The fact that small growers have demonstrated row covers can be used for late-season frost and frost/freeze protection without overhead irrigation is a fairly exciting development, says Poling.

“Farmers with relatively limited water supplies can now grow strawberries in the plasticulture system and achieve full crops in most seasons using the covers.”

For more information on strawberry row cover management, go to the North Carolina Strawberry Information Portal at www.ncsu.edu/enterprises/strawberries.

These row covers are known as spunbound or non-woven fabrics, says Victor Lilley, vice-president of Reddick Fumigants, Inc. “They are most commonly made of polypropylene or polyester,” he says. “They are manufactured by melting the appropriate plastic or combination of plastics and spraying fine filaments onto a belt.”

The belt conveys them to a bonding roller that presses and fuses them together where they touch.

Improvements in manufacturing over the last 20 years have made possible the availability of large covers that can be laid directly on plants. “Such covers can improve earliness, yield and quality,” Lilley says. “For plasticulture strawberry growers, the benefits are in the areas of over-wintering protection and late-season frost/freeze protection, and they also promote fall growth of plants in colder climates.”

Row covers give the greatest benefits when they are fitted to one’s individual strawberry production system, he says. “Geographical location, proper management of the covers with regards to application and removal timing and the management and use of covers with overhead irrigation for late-season freezes,” he says.

Strawberry growers in mild climates like the Coastal Plains and Piedmont typically use row covers for late-season frost or freeze protection. Most growers in these regions view row covers as insurance policies: They may not be needed, but are invaluable when they are.

When covers are used for only short periods such as this, their exposure to the elements is greatly reduced, so less expensive lightweight row covers can be utilized. The benefits of lightweight covers (0.5 ounce per yard) for freeze protection can be greatly enhanced if they are used in combination with overhead irrigation.

Growers in colder climates like the mountains should use row covers as part of their strawberry production system and should consider the heavier and better-quality materials due to the length of time these materials will be exposed to the elements.

 Some cold-weather growers apply covers as early as December, leaving them on until well into late February, thus extending their exposure to long periods of time.

Temperatures in these areas have been known to dip low enough to cause plant mortality if row covers are not available to protect and shield plant crowns.

For these reasons, medium to heavy covers should be considered, says Lilley. “But they should not be too heavy: Covers that block more than 50 percent of available light can actually slow growth and advancement of one’s strawberry crop.”

Lilley’s company, TriEst Ag Group was recently formed from a merger of Hendrix & Dail Inc. of Greenville, N.C.; Reddick Fumigants LLC of Williamston, N.C., and Hy-Yield Products Inc. of Rocky Point to service southern farmers’ fumigation needs. You can reach the TriEst main office at 800-637-9466.

chrisbickers@gmail.com