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Even gardeners in the Northeast will need shade cloth once in a while, especially for late-season transplants or extended snaps of sunny weather. Commercial shade cloth is expensive, but there are a few low-cost ways to protect vegetable plants from the blazing sun with materials you may already have on hand.
Regular commercial shade cloth used for vegetable gardens is like a tarp with perforations throughout the fabric. It's a lightweight woven or knitted polypropylene or polyethylene fabric that comes in different sizes and degrees of shade protection, usually between 30% to 60%, which means it excludes 30-60% of the light. Shade cloth for the garden works best when it's attached to a frame such as PVC or metal piping. It's usually used with low tunnels, high tunnels, or greenhouses.
Lightweight row cover like Agribon AG-15 can be used as a sort of shade cloth but it can't be zip-tied so it needs to be long enough to be anchored on each end with bricks, dirt, or sandbags. Certain heat-loving crops such as tomatoes and peppers can handle more heat than brussel sprouts and lettuce, so if we have to use both row cover and shade cloth, the row cover is used to shade the tomatoes and the shade cloth is used on the other crops.
Commercial shade cloth is expensive and you may be able to use a few less expensive shade cloth alternatives. You can buy most of these DIY shade cloths at Lowes, Home Depot, or Tractor Supply. If you don't have any of those stores nearby, several online stores carry a wide variety of burlaps and nettings. Here are a few vegetable garden shade cloth ideas:
Although these shade cloths are perforated and won't catch the wind like row cover they still need to be attached to the supports to keep it in place, especially if you're using slippery PVC pipe for a framework. The easiest way to attach the shade cloth to the PVC support is with zip ties. The screening and netting mesh is much smaller than the burlap so it's not as easy to get the zip ties through the mesh but it still works well. Zip ties are not the most efficient method due to having to replace the ties each time the shade cloth is used, but it allows for shorter lengths of shade cloth. If you cut the shade fabric long enough you could simply weigh the ends down with bricks or sandbags, but that adds to the cost.
For the commercial garden shade cloth, there are several online garden suppliers to choose from including Johnnys. For the alternative shade cloth ideas, Lowes, Walmart, and Home Depot have a decent selection of burlaps and fabrics. Amazon has a large selection of fabrics in many sizes and prices and to get you started, this 50% shade cloth is 6.5' x 20', is reasonably priced and has good reviews. It's not the same brand name, but this camo netting looks similar to our netting, and finally, this insect screening is the same as the material purchased at Lowes. Oh, and don't forget the zip ties. They're widely available and so far Walmart has the best price, but if you don't have any local stores nearby Amazon offers a 100 pack of zip ties at a competitive price.
Here's a short overview of some of the shade cloth used with our raised beds. The beginning of the video shows tomatoes, corn, then hot peppers, but I forgot to mention the bed in the background is a buckwheat cover crop that was planted after the garlic was harvested a few weeeks ago and it doesn't need any shade.