The Q&A Archives: Row Covers

Question: A while ago I wrote to you to ask how to protect my zuchinni plants from the squash bug that likes to destroy my plants. Someone responded back and said I should use row covers. Not to sound dumb but what exactly are row covers? I have been searching to find out what they are but have had no luck. Could you please tell me so I can attempt to save my zuchinni this year.

Thank you very much,
Sue McCluskey

Answer: Row covers are physical barriers to insect pests. They are made of spunbonded polypropylene material and were orignally introduced to improve plant growth and extend the growing season by trapping warmth inside. But, they have proven to be excellent barriers to all kinds of insect pests and they can also frustrate some small animals and birds, keeping them from devouring young plants. Row covers can be left on some crops all season long to provide protection. (Carrots and onions are examples.) On crops requiring pollination, such as squash, the row covers must be removed when flowering begins to allow insects to transfer pollen from one flower to another. Or, you can hand pollinate the flowers. If weather gets too hot, you may have to remove covers to prevent excessive heat buildup. Row covers will provide protection for your young squash plants, but once they begin to flower, the fabric should be removed. Row covers are widely available (Reemay and AG-19 Garden Fabric are two tradenames). You can purchase the fabric through many garden seed catalogs such as Territorial Seed Company (541) 942-9547.

As for the problem you're having with squash bugs, inspect the plants daily - if you find sawdust like droppings, the vine has been invaded by a squash vine borer. You can slit the vine at the point of entry and remove the larvae inside, then mound soil up over the wound and the vine will produce roots at the site. Or, you can dust the base of the plant with rotenone every two days for a week. This should take care of the problem. Best of luck with your zucchini!

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