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The frost cloth is one of the most important products used by gardeners to protect their plants in freezing weather and protect their plants from pests as well as weeds. These cloths can be floated above PVC hoops or on a wire. You can quickly and easily build a tunnel to give seedlings a greater chance to start in the spring or extend the harvest in the fall. Let's get started by discovering how to use frost protection in your vegetable garden all year long.
A frost blanket is a lightweight material made from spun bonded polypropylene fabric. This fabric can increase your gardening season and prevent pests from invading. This incredible cloth will reduce the chances of damaging plant tissues while sheltering your vegetables from weather conditions including heavy rain, hail, and hefty winds. On top of that, your plants will be protected from pests like rabbits, deer, squirrels, and insects.
Many gardeners have used sheets as an insulation cover but quickly discovered sheets do not allow for light penetration and therefore would have to be removed over the course of the day. Once they found frost blankets, they became a life-changer by improving the health of their gardens.
There are various kinds of frost cloth for your garden but you need to know these differences to ensure you get the right one to protect your garden.
Crops with Frost Blankets
There are three leading designs to choose from, lightweight, medium-weight, and heavy-weight. Obviously, you do not need all three but we suggest you start with lightweight because of its flexibility.
Lightweight – This cloth is an all-in-one garden cover. You can use it in the spring and fall to protect your plants from frost and in the summer to ward off pests. Due to its lightweight, this cover is perfect for allowing 85 to 90% of light to pass through and can be left in the garden for long periods of time. You can use this cover to protect frost-sensitive plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and melons. The lightweight makes it easy to handle and move around. These lightweight covers trap heat and create a microclimate (or atmospheric conditions in the surrounding area) around your plants by stimulating excellent growth during the growing season. Again, you will enjoy long-term pest control.
Medium Weight – The weight of this frost blanket offers several levels of protection, it's used in the spring or fall when there are forecasts of light or heavy frost. As this cloth only allows 70% of sunlight to pass through, it's not a good option for healthy plant growth. Therefore, it should only be used for a short period of time to protect plants from frost or freeze.
In mid to late autumn, it can serve as a winter protector for cold/hardy vegetables including spinach, carrots, kale, and scallions. Also, during this period of time, growth has slowed down significantly and the transmission of light is shorter but will not affect your crops.
Heavy Weight – This is a very durable material offering freeze protection for your vegetables. It takes in 50% light transmission but should only be used as a temporary freeze or frost protection during spring or as a late fall and winter cover.
There are 2 approaches used by gardeners. The first approach is laying the fabric covers on top of the plants. The second is floating them on hoops above the garden beds. Most gardeners prefer to float the fabric on hoops because laying the fabric on flowers, leaves, or fruits can cause cold damage to the plants if there is a hard frost or freeze. During a cold snap, it's smarter to float the frost cloth on hoops because laying the fabric down on the plants can cause them to freeze, especially if the forecast is calling for a hard freeze.
During the spring, frost blankets are usually needed to protect plants from frost. Gardeners should always stay up on weather forecasts and if there is a threat of a frost or freeze, cover your plants with frost cloth for needed protection. Medium and heavy-weight fabrics can be used but only on a temporary basis. Lightweight fabric can remain on plants for days or weeks on end. Once the threat is over, remove the covers and store them away.
Lightweight frost blankets placed over vegetables that are prone to pests like cabbage, cucumbers, squash, and potatoes will decrease pest issues. When used along with crop rotation, it's perfect for stopping pests like cucumber beetles, cabbage worms, and potato beetles. Float lengths of frost cloth on hoops over garden beds directly after planting. Make sure you anchor down the edges of the material to keep pests from getting underneath. This gauzy material will let in air and water along with 85 to 90% transmission of light.
Keep in mind, the flowers on vegetables like cucumbers and squash, must be protected from pollution in order to produce their crops. Therefore, you must remove fabric covers when plants start to flower. If you are growing vegetables, such as potatoes and cabbage, you can leave the cloth in place until harvest as these plants are not pollinators.
Frost Covered Plants
Bolting is the act when plants switch from vegetative growth to flowering. As the days get longer in late spring, certain crops like lettuce, spinach, and arugula will start to bolt. The downside, the flavor and quality will decrease due to the crops bolting but you can delay this process by using frost cloth. You can erect a low tunnel using wire hoops and a length of floating row cover. It will block a certain level of sunlight and slow down bolting by days or even weeks.
Cold Weather Protection for Plants
A frost blanket can be used for a low tunnel in the summer to establish crops or for autumn planting. In early to mid-summer, the temperatures are usually hot and dry. This can be difficult for seeds from some vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, and cabbage to germinate.
After planting, you can block sunlight to help the soil retain its moisture and lower the temperature under the cover. When you see that the seeds have germinated, you can remove the cover.
Frost cloth has become a” must-have” fabric for gardeners caring for their gardens all year round. Even with the improvements in technology, the winter months are the most stressful for gardeners. They can spend as much time during the winter months caring for their gardens as they do in the summer. As long as there are crops and freezing temperatures, gardeners will cross their fingers hoping they will have a bountiful crop in the spring and summer months.