When temperatures exceed 90 degrees F, plants get stressed—even warm-season crops. Once heats set in, flower production reduces, buds shrivel up and the plant spends its energy on survival rather than production. During a heat wave, shade cloths have proven to increase water retention and improve air circulation among plants.
Providing your plants with shade is the most effective way to reduce stress. There are several options for doing this, ranging from very expensive to next to nothing. Shade cloths can be purchased from several websites and garden stores, and will perform well to protect your plants.
You can select the percentage of sun rays filtered through the cloth. Most vegetable gardeners choose a 30 to 40 percent cloth. These allow the sun’s rays and raindrops to still reach the plant to continue its growth.
DIY a Low-Cost Solution
You can also find also several quick and free resources around your house. If you only need to shade a few days at a time, a DIY option may be a great choice that will save you money.
First, you need to understand that every shade cloth system needs posts, cloth and clips. Here are some common items you may already have in your possession to use:
- Posts: plant poles, T-posts, fence posts, fencing, bamboo sticks, PVC pipes, branches/limbs, tomato stakes, hula hoops (cut in half)
- Shades: umbrellas, white sheets, mesh fabric, tulle, burlap, curtains (everything from sheer to blackout could work), bug netting
- Clips: clothespins, twist ties, chip clips, binder clips, zip ties, twine, metal clips, staples
Should you use light or dark colored shades? According to All About Gardening, it depends, but either will probably work:
“Lighter-colored shade cloth can cause rays of light to refract, redirecting some of the light away from our plants. Darker-colored shade cloth simply prevents the sun’s light from fully reaching the plants by absorbing the light. In both cases, it reduces the sunlight that’s directly reaching the plants—and for some species, particularly shade-loving plants, a denser shade cloth can be the only way to grow those plants at certain times of year.”
Make Your Own Shade Cloth
To make your own shade cloth, follow these steps for assembly:
- Measure all posts to make sure they are the same size and will be tall enough to keep the cloth off of the plants.
- Hammer down the posts.
- Measure the cloth to reach the posts. Consider if you need to tactfully drape one side depending on the evening sun.
- Staple or clip the cloth into place on the posts.
- Observe that the shade is correctly placed to create shade at various times in the day.
When installing your shade cloth, keep these things in mind:
- The cloth needs to hover above the plant. If it touches or smothers the plant, that increases heat.
- Be aware of the wind. Gusts of wind will come under the cloth and try to lift it, so secure all loose areas.
- Continue to water plants under the shade cloth. Check the soil once or twice a day to make sure it is not getting too dry.
- All plants need sunlight to grow. Don’t overpower your shade cloth by blocking too much sun or leaving it on the plants during rainy, cloudy days.
- Heat-tolerant plants thrive in 80 to 90 degrees and really shouldn’t be covered until temps reach 95 or higher.