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UC Cooperative Extension
Karmjot Randhawa
County Director
(559) 243-6564

UC Cooperative Extension
145 Tozer St. Suite 103
Madera, CA 93638
Office Phone: (559) 675-7879
Fax: (559) 675-0639

Elinor Teague Monthly Column

Welcome Elinor Teague

Elinor Teague
A note from Elinor Teague to the readers:  After writing gardening columns for the Fresno Bee for 18 years, it is a pleasure to be able to continue to offer readers gardening advice and tips here on the Fresno County Master Gardeners’ website. 

See below for the latest column, or click here to read past articles. 

Readers’ questions and comments are always welcome. Send an email to mgfresno@ucdavis.edu 

March 2023
row covers
The Fresno/Clovis area has received well above average rainfall, snowpack and chill hour totals this 202/2023 season.However, colder than normal temperatures in February may extend well into March this year, delaying the start of our summer planting season.Many avid gardeners compete with one another to get bragging rights on how early they put in their tomato transplants-usually sometime in mid-March.During these last drought years with warm, dry winters and heat spikes beginning in April, early planting was a necessity in order to ensure that transplants’ roots were well-established before the first hot spell.We may see a heat spike in April, but at the beginning of March soil temperatures are still too cool for transplants or seeds of summer vegetables and flowering annuals.
Few Central Valley home gardeners make much use of row covers, water walls and forcing cloches to jump start the spring planting season by several weeks.All these devices work well.Newer designs are now being marketed that make row covers easier to set up and store and make cloches and water walls more efficient at controlling temperatures and air flow.I haven’t seen many of these new designs at my local nursery or at the local hardware store or garden centers yet.Gardening catalogs from seed companies and garden supply sources are proving to be the best sources right now. 
Gardener’s Supply Company’s catalog (www.gardeners.com) shows what they refer to as ‘pop-up accelerators’.Pop-up frames are covered with greenhouse fabric, held in place with staples, and the frames fold flat for storage.Much easier than wrestling with hoops and rolls of garden fabric. Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com). has red perforated plastic bags that can be tied to a tomato cage and red water walls (Kozy-Coat) as well as a full range of row cover fabrics.The catalog provides a good eduction on the relative light transmission percentage of row covers and the life-expectancy of the fabric depending on the intensity of the sunlight as well as evaluations of abrasiveness to young plants.Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ catalog is great bedtime reading for gardeners.Its products target small farms and serious gardeners and the descriptions are no-nonsense simple.The cloches offered in the Gardener’s Supply Company catalog are several rungs above the typical bell covers.Their PVC cloches have vents to prevent overheating and sturdier steel stakes.Their large-size forcing cloches have reservoirs for catching and releasing rain and irrigation water and air-flow vents that can be adjusted.The row cloches have removable ends.Burpee’s catalog offers a planter’s black paper mulch that helps raise soil temperatures and that can be tilled into the soil at the end of the planting season.The paper mulch might be helpful if our temperatures stay cool well into March.
The sun’s rays are intense and hot in summer.Sunburn is a real problem in gardens without afternoon shade here in the Central Valley.The shade cloth in the Territorial Seed Company catalog blocks 65% of the light.The cloth has sealed, finished edges with grommets for ties and is advertised as lasting for up to 10 years.