What Is a Garden Cloche?

And does every gardener need one?

Glass garden cloches protecting cabbage from frost

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A garden cloche is a simple structure that acts like a miniature greenhouse, helping give gardeners an edge when temperatures and conditions aren’t exactly in their favor. The word "cloche" actually means "bell" in French, which is a nod to the early design of this garden tool, frequently made out of glass. Today, there are many shapes and materials available as garden cloches, though you can still find the classic glass bell.

Because of garden cloches, gardeners don’t need a big, involved, or expensive system to extend a growing season or protect their plants. Whether you want to get a jump start on your garden in the spring or offer particularly tender plants some extra protection, the cloche can help you achieve these gardening goals. Take a look at what you need to know when selecting and using this handy tool. 

Varieties of Garden Cloches

The classic dome or bell shape is still the most common garden cloche on the market. While there are still some glass options out there, you’re more likely to find styles in durable and recyclable plastic.

Cloches are about 8-12 inches tall and will often come in a multipack. Their size is ideal because they are commonly used during spring when gardeners are either starting plants from seed or transplanting. It’s usually early in the season, so using a cloche will give you that little extra security, especially at night, as you’re waiting for the chance of frost to fully pass through your area. 

If you’re feeling resourceful or crafty, you could even make your own cloche by upcycling a bottle or container. Keep in mind that you’ll want to think about ventilation with both making and buying your own. Optimal air flow allows plants to thrive. If your cloche doesn’t naturally come with good airflow, then you can remove your cloche regularly to let the plant breathe during the day, then covering them back up at night when temperatures drop. 

Other cloches to consider include wire frames and tunnels, both of which usually have some sort of portable cover you can take off and on. These can be more difficult to move around, but they work well for covering a bigger space.

The Pros and Cons of Using a Garden Cloche

The main benefit of using a garden cloche is extending your growing season. Those who live in colder climates have to deal with the struggle of waiting for that brief period of warm-enough weather to start planting. Perhaps you've taken the chance after being teased by warm weather only to lose your plants with that one last frost. With garden cloches, you don’t have to worry as much about the cold. If you have to wonder if it's warm enough outside, simply top your plants with a garden cloche.

There's the other end of the season to consider, as well. Use garden cloches in the fall and get as much out of your garden as possible. Gardeners can grow a second round of herbs or vegetables, if they so choose.

No matter the season, cloches are awesome for protecting or growing tender plants. Perhaps you have a transplant that you’re trying to establish, or you want to grow a plant that is really better suited for warmer weather, and it always struggles in your area. In both scenarios, cloches can offer plants a strong growing environment. 

As with many innovative tools, there are some unfavorable outcomes to keep in mind. Garden cloches have the potential to increase weeds — that mini greenhouse you’re creating is beneficial to plants that you do and do not want. Also, because of their containment, your plants will need more water and can be more susceptible to diseases, so it is important to keep an eye on both. Finally, remember that when your plants are covered, they might be missing out on important natural systems like pollination. This is another reason, in addition to proper ventilation, to regularly uncover your garden.

The Final Verdict

Garden cloches are an underrated garden asset. Inexpensive, portable, and easy to use, these tools are great to have on hand year after year. You might just use them every once in a while when you feel like lengthening your gardening season, or perhaps you'll work them into your regular routine immediately. Either way, it's good to have options, right?

View Article Sources
  1. "All About Cloches." The National Gardening Association.