylene

All the above can be classified into lightweights, medium weights, and heavyweights.

Types Of Row Cover Based On Weight

Row cover weights determine their effectiveness to insulate and how much light transmission they allow. The weight is determined by the ounces per square yard of fabric and then categorized as lightweight, medium weight or heavy weight.

This chart breaks down how the categories are defined.

Lightweight0.45 oz./sq. yd. or below90% Light TransmissionVery Light Frost Protection
Medium Weight0.50 – 0.55 oz./sq. yd.85% Light TransmissionFrost Protection Down
to 28°F.
Heavy Weight0.90–2.0 oz./sq. yd.30% – 60% light transmissionFrost Protection Down to
24°F – 28 °F

Lightweights

They are the cheapest and suitable for most crops. They offer a minimal amount of protection from the elements and are mostly used for insect protection. Because they are light, they don’t retain much heat and don’t need support. This type can usually be laid directly on plants.

Medium weights

The most commonly used by gardeners for all round use. These middle-of-the-road weighted row covers are perfect for crops that need to mature and increase yield. During the spring and fall seasons, they retain some heat. They are most suitable for plants such as lettuce, peas, carrots, cucurbits, potatoes, radishes, sweet corn, and blueberries. However this weight can be used on most crops if care is taken.

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Heavyweights

These are perfect for the cold seasons as they provide shelter against frost and freeze. They are excellent for early and late season extension for cool-season crops such as pepper and tomatoes. These row covers raise heat temperatures during the day. However, due to their thickness, the permeability of sunlight and water is reduced. This should not discourage farmers, though, as they are mainly meant to be used on specific plants that thrive under such conditions.

They also last longer and can be re-used, however, this of course makes them more expensive.

Types based on functionality

All-Purpose Fabric

This cover can transmit up to 70 percent or more of sunlight, locks in heat, keep the bugs out, and if you have transplants, it acts as an excellent windbreaker. If you’re worried about water not reaching the plants, worry not. Rain and irrigation water can easily reach the soil. In the cold seasons, the row cover prevents damage from frost damage by retaining the heat of up to 28 Fahrenheit.

When you’re not using it, make sure to store the cover away from moisture or the sun.

Summerweight Fabric

The cover is very lightweight and should not be used as protection against frost. However, it allows plants to receive more than 85 percent of the available sunlight. Due to its nature, it also traps minimal heat. It can continually be used all season to defend the plants against insects, insect-borne diseases, and birds. It also allows rain and water to seep through and reach the plants and soil.

Garden Quilt

This is a thicker version of the all-purpose fabric. It allows up to 60 percent of sunlight to pass through. During the cold season, it provides adequate protection against frost. Also, the fabric is ideal for extending the growing season into early spring and late fall.

If you have tender landscape plants such as strawberries, herbs, perennials, small fruits, among many others, this fabric would be best suited as a crop cover since it insulates them.

Shade Netting

They are UV-stabilized and use fiberglass hoops to support the fabric and secure them with a clip. They reduce sunlight intensity by 50 percent while allowing cool air to circulate freely.

How Do You Put Row Cover On Your Crops?

  1. Installation is relatively easy. You can follow the simple steps below.
  2. Once you have prepared your ground, if you are using seeds, plant them as required, and if you’re transplanting them, ensure the transplants are well-rooted.
  3. Place the fabric directly on the ground. If you have transplants, use hoops to cover the plants directly. The size and length of your hoops will be determined by how tall the plants are. If you’re covering your crops later in the season or for plants such as pepper and tomatoes, consider using larger hoops to accommodate both growth and height of these crops.
  4. Once laid directly to the soil, leave some space at the center to allow for expansion once the seeds begin to spring out of the soil.
  5. If you’re using support hoops, ensure you pull the cover taut over the hoops and bury the edges well enough to keep the fabric secure during windy days. if the winds are too stubborn, you can use clips to hold the fabric to the hoops
  6. You can start monitoring the seedlings or transplants for fertilizer and moisture. The last thing you need is malnourished plants.
  7. Remove the cover only if you need to thin or weed the plants.
  8. As the weather gets warm, monitor the plants to ensure they don’t overheat. This applies to cool-weather plants such as lettuce and broccoli.
  9. Check out for signs of overheating; these include wilting, damages to the leaves and blossom drop. Remove the cover if the situation looks serious.
  10. If your most significant issue is controlling those pests, you can opt to use the summerweight fabric.
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Using Row Cover For Season Extension

What type of plants have you grown in your garden? According to the types of floating row covers mentioned earlier, some covers are very functional when it comes to extension into a season. This mainly applies to cool-weather plants.

Using Row Cover For Pest Control

As long as the plants are thoroughly covered, they will be shielded from harmful insects. Examples of harmful insects include; grasshoppers, potato beetles, aphids, leaf miners, Japanese beetles, cabbage worms, root maggots, and vine borers. Look out for infected leaves or stems. If there is evidence of a pest, remove the cover and get rid of the infected parts of the plant.

Pests can also prove to be a nuisance in scenarios where the pests lay the eggs before the cover was introduced to the plants. Keep checking if the plants look healthy and that there are no signs of disturbance. Replace the entire covers to prevent the pests from further damage.

Cabbage Worm

When Should You Put Row Cover On?

This entirely depends on you and the type of crops you’re planting. Most plants fair through most of the year except in winter. Those that do require the heavyweights to maintain the heat and ensure the plants increase their yields in preparation for the next upcoming season. Most experts recommend installing covers during spring.

Reasons Why You Should Use Row Cover.

  • Protect the plant seedlings from wind.
  • Offers frost protection
  • Provides protection from insects
  • It is a permeable membrane

It controls the amount of sunlight coming in but allows water to reach the plants and soil as freely as possible. It doesn’t hold any moisture, and some fabric allows proper circulation of air.

Can Be Re-Used

Depending on the weather, you may need to use a floating cover to ensure maximum crop production, but this does not mean you have to buy another cover. Most fabrics are reusable, saving you unnecessary costs of purchasing a new cover every time a need arises.

Are There Any Potential Problems With Using Row Cover?

We have shed so much light on how valid these covers are, but they can also pose serious problems.

Environmental Impact

There’s no proper way of getting rid of it, and many people opt to burn it or send it to the landfill. However, its plastic nature may cause environmental harm. That is why it’s important to get a higher quality row cover that can be reused longer if you can afford it.

Makes Working In The Garden A Little Harder

Weeding plants under the floating cover can prove to be quite tiring. You have to remove the pins holding the cover in place, carefully weed then put the cover back in place. Now, repeatedly having to remove the cover just to access the plants can be stressful.

Putting It On Can Be A Pain Sometimes

To install a cover, the process it takes to install can be both daunting and exhausting. It must be done carefully and quickly to avoid trapping harmful insects inside the cover. You would need skillful labor to go about this. Also if you find you have to cover your crops on a windy day you better get some help because it will be challenging.

Pollination Is Limited

The crops cannot be pollinated unless you remove the cover temporarily to allow bees and other pollinating agents to do their job. Exposing the plants can risk them getting attacked by pests and harsh weather conditions. The process of ensuring that all is well can be challenging as well.

Plants such as peas, strawberries, beans, pumpkins, and squash, require pollination to produce a harvest. Once they begin to flower, temporarily pull back the cover and allow the bees to aid in the pollination process. However, for plants such as the tomato, they are self-pollinating. And can be left covered the entire time as long as heat temperatures are not drastically high.

Potential Heat damage

The floating covers can cause catastrophic heat damages to plants especially in their seedling stage. Therefore, it is very necessary to ensure that the heat is controlled, especially if the fabric is very thick and maintains very high temperatures. To control this, remove the cover and allow some of the heat to escape.

Wilted Vegetables

Should You Use Row Cover?

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t. And if you’re wondering what to look for to help you find a proper cover, here’s a guideline I came up with.

Size Of Your Garden

Choose a material that can easily fit into your garden, such that if you had to make instant adjustments, cutting up the fabric would not be a hassle for you.

Type Of Plants You Want To Be Covered

The type of plants you are covering should be the primary guideline. Some plants require the heavy fabric, while some require very light fabric.

Your Climate

Depending on where you live will determine if you need row cover and what type you will need. Growing zones with shorter growing seasons and harsher winters can always benefit from row cover.

How Long Are You Planning On Using It?

Not every cover is always reusable. Find out how long you wish to keep using the fabric, then make the purchase.

Cost

Is the fabric costly? Is it within your budget? As I mentioned earlier, some fabrics can be a little expensive while others are relatively cheap. Sound quality will cost more than poor quality, so make sure to plan for it in case you have a tight budget to work with.

Conclusion

Row covers are handy tools, and with a keen eye, you can definitely make good use of them. Understand what it is you would like to achieve from having them in your garden, then set out to install them. The bottom line? Make sure to get something and is suitable for your needs.

Harold Thornbro

Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Public Speaker, Teacher, Homesteading and Permaculture Enthusiast. If You're Looking For Me, You'll Find Me In The Garden.

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