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Vegetable garden insect row cover

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Now that fall is upon us, gardeners should take the needed steps to manage pests in their fall and winter vegetable gardens. People often forget that this time of year is when some pest populations are extremely high.

Dani Carroll, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said an often overlooked method for pest management is a type of pest exclusion system.

“Home gardeners can use a pest exclusion system for short-term control,” Carroll said. “These systems involve using floating row covers as a physical barrier between the pest and main crop.”

Floating Row Covers

There are two basic types of floating row covers; heavyweight and lightweight covers.

“You often see heavyweight floating row covers used on strawberries for frost protection,” Carroll said. “Lightweight row covers, often referred to as insect exclusion fabrics, are used as insect barriers.”

These pest exclusion fabrics are made form spun bonded polyester or polypropylene. They are thin enough to allow majority of the light, air and rain or overhead irrigation to pass through, but thick enough to stop the large insect species. The covers can keep moths from laying eggs, preventing the establishment of pest populations.

Perfect for Cool Season Vegetables

According to Carroll, cool season vegetables are perfect for using row covers.

“For cool season vegetables, growers can use row covers as a method to keep pest insects out,” she said. “They also capture extra heat for dampening, fluctuating temperatures which make plants grow faster. Crops like cabbage, turnips and kale are not as tall as other vegetables, like tomatoes, making row covers easier to use on them. With most cool season crops, growers don’t have to worry about excluding pollinating insects.”

Installation

Floating row covers are not difficult to install. First, a grower will need to determine the length and the width of the row cover they need.

“Don’t forget, while row covers are laid over the top of plants, the vegetables will grow,” Carroll said. “Make sure to provide enough row cover to allow for that growth.”

Completely cover the crop from top to bottom and side to side. Covers can be laid directly over the crop or affixed to a frame. Carroll said it is not too difficult to bend PVC piping over a raised bed to create a frame to drape the row cover over.

“Leave plenty of fabric so the edges can be secured on all sides,” she said. “Secure the fabric by using bricks, blocks or scoops of soil to completely seal the plants off so insects cannot enter.”

When using row covers on raised beds, attached the cover to the foundation with staples or gem clips. Make sure to check the seal around the bed after storms and other weather events.

More Information

Floating row covers are great tools to use for insect control. However, growers can use other control methods in conjunction with these covers. Rotating crops, having healthy soils, using certain plant varieties and even using beneficial insects can all assist in pest control.

Additional details about pest monitoring and scouting can be found on the Integrated Pest Management page of the Alabama Extension website. For further information, contact your county Extension office.

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