The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and you’re sitting in a lush, green Eden of your own making. For many, there are few better ways to enjoy warm weather than gardening. Keeping a garden can be a wonderful way to spend your free time outdoors, a great way to gain access to fresh produce at home, and even provide a side job if you’re looking to sell at a farmer’s market. But whether it’s for business or pleasure, a garden can only do as much for you as you do for it.
Seasoned veterans of the vegetable patch know how to use landscape fabric in a vegetable garden, but if you’re just getting started, now is as good a time as any to learn how to do it. Garden row covers (otherwise known as garden fabric, landscape fabric, garden cloth, or crop row covers) are widely used to protect vegetable gardens from a range of threats, from pests to frost. As delicious and nourishing as garden-fresh produce is, it also requires a watchful eye and a caring touch to reach its full potential. Here are some examples of how to use row covers to ensure that you enjoy a bountiful harvest.
1. Protect plants from frost
Different kinds of weather require different kinds of material.1 A heavier garden fabric is perfect for protecting your plants against frost. Heavier fabrics trap heat to warm the soil and create insulation against cold air, slowing or even preventing the formation of ice crystals altogether. When the weather warms, you should switch to lighter fabrics to avoid trapping too much of the sun’s heat. You can even use a floating row cover to protect against intermediary elements while containing a little extra heat if you want to extend your growing season into the fall.2 These floating covers are also excellent row covers for raised beds that require more vertical room.
2. Protect plants from pests
You can’t grow things outside that you’d want to eat without expecting other critters might feel the same. If you want any of that fresh produce left for yourself, you’re going to need a way to keep them out of your garden. While repellents and pesticides are certainly an option, simply covering your plants with crop row covers is an effective way to protect them without touching the produce with anything artificial. Crop row covers prevent most insects, birds, and larger animals such as deer from reaching your plants. The only direction they can’t guard against is the ground, from which some burrowing insects can emerge.
3. Use as a shade in hot weather
Every plant needs sunlight, but as for any other organism, too much sunlight can cause harm. Garden row covers can provide crucial shade on hot and sunny days. This can be especially important for cool weather crops such as lettuce, spinach, and radishes, which can wilt under too much sun and heat.
4. Manage pollination
Just like the sun, pollinating critters such as bees are great for your garden, but not all the time. Row covers can be used to prevent pollinators from reaching your plants before they’re ready. When young plants begin to flower, covers can be removed to let the pollen spreaders in. Some plants don’t require pollination at all, of course. Leafy greens, young seedlings, and root vegetables do not flower, and thus do not need any animals coming along to pollinate them.
Check your plants regularly
As helpful as they are in protecting your plants, garden row covers are not “set it and forget it” solutions. You’ll have to make sure you’re regularly checking plants to keep tabs on moisture levels, temperature, and air circulation. Row covers create more ideal growth conditions beneath them, so you should also check for any weed growth that might have emerged under your covers. Weeds can crowd out your plants and steal nutrients and ground space with their root systems, so any weeds discovered should be removed.
Garden row covers can be instrumental in protecting your plants, but you should consider ways to promote their general health too. Learning how to compost at home, for example, helps you manually create fertile soil which feeds your plants a more robust mixture of nutrients and causes them to grow more nutrient-rich produce.
Have you got a green thumb in the garden and think you might expand your operations? If you’re thinking of taking your passion for growing and turning it into a larger scale business, your plants aren’t the only things you’ll need to protect. Learn what it takes to start a family farm.
1https://homesteadandchill.com/garden-frost-protection/, Accessed July 2021.
2https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/floating-row-cover/, Accessed July 2021.
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