How To Keep Plant Healthy In Cold Weather With The Best Plant Cover

Gardening veterans are aware that the notion of an “average” growing season is a misconception. The possibility of frost, drought, or cold weather in late spring can curtail your gardening season. A shorter growing season equates to a meager, tasteless harvest and a considerable amount of wasted effort.

However, plant covers can be a game-changer in such situations. These covers envelop the plants and trap warm air to prevent low temperatures from harming the plants and produce. Moreover, certain plant covers hold moisture in and provide protection against pests.

The duration of coverage depends on various factors such as the climatic conditions and the produce you are growing. For instance, do you only need to cover your plants for a few nights during a temperature drop? Alternatively, would a semi-permanent cover be more suitable for your garden space and climate to allow tomatoes and peppers to ripen over an extended period?

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What To Consider When Choosing Plant Covers?

When choosing plant covers for your garden, there are several factors to consider to ensure that you select the most suitable option for your plants and your specific growing conditions. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Climate

The climate in your area will dictate the type of plant covers you need. For example, if you experience light frosts when the air temperature drops below 36°F, you may need a cover that can protect against this. However, if the temperature drops from 25°F to 28°F, you will need heavy-duty covers that can withstand frost and hard freeze.

Thinner plant covers can increase the temperature underneath by 5°F or less compared to the outside air temperature, while thicker covers can boost the temperature by as much as 10°F. It’s also essential to check the hardiness of your specific plant since some plants can survive a frost, but most will suffer damage from a hard freeze of 25°F.

Plant Type

The type of plants you are growing is another crucial factor to consider when choosing a plant cover. Some plants are more delicate than others and require extra protection. For instance, young plants or plants that are sensitive to sunlight may require a more protective cover.

In addition, some plants may require specific types of covers. For example, plants that need high humidity levels may require a cover that can trap moisture. Plants that are prone to insect infestations may need a cover with a fine mesh that keeps pests out while allowing air to circulate.

It’s important to research the specific needs of the plants you are growing and choose a cover that meets those requirements. A cover that is suitable for one type of plant may not be appropriate for another. By selecting the right cover for each plant, you can ensure that they receive the protection they need to grow and thrive.

Sunlight Amount

The amount of sunlight your garden receives is another essential factor to consider when choosing a plant cover. If your garden gets a lot of sunlight, you will need a cover that can help to keep the plants cool and prevent them from drying out.

On the other hand, if your garden does not receive a lot of sunlight, you may not need a cover at all. Plants that require full sun to grow may not thrive under a cover that restricts sunlight. In this case, it’s best to choose a cover that allows adequate light to reach the plants.

It’s also essential to consider the time of day when your garden receives the most sunlight. For instance, if your garden gets most of its sunlight during the hottest part of the day, you may need a cover that provides shade during that time. Alternatively, if your garden gets most of its sunlight in the morning or late afternoon, a cover that allows more light through may be more appropriate.

Plant Covers Types

There are several types of plant covers available, each with its own unique features and benefits. Here are some of the most common types of plant covers:

Row covers

Looking for a solution to safeguard your plants for a longer duration? A row cover, also called a floating row cover, is an ideal choice. With metal frames or wooden stakes, the cover is draped over the plants and held in place without any contact with them.

These are lightweight covers that are draped over a row of plants. They can be made from various materials, including spun-bonded polypropylene or breathable fabrics, and provide protection against insects, frost, and light freezes.

You can use them like frost blankets, taking them off in the morning and putting them on in the evening. Moreover, row covers are breathable and allow both rainwater and sunlight to pass through, which means you can keep them on for extended periods. They are also effective at keeping pests and insects away from your garden plants. If you live in an area where hailstorms are common, tall and tunnel-style row covers can also provide protection against hail damage.

Frost blankets

When the temperature drops too low for your plants, a frost blanket can be an excellent solution to protect them. It’s a flat covering that traps warm air underneath and keeps your plants healthy.
These are thicker covers designed to protect plants from colder temperatures. They are made from materials such as fleece or breathable fabrics and provide up to 8°F of frost protection.
For maximum effectiveness, it’s best to lay the blanket on the ground just before dark, so it can capture the daytime heat. But, remember to remove it in the morning to let the sun warm the ground and avoid damaging the leaves.

Shade cloth

This cover is made from a woven material that provides shade to plants, reducing the amount of sunlight and heat that they receive. Shade cloth is often used during hot summer months to keep plants from overheating.

Insect & bird netting

This cover is made from a fine mesh that keeps insects and other pests out of plants while allowing air and moisture to circulate.

Plastic covers

These are clear or opaque covers made from plastic material. They are often used to create mini-greenhouses or to protect plants from frost and cold temperatures.

Cold frames

These are small, low structures made from wood or plastic and covered with clear or opaque material. They are used to protect plants from cold temperatures and provide an ideal environment for seedlings.

Choosing the right type of plant cover for your garden depends on the specific needs of your plants and the conditions in your area. Consider the temperature, amount of sunlight, and type of plants you are growing to select the best cover for your garden.

Material

Plant covers come in a variety of materials such as plastic, fabric, and polypropylene mesh. Each material has its unique advantages and disadvantages, so choose one that best suits your needs.

Plastic plant covers

Plastic covers are a cost-effective choice and work well for overnight use in small gardens. However, they don’t breathe and can trap moisture underneath, which can damage plants in freezing temperatures. Additionally, plastic covers offer little insulation where they contact with leaves. On the upside, they’re great at keeping icy water off your plants if you install them before the rain starts. You can also combine plastic covers with polypropylene covers for better moisture protection overnight. Just remember to remove them in the morning when temperatures start to rise, so your plants can breathe again.

Polypropylene plant covers

On the other hand, polypropylene covers are much more breathable than plastic covers. And they are versatile for protecting your plants from harsh weather conditions such as frost, wind, and hail while ensuring that they still receive the necessary sunlight and moisture.

They come in various forms such as insulating fleece, protective mesh, shady net, or sheet that holds in warmth and moisture. Unlike plastic covers, polypropylene covers let some light pass through to your plants, allowing photosynthesis to continue. You can spread them directly on the soil, over your plants, or wind them around a frame.

Polypropylene plant covers are perfect for keeping your plants healthy with their ability to breathe, preventing moisture from getting trapped underneath, which can damage your plants in freezing temperatures.

It’s essential to note that plant covers may get caught on thicker stems and rip, particularly polypropylene covers. They are also more durable than plastic covers. Still, you can fix them by stitching or patching. However, if your plastic covers tear, they’re usually not repairable.

Thickness

When it comes to plant covers, thickness matters. Depending on your priorities, you can choose a more durable cover with various thicknesses that can protect your plants from harsh weather conditions. However, you need to decide whether warmth or sunlight is a higher priority for your plants.

You may come across thickness measurements in microns, ounces per square yard, or grams per square meter. No matter the thickness, all covers allow water from rain or irrigation sprinklers to pass through.

Thicker covers offer better protection against the cold, but they let as little as 50% of sunlight through, which can hinder plant growth. On the other hand, thinner row covers allow up to 95% of sunlight, allowing your plants to receive ample sunlight for photosynthesis. However, they don’t insulate as well as thicker covers.

Additionally, thinner covers are easier to store than larger, thicker covers, making them a great option for those with limited storage space. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what thickness of plant cover will work best for your garden and plants.

Size

Consider the size of your plants and your garden when choosing plant covers. Make sure that the cover is large enough to fully enclose your plants without crushing them. There are also plant covers that are suitable for small trees and shrubs.

Opting for a cover that’s too small can lead to it blowing open, which would let out warm air. Ensure that the cover is long enough to cover your plants and that it lies flat on the ground around the edges. If you’re using a plastic cover, make sure that it doesn’t touch too many leaves. If you’re using a row cover with a frame, make sure that the cover completely encloses the frame and lies flat on the ground.

Purpose

Plant cover serves several important purposes in gardening and agriculture:

  • Protection from pests: Plant covers can help protect crops from insects, birds, and other pests that can damage or destroy plants. Covers with a fine mesh are particularly effective at keeping out small insects. If you want to extend your growing season, choose covers that will trap heat and moisture.
  • Temperature regulation: Plant covers can help regulate the temperature around plants by trapping heat and moisture. This can help extend the growing season and protect plants from frost and other extreme temperatures.
  • Moisture retention: Plant covers can also help retain moisture in the soil around plants, which can be particularly helpful during dry spells or in areas with low rainfall.
  • Weed control: Plant covers can help suppress weed growth around plants, reducing the need for manual weeding and herbicides.
  • Improved plant growth: By providing a protected growing environment, plant covers can help promote faster and more robust plant growth.

In summary, plant covers can serve a variety of purposes depending on the needs of the gardener or farmer. They can help protect plants from pests, regulate temperature and moisture, control weeds, and promote healthy plant growth.

Ventilation

Plants need fresh air, so make sure that your covers have adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to disease and fungal growth.

Some covers have mesh or netting built in to allow air to flow through. Others may have adjustable vents or flaps that can be opened or closed as needed to control airflow.

Make sure to monitor plants regularly and make adjustments as needed. For example, if you notice that plants are becoming too humid or developing signs of disease, you may need to increase ventilation by opening vents or removing covers temporarily. By paying attention to plant health and making adjustments as needed, you can help ensure that your covers are providing the best possible environment for your plants to thrive.

Drawstring

Drawstring ends are a convenient and effective way to keep the cover securely in place, which is important for maintaining the desired temperature and moisture levels around the plants. With drawstring ends, you can cinch the cover tightly around the plant or row, preventing it from blowing away in windy conditions.

Drawstring ends also make it easier to open and close the cover as needed. For example, you can easily pull the drawstring tight to protect the plants from cold temperatures overnight, and then loosen it during the day to allow for ventilation and access to the plants. This can be particularly helpful for tasks like pollination, weeding, and fertilization, as you mentioned.

UV Stabilization

While sunlight is important for plant growth, it can also be damaging to plant covers over time. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause materials to break down and degrade, which can shorten the lifespan of your covers and reduce their effectiveness.

To help prevent damage from UV rays, it’s important to look for plant covers that have been UV stabilized. This means that the material has been treated with additives or coatings that can help resist damage from the sun’s rays. UV-stabilized materials are designed to be more durable and long-lasting, even when exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time.

Using UV-stabilized plant covers can help you get multiple seasons of use out of your covers, saving you money and reducing waste. When selecting covers, be sure to check the product information to ensure that the material is UV stabilized and appropriate for your gardening needs.

Plant Cover Frames

Moisture can be a concern when it comes to plant cover frames, as rainwater and other sources of moisture can cause damage over time. This is particularly true for frames made of wood or metal that haven’t been properly treated.

To ensure that your plant cover frame lasts as long as possible, it’s important to choose a model that is designed to withstand moisture. For example, frames made of galvanized steel are a good option, as they are resistant to rust and other forms of deterioration that can occur when exposed to moisture. Galvanized steel frames are also generally very strong and durable, making them a good choice for protecting plants in a range of conditions.

Another factor to consider when selecting a plant cover frame is the ease of use and storage. Accordion-style metal frames, as you mentioned, can be a convenient option as they are typically easy to fold and store when not in use. This can be particularly helpful if you have limited storage space or plan to use your covers seasonally.

How Can I Use The Plant Cover Properly?

Using plant covers properly can help you protect your plants from a range of threats, including cold temperatures, pests, and excessive moisture. Here are some tips for using plant covers effectively:

  • Choose the right cover for your needs: Different types of plant covers are designed for different purposes, so it’s important to choose a cover that is appropriate for your specific needs. For example, if you want to protect your plants from cold temperatures, you’ll want to choose a cover that is designed to trap heat and moisture, such as a floating-row cover.
  • Use at the best time: It’s best to try and get the cover over your plants before the sun sets to trap as much warm air as possible. Giving your plants light watering beforehand can also help to retain some heat.
  • Ensure proper ventilation: While plant covers can help retain heat and moisture, it’s important to ensure that there is adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to disease and fungal growth. Make sure that your covers have adequate ventilation by leaving small gaps at the ends or sides of the cover.
  • Secure the cover properly: To ensure that your cover stays in place, use stakes, sandbags, or other methods to secure it to the ground. If your cover has a drawstring, use it to cinch the cover tightly around the plant or row. For framed covers, make sure that the ends are closed to prevent warm air from escaping. With unframed covers, you should ensure that the cover fits loosely over the plants but is secured to the ground without any gaps that could let in cold air.
  • Monitor your plants: While plant covers can help protect your plants, it’s important to monitor them regularly to ensure that they are healthy and growing properly. Check for signs of disease or pest infestations, and adjust the cover as needed to maintain the proper growing conditions.
  • Remove the cover when appropriate: Keep the cover on until mid-morning if possible, as temperatures tend to reach their coldest just before dawn. Once the threat of cold temperatures or other issues has passed, it’s important to remove the cover to allow your plants to grow and thrive. Be sure to remove the cover gradually to allow your plants to acclimate to the new growing conditions.

By following these tips and using plant covers properly, you can help protect your plants and ensure a successful growing season.

What Plants Do I Need To Cover With Plant Covers?

Plants that are susceptible to cold temperatures and frost are the ones that should be covered with a plant cover. This includes many types of vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and other greens, as well as fruits like strawberries and citrus.

In addition to cold-sensitive plants, it’s also a good idea to cover plants that are prone to pest infestations or disease. A cover can help prevent insects and other pests from damaging your plants. Some covers have a fine mesh that can keep out insects while allowing air and moisture to pass through.

It’s also important to consider the growth stage of your plants. Young seedlings and newly planted seeds are often more vulnerable to cold temperatures and may need to be covered for longer periods than more established plants.

Ultimately, the specific plants you need to cover will depend on your location, climate, and the time of year. It’s a good idea to do some research on the specific plants you’re growing and their temperature and light requirements to determine if they need to be covered. Your local gardening center or extension service can also provide advice on which plants to cover and when.

What Accessories Do I Need For Plant Covers?

If you’re planning to use plant covers to protect your plants from cold weather or pests, there are a few accessories you may want to consider:

  • Stakes or hoops: These can be used to hold the cover above the plant, allowing air circulation and preventing damage to the foliage. You can use bamboo stakes or wire hoops to create a frame for the cover.
  • Clips or ties: These can be used to secure the cover to the stakes or hoops, preventing it from blowing away in the wind. Clothespins, binder clips, or plastic ties are good options.
  • Zipper or closure: If you’re using a plant cover that completely encloses the plant, such as a frost blanket or insect netting, you may want to consider adding a zipper or closure to make it easier to access the plant for watering and maintenance.
  • Weighted edges: If you’re using a lightweight cover, such as row cover fabric or shade cloth, you may want to add weighted edges to prevent it from blowing away in the wind. You can use rocks or sandbags to add weight to the edges of the cover.

Overall, the accessories you need will depend on the type of plant cover you’re using and the conditions in your garden. But with the right accessories, you can create a protective environment for your plants and extend your growing season.

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