University of Illinois Extension

Floating Row Covers

Floating Row Covers for Plants

While you are perusing seed catalogs for next summer’s garden, look into floating row covers, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Floating row covers are spun-bonded polyester or polypropylene blankets of very lightweight material,” said Nancy Pollard. “They allow varying amounts of sunlight, rain and air to penetrate, but not pesky insects. Floating row covers can protect tender plants from late season frost, allowing you to plant a little early without worrying so much about frost damage or loss.

One or two degrees can make a big difference. Covers can increase soil and air temperature speeding up growth. They also reduce wind damage. Hoops should be used to raise the covers above the plants if you expect winds.”

For an effective non-toxic form of insect control, row covers can be a real help. They are especially useful to keep wilt disease carrying insects away from cucumbers and squashes until they flower.

“Securely and loosely cover plants immediately after planting to exclude Cucumber beetles which vector the disease,” she said. “Hold down the edges with soil or row cover tacks. Plants will lift the cover as they grow. Remove the covers as the plant begins to flower so pollination can occur.

Floating row covers range from about one-half ounce to about three ounces in weight. For frost protection, and capturing warmth sometimes a double layer of lightweight materials will work better than a single heavier layer. Light transmission is usually reduced to 80 or 90 percent.

“Durability is more closely related to the structure of the fabric than thickness,” she said. “If the vendor tells how many seasons it will last, that helps, because a more expensive cover that will last multiple seasons may be more cost effective than a less expensive cover than lasts only a year or so.

“Some light weight fabrics are more durable than heavy ones and vice versa, so read the details. So think about these as you plan your next garden.”

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