- 1 What Is a Garden Cloche?
- 2 What Does a Garden Cloche Do?
- 3 Benefits of Using a Garden Cloche
- 4 Important Considerations
Growing plants from seeds is a rewarding and satisfying job, and that’s one of the main reasons so many people are getting more interested in gardening. But just like many rewarding activities (think parenting and caring about a pet), it comes with challenges. If you’re struggling with getting your plants to survive in cold weather, caring about young plants and pests, or seedlings needing humidity and warmth, you’re lucky because a simple tool can help you solve all these problems. This easy solution is also somewhat inexpensive – introducing the garden cloche.
What Is a Garden Cloche?
Cloche is the French word for bell. A garden cloche is a bell-shaped translucent plastic or glass cover that we use to protect plants from the elements, such as cold, wind, and pests. A cloche may also help plants survive drought by keeping the air and soil wet.
The first cloche, invented in Italy in 1623, was made of glass. It acted like a mini-greenhouse for gardens and was initially used by the wealthy, as glass was expensive. First used in gardens by the French, English, and Dutch, a cloche was effective for shielding plants from the elements and extending the growth season of particular crops. According to the Michigan State University Extension, cloches were utilised in the gardens of Monticello by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.
However, using glass cloches came with an unwanted side effect known as the glasshouse effect. It might occasionally make the air excessively hot, making life difficult for the plants beneath. That’s why today, most gardeners prefer plastic cloches over the old-fashioned glass ones as they’re far more stackable and cheaper, and you can also use them indoors in the off-season. When choosing a garden cloche for your plants, ensure it features an adjustable opening top to let heat and moisture out if it becomes too wet. That way, if there is a lot of condensation, you can open the vents. Also, pick an option large enough for full-grown lettuce with pegs to anchor it down in the soil.
What Does a Garden Cloche Do?
Cloches work in the same manner as glasshouses and polytunnels do, although on a much smaller scale. Unlike cold frames and mini-greenhouses, they’re usually portable, used to protect rows of low-growing plants like vegetables, strawberries, and cut flowers and to cover individual plants in attractive gardens.
At the beginning of the year, you can use cloches to cover seedbeds and seedlings. Taller cloches, on the other hand, stimulate the ripening of aubergines, tomatoes, and peppers near the end of the season. Cucumbers and miniature French beans, in particular, thrive under cloches, making them ideal crops for northern gardens where exposed vegetables are unreliable and for striking cuttings and growing seedlings.
Benefits of Using a Garden Cloche
Protection from the Elements
Pre-warming the soil in the spring can help crops sprout earlier than usual, extending the cropping season (3-4 weeks on each end) and making the best use of available land. A cloche, for example, can boost the local soil temperature by up to 10°C and accelerate the germination of direct-sown crops by 10-14 days. That increases air temperatures and minimises heat loss at night, resulting in early harvest dates (3-4 weeks for most crops).
Cloches and other soil warming methods should ideally be in place one week before you transplant or seed any crops into the soil to allow temperatures beneath to increase sufficiently. Temperatures near the surface will vary, but lower soil depths will retain some of the collected heat. Glass cloches are particularly useful since they maintain more heat at night.
Protection Against Pests and Diseases
Cloches can be an effective shield from certain pests or illnesses when used as a physical barrier. They’re less successful in excluding pests than fleece or insect-resistant mesh, but they prevent bird damage. By limiting rain soaking, well-ventilated cloches can minimise common air-borne diseases like onion downy mildew and tomato blight. Foliar diseases require sufficient moisture on crop foliage to infect; thus, preserving leaves dry is a practical protective technique – just strive to minimise humidity through adequate ventilation (e.g. opening any air vents or raising a side of the cloche).
Overwintering and Ripening Crops Near the End of the Season
Cloches protect autumn-planted crops like carrots and chicory from frost and rain. They also ‘buffer’ temperature for late-ripening crops like bush tomatoes and chillies, softening the blow of early frosts. You can use cloches with black polythene to blanch endive and chicory by limiting light for many weeks, reducing bitterness and increasing succulence. Black plastic-wrapped cloches may also be packed with straw or other insulating material and placed over root vegetables in cold winter weather to keep them safe and accessible.
Cloches suffer from many of the same things as fleece and other crop coverings. These include issues with humidity and hydration, encouraging weeds, and pollination. Here’s how you can use garden cloches to prevent these problems.
Watering and Humidity
When shopping for a garden cloche, look for ones with good ventilation. A low-level drip or seep irrigation line is frequently a valuable addition to a row of cloches in dry summers. Water seeping into the edges of cloches usually spreads far enough below ground to be available to covered plants.
Conditions that are favourable for crop growth are equally advantageous for weed growth. Transplants are more likely than direct-sown crops to outgrow sprouting weed seeds. You can avoid that by regular hoeing. To give access to weed management, consider cloches that can be readily removed and replaced.
If you have the time, till the soil and lay the cover at least a week before sowing to produce a stale seedbed. Shallow hoeing will eradicate weed seedlings that have germinated without introducing too many more weed seeds to the surface.
When cultivated beneath cloches, insect-pollinated crops such as strawberries and courgettes are susceptible to limited pollination and poor fruit set. By allowing adequate ventilation on warm, calm days, you may help pollinating insects gain access to such crops.