Row cover keeps heat, insects off plants

QUICKREAD



It’s amazing that something as simple as shelter and shade can make such a difference in my garden. I broke down and bought floating row cover last week after several futile attempts at protecting my plants from the harsh environment I’ve begun referring to as “Satan’s fiery breath” at my house.

Called “insect barrier” by some companies, row cover offers a few advantages.

My initial purpose in using it was to protect my plants from the insufferable, blazing sun. I know most of my garden veggies like full sun, but I don’t think they like an inferno. My peppers are literally roasting on their stems before they get large enough to harvest.

To say we’ve had a challenging year for gardens is an understatement, with the heat, wind and watering restrictions (for some of us). Any shade you can provide to protect your plants from the harsh afternoon sun will help keep them from burning up.

After watching my tomato plants grow and bloom and grow and bloom, without many tomatoes forming on the branches, I wondered if the heat might be preventing fruit from forming.

According to Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service horticulture agent Curtis Swift, tomatoes can drop blossoms and small fruit when the plant’s temperature reaches 90 degrees. Shading the plants should help keep that temperature down. You don’t have to worry about shutting out pollinators around tomatoes, because they’re self-pollinated. But other plants need bees to produce veggies, so make sure you leave room for them to come in and do their job.

The most obvious reason to use row cover is to keep some harmful insects away from plants. I’m not talking about crawling insects that are on the ground. It won’t keep those bugs out. I’m referring to jumping, hopping insects that bounce from victim to victim, namely the beet leafhopper.

If you love homegrown tomatoes, you should know about the beet leafhopper. This tiny, jumping insect transmits the disease responsible for causing what many people recognize as blight in tomatoes, by feeding on plants and infecting them.

Officially called “curly top virus,” the disease is contagious, impossible to control with chemicals, and a death sentence to your tomato plants. The leaves turn yellow and curl up like little Fritos, and the veins on the leaves turn purplish.

Once you get it in a tomato plant, your best bet is to rip that plant out of the garden and throw it in your trash can, far away from your other plants. You just have to cut your losses and hope the other plants didn’t contract it. In the past, I’ve noticed I have more problems with beet leafhoppers when we’ve had a really dry spring and early summer.

You don’t have to cover the whole plant with fabric, just the top, since beet leafhoppers jump from above.

Some people might think it’s ugly to have all that white fabric covering up their garden.

Well, I think it’s far less aesthetically pleasing to gaze out my kitchen window at a bunch of suffering, wilting peppers and tomatoes that aren’t producing anything for me to eat.

For me, preventing viruses in my tomatoes and protecting my plants from getting fried every day in 100-plus-degree temperatures is important enough to use something simple like row cover. I bought mine for about $20 at Bookcliff Gardens and I consider it a good investment.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, apprentice master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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