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Shade cloths, a vegetable garden lifesaver in the desert

Oh what a difference shade makes!  The left-half of the garden only got covered an hour before the photo was taken, while the right-half has been covered for over a month and is still verdant.  Ignore the sunflower mess.
Once June heat takes hold in the low desert you will see a decline in garden productivity. Some of your plants, like peas and beans, will probably be done for the season and will die off completely.  Others, like peppers, might not care much that they've been placed into an oven.  But others, like tomatoes, will stop producing yet stay alive until a second spurt of fruiting in the fall--if you give them enough water and protection from the sun. Some of you might be lucky enough to have a perfectly positioned tree that shades your crop in the summer, the rest of use have to rely on shade cloths.  They can be so effective that I have a lavender that lived through multiple 115+ degree days in the most exposed part of my yard because it's under a shade cloth.

To provide enough shade while letting enough of the sun's nourishing light hit the leaves, stick with 40% - 60% shade in your cloths.  I have one 60% cloth that I've used over some of my more delicate heirloom tomatoes--which might not have even been necessary, I was just being cautious; but otherwise all my cloths are just 40% and have worked just fine to protect other tomatoes, a couple orange trees, an heirloom eggplant, tomatillo, chard, peppermint, spearmint, lemongrass, and squash.

The cloths on Amazon are available either with a fairly unfinished cut edge or finished with grommets.  Most (but, as I found yesterday) of the cloths with grommets come with ball-bungees for attachment.  The cut edge cloth I just got came with clips that attach anywhere for a custom fit.  Both provide a secure fit, but the grommet cloths will be the best attached if you are concerned about surviving a monsoon storm.

Take sun positioning at its strongest hours into account when determining how to place the shade cloth, how much extra overhang to provide, and dimensions of the shade cloth to buy.

This didn't get shaded until mid July and most of the plants died :(

This was shaded all summer and is staying alive until fall season

In my garden, for example, a wall provides shade after about 3:00 PM so I have the cloth attached to the wall and over top the garden with about a 3' overhang on the east side.  This setup gives me direct sun for 5-6 hours in the morning hours, then starts providing shade to the whole garden around 10:00 or 11:00 AM.  In my setup, the western-most plants will receive both partial and full shade earlier, so I organize my planting with the more sun-sensitive items furthest to the west and work my way east to the most sun-loving options.  To some extent I do the same with north-south planting because as the sun starts to dip in the late-summer sky plants on the south will get more sun peeking under the cloth.  It's a process of trial and error, though.  As you can see from the top photo in the post the plants on the left still got more sun when I had an 8'x12' cloth and they didn't fare well.

I've used both e.share and AgFabric shade cloths and the two brands are equally well made--to the point that I have no idea which are which at this point.  They are also the two options on Amazon that reliably have the shade percentages I want.


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Gaia x GTFO = Discounted GPS!

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