Consider covering rows when growing zucchini
I know this is going to sound strange, but recently several people have asked about growing zucchini. It seems that the once prolific vegetable has become a little more difficult to grow. This may not be the case for you, but some gardeners struggle to keep plants alive.
One of the first things I recommend is row covers, and it’s not just for zucchini. Row covers, especially floating row covers, can be used for a variety of purposes.
They’re not the prettiest to look at, but floating covers are ideal for protecting your tender vegetables from early frosts and, in the case of zucchini, hungry pests.
Most row covers are made of polypropylene garden fabric, which not only protects plants from frost damage (up to 28 degrees F), but also lets light in, traps heat, keeps insects out. enter and makes an excellent windbreak. It also allows rain and overhead irrigation to reach plants and soil.
Row covers are used primarily for two purposes: to provide protection against pests and the cold. They’re called floating because the material is so light you can just put it over plants and secure the edges with dirt or something heavy. No additional support is needed in this case. Lightweight covers like these are primarily used to protect against harmful pests, such as flea beetles and cabbage loopers that attempt to lay eggs on plants. Row covers will also protect your squash from cucumber beetles that carry bacterial wilt.
There are several types of row covers. For frost protection, look for heavy duty row covers. They let in less light but trap heat, raising the temperature under the cover by a few degrees, often enough to be the difference between life and death for tender plants. Don’t use a heavy cover once the weather has warmed up or you run the risk of cooking your plants. These heavier blankets often need some sort of support, often in the form of a “hoop”.
Lightweight row covers are the best for insect control, letting in 80-90% of light and not overheating or blocking rain. However, they are not sufficient for frost protection.
Applied early enough, they will prevent flea beetles from making holes in your lettuce. They are great for blocking flying insects such as Japanese beetles, potato bugs, bean beetles, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, squash borers, root maggots and cabbage borers .
They aren’t as effective on slugs, cutworms, or insects that emerge from the ground, so you’ll need to monitor your plants for damage from these. If you are protecting plants such as cucumbers and squash that need pollination to produce fruit, be sure to remove the covers once the plants begin to flower to let pollinators in. By this time the plants are usually large and strong enough to survive insect attack.
Row covers will also help protect your newly planted seeds from birds. Of course, they will discourage deer and rabbits, although squirrels will probably find a way in.
Laying a row cover over newly planted beds helps prevent moisture from evaporating too quickly and keeps the soil from crusting. Emerging seedlings will lift the cover as they germinate. This can be especially useful for small seeds like carrots.
Even if you have no trouble growing zucchini, row covers are a handy tool to have around the garden shed.
Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in MU Extension’s Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]