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The Benefits of Frost Cloth

by Tamara Galbraith

Using frost cloth can mean the difference between life and death this time of year. Maybe you're trying to squeeze in (and keep the bunnies away from) some lettuce before the really bad weather sets in. Or maybe that prized plant will only take temperatures down to 35°. Whatever the case, having a good supply of frost cloth — also sometimes called a 'row cover' — is a must.

Frost cloths can generally be found cut to several different widths and lengths, and woven into varying weights. Obviously, the thicker the fabric, the more protection provided. Some cloths advertise plant protection down to 20º, if applied correctly.

So, what are the advantages of using a frost cloth instead of a plain old blanket or plastic sheet? Most importantly, frost cloth allows both light and water to penetrate, instead of the fabric just getting soaking wet and heavy. Also, frost cloth is more breathable. If temperatures warm up during the day following the cold and you've left the cloth on, chances are your plants won't get cooked, as opposed to what could happen with plastic or cotton sheeting.

While you can just 'float' the row cover directly on top of plants, the best set-up is to install hoops or some other support for the frost cloth, making sure it is tall enough to not allow the cloth to touch the plants. Then, drape the cloth over the support and secure it on all sides and at the base, so that the warmth of the ground rises and is trapped around the plants. Office supply-type binder clips, spring clamps, and u-pins all work well for securing the cloth to your chosen support and to the ground

Timing is important, too. If you know Jack Frost is coming, give your plants a good drink of water and get them covered before sunset to trap the most available warmth.

Most commercial frost cloths can be washed in the washing machine on gentle cycle and re-used for several years. They are also great in the springtime as an insect barrier or shade cloth...or for keeping those pesky bunnies away.



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