Half-eaten, flash-frozen or withered produce and soggy beds will not fill your freezer or pantry. Growing seasons vary widely and there is a 50 per cent chance of frost before and after the dates provided by the most reliable available sources of planting information: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Old Farmer's Almanac. Anything that helps your plants get a head start in spring or survive through fall will save you headaches -- hoops and netting are an inexpensive way to protect the time, materials and money you invest in your garden.
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Birds, squirrels, rabbits and deer can strip a garden bare. Cats disturb newly-sprouted plants and their waste products are a health hazard. Hoops and netting alone will not stand up to a hungry deer, but they will keep birds and smaller animals away. Cover a row of wicket-size hoops with mesh to protect newly-sprouted spring plants, advises Kitchen Gardener Magazine's David Rigby. Use fine mesh for songbirds and crows. Mesh with chicken-wire-size openings will keep squirrels, ground-nesting birds, rabbits and cats at bay.
Supplement your hoops and netting with metal fence posts and one continuous run of chicken wire along the length of each side of your garden bed, as well as across one end if deer are a problem in your area. Make a chicken-wire "gate" hooked to the metal posts at the open end of your flower bed for easy access when you need it.
Succession planting for fall-harvest crops exposes tender seedlings to withering heat. Shade netting allows you to grow tender greens, tomatoes and other heat-sensitive fruits and vegetables through the summer in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 11.
Use 12-percent shade cloth over your hoops to protect tomatoes, peppers and fruit-producing plants and 30-percent shade cloth to protect leafy vegetables, seedlings, cabbage and cauliflower. Remove the cloth when daytime temperatures are below 26.7 degrees Celsius, advises Gardener's Supply Company co-founder, Kathy LaLiberte'. Make hoops at least 1 foot taller at the apex and 1 foot wider at the sides than the expected maximum spread and height of your plants.
Hoops and clear polythene plastic over concrete-reinforcing mesh provide -16.7 to -15.6 degrees Celsius of protection from radiation frosts, which are the result of heat transfer from the soil to the air. Radiation frosts occur on clear nights.
Mount 25-bulb strings of Christmas lights inside the hoops to provide up to 0-7.778 degrees C of additional warmth during cold fronts. Hoops and netting alone will not provide enough protection.
Most forms of netting stay intact through three seasons, so you can just roll it up and store it between uses. Compost cloth netting or shred plastic netting into mulch, as long as it was not exposed to any chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Use shredded plastic mulch from organic gardens as cover for swing-set landing areas, around sliding boards and under climbing structures in children's playgrounds. Use metal mesh to create fish habitats in waterways.
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- Old Farmer's Almanac: Frost Chart for United States
- "Kitchen Gardener Magazine"; Get an Early Start for Your Spring Garden; David Rigby; February 2000
- Protect-o-Net: Uses for Alnet Agricultural Shade Cloth
- Gardener's Supply Company: The Vegetable Garden in Autumn; Kathy LaLiberte'
- Colorado State University Extension: Frost Protection and Extending the Growing Season; David Whiting, et al.; June 2007