Recently the topic came up about seasons that end up being warmer than expected. Sometimes it can feel like the temperature is the last to know about the season change (and retail stores are the first!). This has the potential to interfere with when you’re planning to plant your vegetables. There are a couple of ways to combat the heat – one is getting a head start growing indoors, but that only helps initially. Check out How to Start Seeds Indoors to learn more. The other way is using shade cloths in the garden.
Here in Florida, fall temperatures don’t feel like they start until November. And even then, it’s Florida’s version of fall. It gets hot here. The afternoon sun can really dry out the ground and make your plants wilt. Then if you water your plants and get the leaves wet you can risk burning the leaves. Not to mention the warm weather can make cool crops like cabbage less sweet.
So what can you do? Do you have to wait until November to plant your fall garden? Does your spring season have to end early?
Not at all.
You can create shade with shade cloths. (Also known as garden fabric and row covers).
What is a Shade Cloth?
What do you do when you go outside on a hot summer day? You might grab a hat or some sunglasses. You’re basically creating some shade for yourself to make it a little more bearable.
And that’s exactly what you’re doing for your plants when you’re using shade cloths in the garden.
Shade cloths are made out of a thin gauze material that still lets light through, but keeps your plants and soil cooler than they would be otherwise. This can help in summer months, or here in Florida, pretty much all year round.
Using shade cloths in the garden are pretty affordable and can be used for multiple seasons. I don’t throw mine away until they start to rip, which is usually caused by my own clumsy self. This is the garden cover I use for my garden beds: Harvest-Guard Seed Germination & Frost Protection Cover 5′ x 25′.
How to Use a Shade Cloth?
I use 5’x25′ because my beds are 4’x8′ and the dimensions work nicely over them. I cut the fabric to size (about 5’x10′) and tie the four corners to my trellises that I have at either end of my beds. You can get creative and use anything you have on hand to tie down your shade cloth so that it doesn’t blow away.
You can also use shade cloths for your potted plants. I use mine over my tomato pots and tie the shade cloth to the tomato stakes so that it loosely sits on top to protect the tomato plants from direct sunlight.
I created a summer squash enclosure using a shade cloth. While I primarily use these for heat protection, they can also help out with keeping pests away. Because I use organic methods for growing, this is the best way that I’ve stumbled upon to keep squash vine borers away from my zucchini. The lid opens to water the plants and to allow pollinators in during the day, but I typically just hand pollinate myself. Since creating this I’ve had huge success with my zucchini.
The packaging says you can just lay the material on the plants, but I don’t like anything touching my plant leaves if it doesn’t have to. I’m sort of concerned about leaving anything wet on my leaves that could allow fungus or bacteria to grow.
While the packaging says you can use these for protection on cold days, I would recommend using thicker material for that. I love how thin this material is, because it really lets the necessary light and rain in. I’ve used some covers in the past that haven’t let enough light in and my plants became more spindly and frail. And if a corner ever gets lose and the material falls on your plants, nothing is going to get crushed. Whew.
I use these shade cloths from April through October when the days are longer and hotter. Once daylight starts to get shorter your plants can use all the sun they can get.
While I love being outside in cooler weather, I can at least protect my plants a bit by using shade cloths in the garden.
Happy Gardening! 🙂