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Floating row cover has many uses in the garden | TribLIVE.com
Jessica Walliser, Columnist

Floating row cover has many uses in the garden

Jessica Walliser
| Sunday, January 6, 2019 12:00 a.m
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Jessica Walliser
Row cover can be propped up on hoops to protect early crops, like lettuce, from late frosts.

While many vegetable gardeners probably got a few new gardening tools and books from their holiday wish list, there’s another must-have gardening tool that should be in every green thumb’s garden shed for 2019 and beyond. It might not be as shiny as a new shovel or as glamorous as the latest book on garden design, but it is about as useful as any garden tool could ever be. It’s called floating row cover, and here’s why I recommend it to every vegetable gardener I know.

Also known as reemay or Agribon, row cover is a lightweight, translucent fabric made of polypropylene. It’s called floating row cover because the fabric rests, or floats, on top of plants. As an alternative, it can be propped up on hoops or stakes. Floating row cover is useful for a long list of reasons.

Row cover is sold in several different weights (or thicknesses), each with its own purpose: light- or summer-weight row cover, heavy- or winter-weight row cover and mid-weight or all-season row cover.

Summer-weight: Row covers in the summer-weight category are most often used as insect protection. Summer-weight row cover transmits up to 85 percent of sunlight and allows water to easily pass through its fibers. It can be used all summer long to protect plants from insect damage. In my garden, summer-weight row cover protects my potatoes from Colorado potato beetles, my cabbage and broccoli from imported cabbageworms, my carrots from carrot root maggots, my berries from the Japanese beetles and my chard and spinach from leafminers. It also can be used to keep the birds out of strawberries and blueberries; it’s far easier to install and remove than bird netting.

One of the most practical ways to use summer-weight row cover is as a sun protectant. Cool-weather crops, such as lettuce, spinach and radish, begin to bolt or go to flower when summer arrives. Covering them with a layer of lightweight floating row cover keeps the blasting sun off them and can extend the harvest by a few weeks. When using row cover as a sun screen, don’t pin down the edges; instead, leave a bit of airspace between the fabric and your plants to improve air circulation and keep the plants cooler. Use hoops or plant stakes to elevate the row cover above plant tops.

If you plan to use summer-weight row cover to deter pests on a crop that requires pollination, like beans or cucumbers, use it only until the plants come into flower then remove it so pollinators can access the blooms.

Winter-weight: Heavy- or winter-weight row cover creates a blanket over plants. It protects plants down to 20 degrees F. Heavier weights of row cover are thicker and denser, providing a layer of frost protection when they’re placed on top of hoops covering crop rows. Useful both at the start of the season — when spring’s last frosts are still lingering — and at the end of the season — when fall’s first frosts begin to arrive, row cover is an excellent way to get a jump start on the gardening season or extend the harvest when the season comes to an end. Placing the row cover on hoops, rather than resting it on the plants themselves, also adds a layer of insulated air above the plants and keeps the frozen fabric off the foliage. Heavy-weight row cover lets only about 60 percent of sunlight through and keeps most of the rain and snow from passing through.

Winter-weight row cover can also be used to secure mulch. If you overwinter root crops in your garden, row cover comes in handy for this job, too. Insulating root crops with a thick layer of straw or shredded leaves protects them from deep freezes and destructive freeze-thaw cycles. But, often this loose organic mulch can blow away in winter storms. Covering the mulch with a layer of row cover and pinning down the edges with rocks, soil or landscape pins holds the mulch in place all winter long. Plus, it’s easy to remove when you want to make a mid-winter harvest.

Mid-weight: All-purpose, mid-weight row cover is used for both insect and moderate frost protection all season long. It allows about 70 percent of sunlight to reach the plants beneath and affords frost protection a few degrees below freezing while still allowing rainwater to pass through. I use mid-weight row cover to shelter my early spring plantings from late frosts and to keep my vegetable garden productive well into the autumn by covering my fall lettuce, greens and root crops.

Floating row cover can be purchased at most local garden centers and from many online sources either folded in a package or on a large roll. It can easily be cut to fit and lasts for many, many years. At the end of the growing season, wash it by hand in a tub of water, lay it out to dry, then store it in the shed or garage.

As you can see, there are many ways to use row cover in the garden. It’s a useful tool to have around and prevents most of the damaging pests that affect vegetable plants.


Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.


Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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