A previous post discussed germinating seeds with the fabric dual-marketed as seed germination fabric and floating row covers. The fabric covers placed over the top of plants can serve several useful functions including shading plants when transplanting, and shading to extend the life of cool season vegetables as hot weather approaches. They are also used to capture heat for fall frost protection.
Row covers are easy to use. Throw loosely over plants allowing slack for future plant growth. You can also use covers over hoops or wire tunnels such as in the photo above right. Anchor to the soil with U-pins bent from wire and punched through the fabric that touches the ground. Soil also can be mounded over fabric edges to hold it down. Covers allow light and water through and stop movement of insects.
Looking at what insects are trapped under covers with vegetable plants and which are barred access is worthwhile. Row covers can stop plant damage from troublesome insects such as spinach leafminer, aphids, leafhoppers, cabbageworm and cabbage looper. Summer pest protection is offered against squash bug, cucumber beetle, bean beetle, corn earworm, whitefly and grasshopper.
Before declaring victory and thinking covers will solve all vegetable insect problems, remember that several insects spend part of their lives in the garden soil. When they emerge to find their favorite plant food enclosed in a cover that protects them from predator insects, they readily multiply. Examples are cutworms and slugs that lurk in scattered soil locations.
Some insects concentrate on the soil immediately around their host plant and can be thwarted by crop rotation. These include onion and seedcorn maggot, flea beetle, Colorado potato beetle, corn rootworm (left photo larva in soil and right adult on corn silks) and tomato hornworm. Planting in the same location and using floating row covers can set up insect problems with these plants.
If a pest does multiply under a row cover, it may be best to remove it to allow natural enemies such as lacewings and ladybird beetles access to the pests. Also remember that squash and other vegetables depend on insect pollination so be sure not to screen out bees during flowering.
* Row cover over growing tunnel, David Whiting
* Larva of the western corn rootworm, Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
* Western corn rootworm adult on corn silks, Tom Hlavaty, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org