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Using horticultural fleece

Gardening for beginners: garden fleece

All you need to know about using garden or horticultural fleece, in our guide.

What is garden fleece?

Garden or horticultural fleece is a lightweight polyester material with a soft texture, hence its name ‘fleece’. It’s one of several different materials that are collectively referred to as crop covers. Fleece is a versatile material as it can protect plants from frost, wind, hail and pests. You can also use it to insulate plants to encourage earlier harvests, and line greenhouses with fleece to offer wider winter protection.

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Because fleece is porous, allowing air and water through, it creates a healthier environment for plant growth than non-porous materials such as polythene.

Fleece is available in a range of sizes and varies in quality as well as weight – better quality fleece should last for several years if used carefully. It should be durable, being ultra-violet (UV) stabilised to withstand sunlight, tear-proof, washable and rot-proof. The downside of fleece is that it can’t be recycled, so buying good quality material that will give the longest life is most sustainable compared to cheap fleece that may only last a season.

When to use garden fleece

Winter

  • Use fleece outdoors to protect plants from frost, cold winds, or hail damage
  • In unheated greenhouses or polytunnels, use fleece to wrap or cover plants to provide additional protection against frost
  • Use heavy duty fleece as greenhouse insulation instead of bubble polythene

Spring

  • Cover soil with fleece for a week or two to warm it before sowing
  • Grow crops under fleece to raise the temperature and give an earlier harvest compared to un-covered crops
  • Put over newly planted frost-tender plants to protect from late frosts, wind, or hail
  • Protect early potatoes from frost

Summer

  • Use fleece to protect plants from attack by pests such as flea beetle or cabbage white butterfly
  • Cover delicate plants with fleece in bouts of unseasonal weather such as hail

Autumn

  • Cover tender crops and flowering annuals/tender perennials to keep them growing for longer as temperatures fall
  • Protect overwintered hardy crops from severe frosts
  • Enable harvesting of winter-hardy root crops by covering with fleece so the soil is less likely to become frozen

How to use garden fleece

Wrapping a tree fern crown with fleece
Wrapping a tree fern crown with fleece

Wrap or cover vulnerable plants with fleece as temporary frost protection when severe weather is forecast. Heavier duty 30g fleece protects plants down to around -3°C, while standard fleece with a weight of 17g provides protection to just below freezing. Use sheets of fleece to cover individual plants or groups of plants and secure with pegs or string. If the fleece is in direct contact with plants, remove as soon as weather conditions improve, as it reduces the amount of scarce winter light getting to plants and can also provide a haven for pests.

Fleece ‘jackets’ are available for individual plants, made using 70g fleece, which provides protection to around -5ºC. Design varies – some have a drawstring at the base while others have zipped sides. Sizes vary.

You can make or buy a framework to cover plants, known as a cloche or tunnel, to support sheets of fleece. As long as there’s a gap of at least a few centimetres between plants and fleece, the cover can be left in place for weeks or months.

Use heavy duty fleece as greenhouse insulation, fixed to the inside of the structure using clips or double-sided sticky pads.

How to store garden fleece for reuse

With care, good-quality fleece can last for several years as it’s rot-proof and washable. If dirty, machine wash on the gentlest cycle or wash by hand, then allow to dry completely before storing in a dry place out of sunlight.

Alternative materials to garden fleece

Plastic cloche
Plastic cloche

For protection against pests use fine mesh, sometimes called insect mesh. This keeps insect pests at bay, as well as birds, while netting only protects crops from birds.

For protection from frost use clear heavy-duty polythene. This protects plants from wind and hail, and can provide protection against frost, but not as much as heavy duty fleece. Polythene isn’t porous so humidity can cause disease problems, and watering is likely to be needed.

Fabrics such as sacking or old curtains can be used to wrap plants to protect against frost, but their heavier weight coupled with water absorption is likely to cause damage.

Garden fleece: problem solving

Placing fleece over busy Lizzies
Placing fleece over busy Lizzies

Pollinating insects are kept away from crops that need pollination, such as strawberries. For these crops, use either fine netting that still keeps birds off the fruit, or delay putting fleece over the crop until flowering has finished and the fruit is set.

Weed growth is boosted by a fleece cover as well as plant growth. Remove every so often in order to weed.

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Pests such as slugs and snails can thrive under the protection of fleece. Inspect plants regularly for signs of damage and take action as appropriate.

Advice on buying garden fleece

  • Fleece is widely available in a range of weights, widths, and lengths
  • It may be more economical to buy a large sheet to cut into smaller pieces – fleece cuts easily with a pair of sharp scissors
  • For frost protection of large individual plants opt for a heavy duty fleece ‘jacket’ that’s secured with a drawstring or zip

Where to buy garden fleece