Carolyn Singer: Maximize your climate |

Carolyn Singer: Maximize your climate

Joe Spang removes the row cover to harvest Meyer lemons

A few days ago my son brought tree-ripened oranges from his garden in Carmichael. Delicious. His tree is loaded with fruit, ready for harvest, and more than enough to share.

An abundance of oranges ripening in my cold Peardale garden, still covered with snow, is an impossible dream. But what about other citrus? With some protection, local gardeners might be harvesting the hardier of the citrus.

Friends who live just west of Grass Valley, off the Rough & Ready highway, have succeeded in establishing a dwarf Meyer lemon. The lemon is planted in the ground, against the garage wall. Knowing additional protection from winter cold would be necessary, Joe Spang started with four pieces of rebar in the ground, securing half-inch PVC crossing over the small tree.

For the row cover, Joe chose Agribon-50 and secured it with snap clamps fitting the PVC, available at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Removal for harvest is simple when the row cover is held off the plant and cannot catch on branches or thorns. For smaller plants, the row cover may be laid right on top of the foliage.

Agribon has more than one grade of protection. As protection increases, light transmission decreases. For example, the light weight AG-19 allows 85 percent light transmission, while heavy weight AG-50 allows only 50 percent light. AG-19 will give some protection from frost, but AG-50, with a greater degree of protection, is the best choice for citrus in foothill gardens.

During a prolonged winter chill, the extra heavy weight Agribon, AG-70, could be used for a short period of time.

As long as the plant being protected receives the light it requires, the row cover may be left in place all winter. Rain will penetrate. A wicking action prevents excess moisture from creating problems under the cover.

When I began gardening in Peardale forty-two years ago, I purchased lengths of Tufbell. Using them just during the winter, I rolled the material up and protected it from summer sun. I am still using several of the pieces. Not only has its durability been remarkable, it seems to offer greater light transmittance and heat retention.

Tufbell is now available as Dio-Betalon. While it is more expensive than Agribon products, Dio-Betalon would be a good product to use where the row cover is being left in place for longer periods of time.

In our climate, row covers have many uses. It’s possible to plant greens much earlier. The primary goal may be to create a warmer microclimate. In my garden, there is an added benefit with this protection: it allows me to enjoy the greens instead of sharing them with my resident quail.

Later in the summer, the lightest weight of Agribon, AG-15 could be used for bird protection, or even protection from grasshoppers. Remember when you are covering a crop that pollinating insects must be able to reach flowers of fruiting crops. I use a cover (including shade cloth) only on leafy vegetables.

Foothill soils are dense, and may warm very slowly in spring. Another use of a row cover might be to warm the soil before planting. In this case, use one of the light-weight row covers, AG-15 or AG-19. Select one that you will be likely to use again. Prepare the soil as you would for planting, then roll out the cover. If weeds appear, all the better. You can pull them before you plant anything else.

It’s far too early to be planting summer crops in the garden, but row covers are valuable to have on hand when you have optimistically planted these vegetables ahead of most gardeners in the area. Suddenly a spring frost or even a snowstorm threatens your tender crops. A row cover with maximum protection (AG-70) may be just enough to save your summer vegetables.

A class about the possibilities of growing citrus in our area will be held at A to Z Supply on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at 4 p.m. Call 530-272-3871 or 530-802-0057 for details.

Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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