We’re thrilled to have been able to grow year round, simply by using frost covers for plants! Also called row covers and frost blankets, these plant covers absolutely work to extend your growing season, both in spring, fall and winter.
If you’re in the colder more snowy growing zones with lots of snow, this may not work as well, but you could try using the heavier frost blankets to extend as much as possible. Let us know how it’s going for you if you are using them or decide to try it.
We are still getting word from folks that they’re seeing very unusual weather patterns (freezing temps, snow, ice, and freezing rain). So, like the funny pic of the lady out in her snowy garden -caption “Screw it, I’m gardening!” We are too! So like the weather, we’ve jumped into spring fever early with a bit of help from frost blankets and row covers.
Frost Blankets vs. Floating Row Covers
What’s the difference between the two? Frost blankets are thicker and serve more specifically to help keep the plants warmer. Floating row covers are thinner and lighter weight, and while they also keep the frost off, they can be used during the day for growing under as well.
Here in Zone 7A (NC), the temperatures vary widely. We enjoy the variety and the many mild winter reprieves. With frost covers for plants we were able to extend the growing season way early for our squash plants which were planted the second week of April.
The tender squash will be covered with frost blankets when temps drop. By the way, it’s simple to set up a protected row by driving tall stakes at either end and running a line between them to drape the cloth over. Then pin the edges down securely. We like the long landscape fabric staples for pinning. Store bought tunnel systems like this Easy Tunnel work well also.
If you want to go with a bigger tunnel, you may enjoy reading about cattle panel tunnels.
Our first batch of straw bales is done curing and the bales have turned soft and mushy inside. Warm too. If you want to know more about the warm temps benefits of straw bales, you can read this article (near the end of it). These will host the kale, spinach, radishes, and, once temps stay mostly in the 50’s, we’ll plant the first batches of lettuce and tomatoes.
Speaking of radishes, this year we’re growing a fast-maturing variety, Radish Saxa II. It will be allow a smaller period between intervals before the temps get too warm (65 degrees and above consistently). We found out last year radishes will bolt and fail to form bulbs in warm temps.
Our flats of seedlings are all enjoying the spring weather when it happens. They’ve had a few overnights as well when the low temps remained above 50 degrees. We will bring all of the flats in for protection whenever the temps drop below the 50 mark. Tomatoes are particularly sensitive.
We planted kohlrabi transplants in the dirt yesterday. Two heirloom types, purple and white, went in on either side of the cloth house. Since the collards did so well in the same spots, we’ll try the kohlrabi, which are closely related. We are avoiding fertilizer on all our cole crops to see if they form better bulbs and florets this year. Also, we’ll make better use of the floating row cover fabric as a barrier against cabbage worms and loopers.
Here’s a handy chart from the AgFabric folks that can help you determine the level of protection and how it affects light transmission. .
Row Cover Frames
For support of the frost cover fabrics we use a variety of row cover frames:
- Jute twine strung between posts – tent style
- Hoops – store bought or homemade
- PVC pipe
- Stout fencing wire
The simplest row cover frame is a doubled length of jute twine stretched between two posts. The cover drapes over like a tent and the edges are pinned with landscape fabric “staples”.
It’s fairly easy to adjust the height over a single row, and easy to unpin one side to uncover for warmer days, cultivation, or harvest. It’s not so good with snow cover or taller plants, and the twine does stretch, so you’ll want to tie it in a slip knot so as to easily tighten it as needed.
The next method uses hoops, either store bought or home made designs made of pvc pipe, bamboo, or stout fencing wire. The best way we found to attach fabric to the wire is using document binder clips from the office.
Our stoutest supports are made from concrete reinforcement wire and cattle panels. The latter can also be shaped into stand-up cold frames and covered in poly.
It’s best if you can design covers so they can be handily removed for the occasional warm sunny day, to tend your crops, and for easier harvesting. Of course, climates and wind velocities can vary widely so having ample anchorage to keep the fabric pinned down is also important.
Extend Your Growing Season
The use of row covers and support frames not only protects winter garden plants, but can get your spring garden going much earlier. An extended growing season means extended harvests, and in some zones—even some of the wintery ones—that can mean year round growing!
Winter Landscape Plants
One bright spot in our winter landscape is this wonderful Arnold’s Promise witch hazel tree.
The frilly, lightly scented blossoms are a “promise” of a new season of life bursting forth. Meanwhile, we shall enjoy the weather with its ebbs and flows.
For 30 years, our Arnold’s Promise witch hazel tree has bloomed every February like clockwork.
Let us Know
We appreciate sharing our experiences and ideas with our fellow garden enthusiasts, and hearing yours!
If you have anything to share about the topic of winter gardening, you are most welcome to post on our Facebook page or send us a message. We’d be glad to publish your experience and photos on this or other garden related topics.
Tips and Hacks
In this video, Coleman talks about the kinds of frost covers for plants that we’re using, including the various support structures we’ve rigged up for it.
Grow well and harvest aplenty!
Coleman for GardensAll
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson