Don’t let your polytunnel get the best of you – keep on top of your tunnel with simple maintenance tricks to ensure it sticks around for years to come.
Basic Polytunnel Care
The metal framework of your polytunnel will outlast the plastic cover, which may need replacing every five years. However, you may get more from it by taking care of your polytunnel and being extra vigilant when it comes to repairs and maintenance.
BUYING THE POLYTUNNEL
A quality cover
First on the list is the importance of buying a quality polytunnel. And this means buying from a reputable retailer who uses only the best plastic. The cheaper the polytunnel, the less refined the steel framework and the thinner the plastic, all pointing to possible problems with rips and tears.
The plastic has to withstand all kind of weather, including harsh sunlight so you want a plastic that is UV stabilised, so it doesn’t dry out.
A tight fit
When installing the polytunnel, if there is one aspect that you must get right, it is the fitting of the plastic. It needs to be as tight as a drum skin without the pressure of being over-stretched.
A tight plastic covering means less movement, and that means less chance of being damaged, torn or snagged on the frame and doors.
The location is important. Located it broadside to the direction of the wind. This means the wind isn’t blowing in through open doors, inflating the polytunnel like one giant balloon.
MAINTAINING THE POLYTUNNEL
Make repairs quickly
Damage will occur from time to time, whether it is a snag of the plastic on a part of the frame or debris being thrown about the wind.
Polytunnel repair takes two minutes of your time but lengthens the life of your tunnel. That tiny, hard-to-see hole made by the end of a bamboo stick will soon be worked into a larger rip by the wind…
Check the polytunnel on a regular basis, repairing any holes by using repair tap. For smaller holes, use a small piece to cover it, one piece on the inside and another on the outside of the tunnel. The same goes for larger rips but use two pieces of tape each time, fixing them in an X shape.
Clean it, but gently
The plastic may be thick and of a high quality, but it can only give so much.
Cleaning the plastic is essential for keeping your polytunnel in ship-shape but as the plastic starts to get old, it will start to ‘give’ until at some point, it gives in completely. Clean it gently, but firmly.
The other aspect of keeping your polytunnel in good order is to be careful with gardening implements. If the polytunnel has a nemesis, it is the humble garden cane. Great for staking tomato plants, their tips are also equally as good as piercing a hole in the tensioned plastic.
Pets and children
Fido may love the warmth of the polytunnel, as does Tiddles. But cat claws, pets running in and out, followed by excited, playful children can be a combination that spells disaster.
It is not uncommon for polytunnel gardeners to ban all pets from the polytunnel area. When the doors are wide open, use a layer of mulch prickly holly leaves to keep them at bay or instate a fence around the polytunnel or a gate at its entrance.
Your own children may be very careful in and around your polytunnel, having been ‘trained’ in the right way to spend time in this important space. But your children’s friends may not be. The best policy is to make it out of bounds.
The polytunnel is not, as magnificent as it is, a ‘castle’, a ‘pirate’s ship’ or a place to hide…
And finally, the weather can bring doom to the polytunnel.
In the right location, wind and rain won’t pose a problem. The time when wind can be a nuisance that causes damage is when it swings round to come at the tunnel from a different angle. This can cause various bits to flap and snag.
There are storm braces as well as other means of anchoring your polytunnel so that it doesn’t take off in winter gales.
Snow, when it does arrive, accumulates on the roof and around the sides of the polytunnel is heavy. Your tool of choice, in this case, would be a soft bristled brush. Brush the snow off the roof and away from the sides. Or, tap the roof from inside the polytunnel to send the sow gently sliding to the floor.
The polytunnel is every gardener’s friend, and these simple maintenance tips should see it last for some years to come.
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK