Plant Covers

Many ornamentals and garden plants need extra protection in certain times of the year. In the heat of summer, tomatoes and other vegetables can whither in the excess heat and sun. Mesh covers can help ward off insects while allowing light and air to get to plants. Thermal or thicker covers and wraps will help protect plants from winter weather so your plants will continue to thrive year after year.

Garden fabrics, also called floating row covers, come in different weights depending on the season. You can support the fabric over your plants with wooden stakes or frames, but make sure to secure the fabric to the ground or to the supports with staples or clips. Pre-made domes with mesh and other fabrics make it easy to set over the plants you want to protect.

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Row Covers: The No-Spray Way to Protect Plants

One of the disadvantages of row covers is that they become soiled and dingy. Enter wedding net, often called tulle, which is sold in 60- to 90-inch widths at craft and fabric stores. In early summer, when I switch from midweight white row covers to the ones I’ve made from wedding net, it’s as if my garden changes from peasant underwear to polished formal attire. I use the finest mesh to keep flea beetles off my eggplants, but the regular one-sixteenth-inch mesh effectively excludes the moths whose larvae become army worms and cabbageworms, flies whose offspring become root maggots — and marble-sized hailstones, too.

Little, if any, heat builds up beneath tulle covers, which admit more sunlight than the featherweight row covers sold as insect barriers. Grasshoppers chew through the netting a little faster than they make it through regular row covers, but grasshoppers are less likely to make holes in either fabric if it is held above the plants’ leaves. I also use wedding net to keep birds from taking too many blueberries. Compared to bird netting, tulle is much less likely to snag on branches or accidentally snag hummingbirds. When bushes are covered with tulle that is gathered up beneath the bushes and secured with clothespins, even the most experienced robins can’t get to the fruit.

Getting a Custom Fit

Standard row cover widths range from 51/2 to 8 feet, and wider is always better. When shopping for row cover, be sure to get widths that will match the dimensions of your beds. Row cover that’s 83 inches wide gives you 12 inches of overhang on each side when installed over a 3-foot-wide bed held aloft with 6-foot-long hoops stuck deep in the ground. Twelve inches of overhang is perfect if you’re attaching the edges to bamboo poles or weighting them with boards, bricks or sandbags. A 2-foot-wide bed could be secured beneath a narrower 61-inch-wide piece, but such a width over a 3-foot-wide bed could be raised no more than 12 inches above the soil line.

Row covers can be allowed to rest atop many plants, though peppers, tomatoes and others with fragile growing tips do better when the cover is held aloft. Many people support row covers with 9-gauge wire cut into 6-foot-long pieces (Lee Valley Tools, sells a precut package of 10 for $14.50). You also can make hoops from inexpensive plastic pipe, which costs about a dime per foot at hardware stores. The ends can be pushed into the soil, or you can slip them over sturdier rebar stakes. On one of my framed raised beds, the planks on the long sides are equipped with vertical pipe sections into which I insert hoops made from slender saplings cut from the woods. (You can learn more about using saplings in the garden by reading Make Simple, Beautiful Garden Fences and Trellises. — MOTHER)

You can support row covers with stakes as long as the tops are smooth rather than jagged. Rebar or plastic-pipe stakes topped with rounded end caps work well, or you can use “living stakes.” In spring, dot the bed with a few corn or sunflower seedlings, and let them lift the row cover as they grow.

Tailoring Tips

When you run into situations where your row covers’ lengths or widths come up short, you can overlap pieces (making it easy to peek inside through the slit), or you can attach pieces using an ordinary paper stapler or a needle and thread. In the interest of research, I tested the strength of seams made with basting stitches on a sewing machine, hand stitches and staples placed 2 inches apart. After abusing the samples in a bucket of muddy water and then setting them in the sun for a few days, the stapled seams showed fewer gaps and less tearing than the sewn ones. For quick jobs, simply attaching pieces of row cover together with spring-type clothespins will do.

After the row cover is on the bed, you may still need to weight the bamboo poles with bricks, heavy stones, or sandbags — a great reuse for gallon-size freezer or food storage bags. When loaded with 10 cups of sand and 3 cups of water, these sandbags weigh about 8 pounds, and instantly mold themselves to the spot where you put them, or use wire staples to hold down the poles on each end of the cover.

Under very windy conditions, it’s a good idea to further secure row covers by clamping them onto their support hoops. If you use 9-gauge wire hoops, buy a few feet of three-eighths-inch vinyl tubing, and use kitchen shears or wire snips to cut it into 2-inch pieces. Then slit each piece open lengthwise, and pop them onto the hoops after the row cover is installed. If you use flexible pipe as support hoops, make clamps from pipe of a slightly larger diameter than the pipe used for the hoops, using a utility knife to make sure, clean cuts.

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Making them Last

Clean row covers last longer, because soil particles that become wedged in the fibers have an abrasive effect. Promptly gathering and storing row covers between uses will go a long way toward keeping them reasonably clean, as will using poles or weights to hold the edges rather than burying them beneath soil or mulch. Should a piece get very dirty, hang it on a clothesline and hose it down. Allow it to dry completely before storing it (I store mine in plastic dry cleaning bags). If you have several pieces, use a laundry marker to label a corner of each one with its size and type, or label the bags in which you store them. Once row covers are crumpled on a shelf, they all look alike.

After three years or so of frequent use, you can cut ragged row cover into pieces to use for smaller jobs, like wrapping individual tomato cages or keeping flea beetles from finding a short row of radishes. Cut into strips, worn row cover makes good plant ties, or you can wrap the strips around tree trunks in need of protection from winter sun or borers. Ripening melons swaddled in row cover scraps are rarely sampled by birds or mice, and young ears of corn covered with row cover bonnets held in place with rubber bands become off limits to the moths whose larvae become corn earworms. Last fall, I went out on a chilly morning and stuffed a scrap of row cover into the entrance of a badly located yellow jacket nest so I could safely harvest my butternuts. It really worked like a charm.

Row covers work great to protect your crops from a wide variety of pests, including:

  • Cabbageworms
  • Flea beetles
  • Squash bugs
  • Colorado potato beetles
  • Root maggots
  • Leaf miners
  • Deer
  • Rabbits
  • Birds
  • Cucumber beetles
  • Army worms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Squash vine borers

Veteran garden writer Barbara Pleasant has used row covers to add more than three months onto the growing season in her Virginia garden.

Butterfly Garden Netting 7mm

Knotted PP garden netting is a premium product that will not split, rip or break like the cheap extruded plastic mesh netting on the market. When the growing season is over, you can pack the netting away and use it year after year.
Butterfly garden netting is also used as fruit cage netting (top and sides of the cages) and protects crops from all types of birds. The 7mm mesh aperture holes still allow pollinating insects like bees through the garden netting. Our heavy duty knotted 7mm mesh butterfly proof garden netting is supplied in 4m & 6m and 8m – ideal for use with our fruit and veg cages or walk in fruit cages.

Knotted Butterfly netting features:

  • Heavy-duty knotted PP netting
  • 7mm mesh hole size keeps out butterflies and birds off you veg
  • Re-usable year after year
  • Premium product compared to cheap plastic garden netting
  • Green plant protection netting is ideal for allotments and garden patches
  • Butterfly netting is supplied in 4m & 6m widths and in 5m, 25m, 50m and 100m lengths
  • UV Stabilised netting

Allotment Netting

Allotment netting can prove to be one of the best investments to make on a plot. Without it, all the effort spent growing fruit and vegetables may result in happy insects, birds, and animals.

There are many types of allotment netting each with their own purpose, such as bird netting, butterfly netting, and insect netting. Considerations for each are described below. Quality of nets also vary, with more expensive nets being less fiddly to use and lasting longer.

Timing is important. The temptation is to leave erecting allotment netting late, and perhaps, only if there is evidence of attack. The truth is birds and insects are hungry today and may not wait. An attack can strike early or late in the growing cycle, and by the time you notice it, it may be too late to correct for the current growing season.

Types Of Allotment Netting

Nets come in different specifications depending upon the pest they are intended to protect against.

See garden netting on Amazon UK.

Insect Mesh

Mesh approximately 1mm by 1mm.

Insect netting is a very fine mesh that prevents insects and butterflies entering, and is suitable for susceptible crops in the brassica family like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.

Insect netting has UV protection that helps extend its life. It provides some protection against plant damage from wind rock, and has an insulating effect against cold weather.

Insect Netting

Allotment Netting Allotment netting can prove to be one of the best investments to make on a plot. Without it, all the effort spent growing fruit and vegetables may result in happy insects, birds, and animals. There are many types of allotment netting each with their own purpose, such as bird nettin

To be effective, the insect netting needs to be used as soon as the plants are planted. The net needs to be secure around the edges, either by securely weighing down the netting, or by burying it in the soil. I use bricks to weigh down the net, as this has the advantage of allowing easy access for weeding around the plants.

The netting is lightweight and can be suspended on a structure of garden canes or hoops. If using canes, it is worth protecting the caps that touch the net to ensure that these do not damage the mesh.

Butterfly Netting

Mesh approximately 7mm by 7mm.

Butterfly netting provides protection for crops often eaten by caterpillars. The mesh size of butterfly netting is too small for butterflies to enter and lay their eggs on the crops. This in itself is not a problem, but when the caterpillars emerge they can devastate a crop.

Butterfly netting is also relatively expensive compared to bird netting, especially if you intend to purchase a net both wide and long. The cheapest butterfly nets are of the dimension to cover a row or two of your chosen crop, and it may be worth pre-planning the size and length of your rows to the size of the cheapest net.

Butterfly Netting Guide

Allotment Netting Allotment netting can prove to be one of the best investments to make on a plot. Without it, all the effort spent growing fruit and vegetables may result in happy insects, birds, and animals. There are many types of allotment netting each with their own purpose, such as bird nettin

Whatever structure is used to support butterfly netting, it is important to securely peg or weigh down the bottom of the net to ensure that there are no gaps.

As your plants grow, it is necessary to check regularly that the net remains free from touching any leaves. It is possible for butterflies to lay their eggs through the net if the plants are touching the netting.

When left in place for the whole of the growing cycle, the final outcome from using butterfly netting can be a much healthier and larger crop.

Bird Netting

Mesh approximately 20mm by 20mm.

This is the most common type of netting sold in garden centres, DIY sheds, and supermarkets. Its popularity is reflected in the price with many good deals available.

The cheapest types of bird netting tend to be in smaller sizes, and need to be stretched to reach their full size. There are many stronger and more durables types of bird netting available, which also have the advantage of being easier to use.

I have found it best to get the largest net sizes, say 4m by 6m, as this gives the greatest flexibility when re-using the net around the allotment. It can be very frustrating to realise that the net you have purchased is just too short to cover the crop.

Pea & Bean Netting

Mesh approximately 125mm by 125mm.

The cheapest netting to buy owing to its wide gauge. The netting acts both as a climbing support for the plants and as protection against bird attack – especially from larger birds like pigeons. I erect the net at the same time as planting my seeds to give the seedlings (and seeds) protection right from the start.

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COMARISON OF INSECT MESH NETTING

We list below the various options you have when using a physical barrier against insects and birds. This article is aimed at protection of vegetables, if you are considering protection of larger plants and fruit trees then our article on fruit cages may be more applicable.

INSECT MESHES

This type of protection is specifically designed to prevent insects and birds getting at your crops. It is normally sold as the standard type and a fine type. The difference between the two is that the standard type will not protect against against flea beetle and it will not provide 100% protection against thrips and leaf miners. The fine type however will protect against all insects but it does cost more. So, work out what type of protection you need before purchasing.

Good quality standard meshes are manufactured from polythene and the holes will be about 1.3mm wide. Fine meshes will have holes about 0.8mm wide. Before reading about the products from specific manufacturers below consider the following points which will influence your choice of insect netting:

  • Price, including postage and packing.
  • Expected life span, cheap netting may not be the most economical in the long run.
  • The amount of light can get through the mesh. Plants need sunlight to grow and different netting lets through different amounts of light.
  • Weight of the mesh is important especially if you plan to lay it on your plants without any support.
  • Reputation of the manufacturer / supplier. If you are buying mesh through a general retailer you may not be told who the manufacturer is. Without that information the quality of the product may not be all that you expect.

For the purposes of price and quality comparison all the prices quoted below are for standard type mesh netting supplied in a 2m width and are for a one metre length.

ENVIROMESH

for their website.
Enviromesh have been manufacturing insect mesh for the UK as far back as 1991 and are the most quoted and respected name as far as the amateur gardener is concerned. Their website is informative and contains all the contact details and information expected of a reputable company.

COST is £2.90 per metre, postage and packing is £2.50 to the UK mainland.
This is a top quality product with an expected life of more than ten years. Weight is good at 55g per square metre. It allows 90% of light to pass through and has an air passage rate of 75%. Protects against most insects, birds, snails and offer some slug protection.

They supply netting in a range of widths including lengths of 20m / 50m and 100m. Finer and lighter meshes are also available.

VEGGIEMESH

for their website.
Veggiemesh is sold but not manufactured by Gardening-Naturally. The origins of the mesh are not stated. This is a general purpose gardening website selling a large variety of products. Contact details and a telephone number are available on their website but further details are lacking.

COST is £2.66 per metre, postage and packing is £3.25 to the UK mainland.
No claims are made on the website concerning how long the product is expected to last which is a concern. Weight is good at 55g per square metre. It allows 90% of light to pass through and has an air passage rate of 75%. Protects against most insects, birds, snails and offer some slug protection.

Mesh netting is available in a large choice of sizes.

WILLIAM JAMES

for their website.
William James and Co have been trading from 1954 so they are a name you can trust. They manufacture their own insect mesh netting.

COST is £2.40 per metre, postage and packing is £5.95 to the UK mainland.
The website has very few specific details concerning the quality of the product and no claims are made for how long it might be expected to last for.

Mesh netting is available in a large choice of sizes.

WONDERMESH

for their website.
Wondermesh have been selling insect mesh netting from 2004 in the UK. They aim their products at large allotment users and farms so may not be suitable for the average UK gardener. The website is comprehensive and contains full contact details.

COST – No direct comparison available by the metre.
This is a quality product with a claimed lifespan in excess of ten years. Light transfer is an excellent 90% although air passage rate is not quoted on the site. Weight is slightly higher than the best at 65g per square metre. Protects against most insects, birds, snails and offer some slug protection.

The mesh netting is not supplied by the metre, it can only be ordered in certain widths and long lengths.

OUR CONCLUSIONS

If you plan to buy insect mesh netting then based on cost, reputation and recommendations we would buy Environmesh. It has a long established reputation of quality and long life.

ALTERNATIVES

Cheaper alternatives to dedicated insect mesh netting are available but they all have disadvantages in one or more areas. The alternatives are:

  • Horticultural Fleece – expected life is short, it tears easily and is liable to blow away. Not recommended by us
  • Net curtains – brand new net curtains are probably not worth the expense but second hand ones definitely are. Ask your local charity shops to save old ones for you and buy them for next to nothing. Weight varies significantly so you will probably need to provide support over most veg for best results.
  • Scaffold debris mesh – this is recommended as a cheap alternative by many gardeners nowadays. Cost is less than half that of normal insect netting. Its weight means that it is best supported and light transmission is not as good as normal netting but air passage is fine and watering through it is not a problem.
  • Butterfly netting – if all you require is protection against butterflies (Cabbage White Butterfly included) butterfly netting is a very effective cheap method (about half the cost of mesh) of protection. It has a long life but will not protect your crops from smaller insects.
    One tip worth noting with butterfly netting is to support it well away from the leaves. Although the butterflies won’t be able to get in they can lay eggs on leaves which touch the netting.

USING INSECT BARRIERS

The key point to remember with insect barriers, mesh netting or otherwise, is to ensure that they cover the whole crop from top to bottom. Insects, even butterflies, will find any gap however small. The most common point of entry is where the mesh rests on the ground. If the mesh is wide enough the edges which touch the ground can be buried in soil but this makes removing the netting, for weeding etc., time consuming.

Various pegs are sold to hold the netting bin place on the ground but the best method is thin planks of wood laid onto flat ground, bricks also work well if you have enough of them

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