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Ground Mulch and Row Covers


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Plastic ground mulches are highly recommended for melons as they improve early-season soil temperatures, help control weeds, and conserve water. Plastic mulch raises soil temperatures by 10 degrees in spring which promotes rapid seed germination, better transplant establishment, and contributes to an earlier harvest. In order for plastic to raise the soil temperature, there must be good contact between the plastic and the soil. Commonly used plastics are embossed black (cheapest) and newer IRT (infraredtransmitting) films (more expensive) but they provide more soil warming with similar weed control. These films may be cost-effective where soil warming is important. Clear plastic can be used but weed growth under the plastic creates problems. In very warm areas of southern Utah, white plastic helps to reduce soil temperature, particularly when planting in late spring or early summer.

Plastic mulches are laid down by machine prior to planting. Commonly used mulch widths are 3 or 4 feet wide, creating a 2- or 3-foot area of cover. Matching the plastic to the laying machine creates the fewest problems during installation. It should be stretched tightly over the bed and have a good seal at the edges.

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spun-bonded row coversspun-bonded row covers

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This ensures that the wind cannot dislodge the plastic and pull it out of the ground. Be sure to install the drip tape under the plastic at the same time the mulch is laid down. Then at planting, holes can be created with a punch transplanter, by hand with a trowel or planting tool, or with a heated hole cutter.

Row covers (Reemay or plastic) help protect transplants from frost, reduce wind damage to young plants, and enhance yield and earliness. It can rest directly on top of plants, but should be weighted down to avoid flapping which causes leaf damage. Plastic row covers trap more heat during the day than spun-bonded covers, enhancing plant growth and earliness. However, the temperature under the plastic row covers increases quickly and should be monitored closely. Perforated plastics are available to provide some ventilation while retaining heat. Plastic covers should be supported by heavy wire or other support to keep plastic from contacting plants. Spun-bonded and plastic row covers should be opened or removed as plants outgrow the cover, when the plants begin to flower, or when temperatures under the cover regularly exceed 90°F.