Sunday, June 16, 2013

An Ode to Floating Row Covers by Irene Shonle

I think I have become something of a proselytizer for floating row covers up here in the mountains.


1.  You can plant earlier -- floating row covers provide anywhere from 3 to 8 degrees of frost protection, depending on the style (frost "blankets" obviously providing more protection than the thinnest "summer insect covers").

2.  They keep off insects.  Your arugula will be tender and free of flea-beetle damage if you keep it covered from seed.   Same goes for aphids (unless you transplant them into your garden with your seedlings)

3.  They keep bunnies, deer, and chipmunks out.  No more buffet lunch for these critters!  And if you protect your plants with a 1/4" wire mesh beneath the beds to keep out burrowing animals such as pocket gophers and voles, you're in tall cotton.  Or tall lettuce.  Or whatever.  It's nice to see all of my seedlings growing where I planted them, rather than going out to survey the damage each morning.  Makes for a much more peaceful existence!
My new garden with mesh below and floating row cover above -- I'm not battling anything!

4. You can water right through it.   And it keeps moisture in for much longer, reducing watering needs.  Heather, who works with me in the office, has been amazed at the difference in the soil moisture in the areas she has covered vs the areas she didn't.  She said she had never really used them before, but has now become convinced of their utility.  Hurray!  Another convert!

5.  It protects plants from the nasty drying winds we've had lately.  Tender seedlings will quickly be battered to death by the powerful winds that seem to accompany the last days of May and the early part of June.

6. Lettuce and other salad greens are more tender and succulent.  Maybe not quite as nice as a greenhouse, but pretty darn good!

7. Plants grow right up under the cover -- it just "floats" over them without squishing.  Make sure you have some excess cover at the edges to allow for growth, otherwise as the plants gain height, the row covers will squish the plants (since the cover should be anchored down).

Tips for using floating row covers:
  • You can buy floating row covers at garden centers or online (big box stores usually don't carry them)
  • Keep the wind from ripping off your cover by using soil anchors, large rocks or lengths of rebar or fence posts. I have come to prefer the latter method the best -  it's easier to lift off the posts/rebar, and voles and small chipmunks can scurry under if there are gaps  (ask me how I know this!).  
  • It is harder to water through the row covers when there are hoops holding the cover up -- it tends to just slide off to the edges.  For the most part, I don't find hoops to be necessary, and the hoops raise the cover higher into the air where the wind can catch it more easily.
Give them a try, and you, too will see the light!  (and no, I don't have any financial interest in any floating row companies).

1 comment:

  1. These sound great. I'm confused though, how long do you keep the covers on or do they stay on throughout the growing season?