Protect from Sunburn with Shade Cloth

shade cloth for plants

Summer sun is great for our growing garden, but too much will cause damage to leaves and fruit of vegetables. Keep this from happening by installing some shade cloth over plants like peppers, lettuce or tomatoes. Tricia shows us how in the video How to Use Shade Fabric.

Why Does the Sun Cause Damage to Plants

All plants need sun to live and grow but too much, or actually too much heat can cause damage. Plant leaves and some fruit have small openings called stomata. These openings allow water loss or transpiration which in turn helps cool the plant. Leaves typically have the most stomata and cool very efficiently. Many fruits have stomata as well but some do not, such as peppers, tomatoes and apples. Thus the excess energy that accumulates during the day can lead to damage like sunburn in the fruit. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries can also suffer from sun damage. On cane berries, the fruit will show white drupelets, which will eventually dry up. Sweet corn can show damage as well. If the temperature exceeds 95°F when the plants have silks, the silks can be damaged and dry out which will cause “zippering” or poor pollination of kernels on the ear.

Shade Cloth Application Guide

The thickness or density of shade cloth is indicated by a percentage representing the amount of blocked sunlight. For instance, a 30% shade cloth blocks 30% of sunlight, allowing 70% to pass through. Here is a breakdown of common percentages and their uses:

  • 30% Shade Cloth: This lighter shade cloth is ideal for plants that thrive in partial sunlight and do not need significant protection from the sun. It is commonly used for crops like tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables that require some sun for photosynthesis but can suffer from sunburn or heat stress during peak summer months.

  • 50% Shade Cloth: Suitable for a broader range of plants, 50% shade cloth provides moderate protection. It is often used in nurseries and greenhouses to protect young seedlings and more sensitive plants from direct sunlight while providing ample growth light. It’s also useful for extending the growing season of certain crops.

  • 60% Shade Cloth: This level is typically used for plants that require a balance between sun and shade, such as certain types of flowers and ornamental plants. It offers a good compromise, reducing heat stress while allowing enough light for healthy growth. It’s also beneficial in protecting plants from hail and heavy rain.

  • 70% Shade Cloth: This thicker shade cloth is suitable for plants that need significant protection from the sun. It’s often used for shade-loving plants like ferns and hostas, which can suffer from leaf scorch if exposed to too much direct sunlight. It’s also useful in very hot climates to reduce greenhouse heat build-up.

  • 80% Shade Cloth: Providing maximum sun protection, 80% shade cloth is typically used for very delicate plants or in extreme climates where sun intensity is a major concern. It’s also used when protecting plants from intense heat is critical, such as in desert environments. This level of protection helps reduce watering needs by lowering soil temperatures and reducing evaporation rates.

Shade Cloth Placement and Installation

Place the shade cloth on the west side of the plants to block the hot afternoon sun. The easiest way to install it is to erect a support structure with bamboo, wood or pvc pipe made into hoops. You can connect the cloth to the hoops with Snap Clamps or use a Clip-It that creates a grommet. You can also special order shade cloth from that will have grommets placed to order. With a grommet you can easily hang it over your plants or area using rope.

Knitted vs Woven Shade Cloth

Each type does an equally good job of shading your plants. One advantage of the knitted is that is does not unravel at the raw cut edge. This is a good choice if you are not having it custom hemmed and grommets added. The woven fabric is very durable but does tend to unravel at the cut end. Each type of shade cloth will do the job of protecting your plants from sun burn.


Using Shade for Fruit and Vegetable Production

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Catherine, I would say 30% would be good for roses. This will help cool them off a bit. I think 45% might be too much, since roses like full sun.


My roses are burning up on Sacramento
What % cloth should I use?

Cathryn Coffman

Gayle, I would use the 30% for your blueberries and blackberries, and you may want to go with 45% for your succulents. If you want to stick to the same cloth for all, then go with the 30%.


Temps here in central California have gotten very hot like, 115. Not all the time but 110 is not uncommon. I have succulents, blackberries and blue berries. What amount of shade cloth would be good?


Cathy, well not sure how hot it gets in your area, but I think 30% would be enough to bring down some of the heat. Strawberries grow best in full sun so I would not advise using anything that cuts down the light much more. I really like the knitted 30% shade cloth, it is easy to work with, does not unwravel and is easy to install over a high tunnel. I use 30% to shade my blueberries from the hot afternoon sun in northern California.


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