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In the gardening world, a cloche is a type of cover used to protect tender plants against adverse weather conditions like frost. When many people hear the word cloche, they think of the hat of the same name, which is a completely appropriate connection since they are shaped similarly, like a bell. It is also appropriate that the word cloche in French means bell, leading to the gardening cloche also being called a bell jar. Sometimes the contraption is also called a bell cloche, although this is a redundant phrase.
A garden cloche can be made from many materials. Cloches intended for outdoor use are often constructed of plastic. Some people use one for for indoor plants in harsh environments, like offices, and it is often made of glass. A cloche can be constructed with materials found at any hardware store for under $10 US Dollars (USD), or it can be bought fully constructed. A manufactured cloche can range in price from $5 USD to nearly $200 USD depending upon the size and materials, as well as whether it is a “brand name” or not.
A cloche is usually used by early season gardeners to trap in moisture and heat to protect seedlings from the elements, although they may be used on larger plants in areas where the environment is harsh year-round. For rows of plants that need protection, a row covering is usually used instead. This is primarily because a row covering provides more insulation and protection for a large number of plants. It is also usually more cost effective to buy one row covering rather than many different cloches.
Cloche and row covering are sometimes used interchangeably in the gardening world, despite being two very different things. A row covering generally only refers to the row-covering contraption. A garden cloche can often be found at a home improvement or garden center, although occasionally home decorating stores sell them as well.
Gardens can improvise with a variety of recycled materials, including soda or water bottles, wine jugs and nearly any other plastic beverage container. This solution is both ecologically friendly and economical, but it can be time consuming. When in doubt about whether a cloche or row covering is best for a specific garen, it is best to consult a garden center's staff. They are trained and equipped with the right tools to figure out if a cloche is the right solution.
A bell jar or cloche glass can be very attractive with a small fern or little grouping of plants or mosses underneath it. It's come into fashion right now, so often buying them new can be expensive.
But, you can find them second hand, or even make your own from large, attractive glass jars. Just make sure that if you are buying them to put plants underneath that you don't try to be too wild with the glass.
The plants may not survive or thrive under certain kinds of colored glass as they need a wide spectrum of light for photosynthesis. Just use clear glass, if you are in doubt.
If you are sprouting your seedlings indoors you might want to use a cloche as a way to get your new plants used to outdoor weather. Just putting them straight into the ground outside can damage or kill them from the shock of the different conditions.
If you put your seed trays under a cloche, even just a rough, homemade one, you will let them get used to the outdoor conditions slowly, without disrupting their roots at the same time. First put them out under the cloche, then without the cloche, then plant them out.
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