Ask a Gardener: Row covers extend growing season

Question: I am eager to get an early and good start with my garden. Can I plant seeds and then cover them with a row cover?

Answer: Row covers are designed for several purposes, but perhaps the most used is to extend the season. And that means either before it is truly time to plant or into the colder weather that follows the summer. So, yes, you can use a row cover to advantage, as long as the soil is workable when you plant your seeds.

Individual plants can be protected with “hotcaps” which are made of plastic or paper. You can also make them yourself, but be sure to remove them if there’s a warm streak of weather or they’ll cook your plants.

When starting seeds, the cover of choice is called “floating row cover,” made of polyethylene, polyester or polypropylene. It comes in rolls, available at nurseries and big-box stores. All the materials are very light and either can be laid directly over your seeded beds or plants or you can provide stakes to prop it up a bit. Cover the edges of the fabric with soil, particularly if there is any threat of wind where you live. I’ve found that weighing down the edges with boards works best for me.

Not only is this fabric light, allowing the plants to grow without being squashed, but the materials transmit 80 percent to 95 percent of the sunlight, and allow both water and air to pass through.

You can keep the covers on as long as you wish, unless you have plants that need pollination. You’ll need to remove the row covers when these plants begin to bloom to allow pollinators access.

Floating row covers also work well to protect against insect, bird and assorted mammal predation on your plants. Not being able to see the plants, the larger predators are less interested, and those insects that could be a problem can’t get in.

Another good thing about these floating row cover materials is that with a modicum of care, they’ll last several seasons. Take them in for the winter months.

Q: I was digging and cleaning up in my perennial flower bed and kept running into shiny little pearl-like things. What could they be?

A: Very little doubt what you’ve been unearthing. They’re slug eggs, and unusually pretty, given what the adult slug looks like when grown. Yours is a timely question, however. Now’s the time to drastically reduce the number of those slimy marauders that can eat most any plant you want to have looking good.

And it’s a simple solution. Squish. That’s it. Any time you run into those little pearls, simply squash them. Every one you dispatch is a full-grown slug you won’t have to deal with. If you are overly squeamish, bundle then up in a bag and throw them in the garbage. Or give them to your chickens or fish. We might not like them, but my chickens think they’re caviar.

Q: I have the most beautiful large rhododendron in my front yard, but apparently it hasn’t liked this year’s winter, and the leaves are all curled up. Can it be saved?

A: This is the best kind of question with a simple and comforting answer. No, your rhododendron is not in trouble. It is merely doing what it does naturally: curling its leaves to protect them from inclement weather. In other words, curled leaves are a rhoddie’s defense mechanism. As soon as the weather improves and stabilizes, the leaves will uncurl and you’ll have your lovely plant back to its full beauty.