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Gardening Mesh Keeps Bugs Out While Letting Sun and Water In


For years, outdoor growers have tried using gardening mesh to deter insects from destroying valuable crops. While gardening mesh can be successful in some applications in keeping smaller insects at bay, the mesh limits the penetration of other crucial elements necessary for growth.

Senior researcher Mike Roe, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Entomology at NC State, says, “To exclude insects that are really small using traditional textile cover designs, the size of the openings would have to be so small that it would also prevent water, air, and moisture from penetrating. We had to come up with another way of excluding the insects other than just based on pore size.”

Researchers went to work to create a product that would be more effective and a chemical-free alternative for insect protection for growers. The solution is a woven textile known as “Plant Armor.” This new gardening mesh essentially forces insects to navigate a maze-like pattern if they try to reach the actual plant.

“We found it’s possible to use this new technology to protect against insects we didn’t think we could protect against,” said the study’s first author Grayson Cave, a doctoral candidate at NC State. “We’ve shown we can use a mechanical barrier that will protect against tobacco thrips (which are one of the smaller insects at the size of a pencil tip) and possibly other insects, allowing the plant to grow and thrive underneath.”

The three-layer, 3D mesh cover uses clear yarn (which can be made from recycled plastics) and allows sunlight and water to pass through easily but restricts insects from being able to reach the plant. An inner layer is sandwiched perpendicular to two other surrounding layers, which creates the maze-like structure.

“With our design, the insect has to figure out how to get through the maze to get to the plant on the other side,” Roe said. “The tortuosity makes it more challenging to get through. The insect has a certain amount of time to find food, or it will die. That time is relatively fast for a young insect.”

More research is needed to conclude the effectiveness of the new gardening mesh, but early evidence shows that this chemical-free design can work against smaller insects.

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