Each spring I get impatient to start planting. Well before the last expected frost date, I’m out in the garden sowing seeds and planting seedlings – even though I know it’s probably too early for them to germinate or transplant well. Then I end up messing around with row covers, cloches and the like in hopes of coddling the new vegetables along just long enough for them to survive.
This is particularly a problem with heat-loving plants like squash, cucumber, melons and tomatoes. Who wants to wait until the soil and air temperatures have warmed up enough? In many parts of the country, that means waiting until the end of May!
This year I tried something different – I used the pop-up accelerators from Gardener’s Supply to get my plants off to an early start. (If you’re wondering what’s behind the larger accelerator in the image above, it’s the Elevated Cedar Planter Box from Gardener’s Supply (see our review) – still going strong after two years in the dessert sun! And to the right is a GrowBox (see our review)).
About The Pop-Up Accelerator
The accelerator acts as a mini greenhouse that protects young plants from cold temperatures and winds. That allows you to get plants off to an earlier start without worrying about frost.
And if you put the accelerator in place for a few days before you plant, it’ll also warm the soil a little, letting you sow seeds that need slightly warmer soil temperatures to germinate.
So how does it work?
The accelerator looks a little like a trash can. It’s a cylinder made of clear, reinforced polyethylene that’s tear-proof, similar to what you’d find in a pop-up or collapsible greenhouse. This is one area in which the Gardener’s Supply product really stands out – other pop-up accelerators I’ve seen don’t use reinforced plastic and so are more prone to tears.
There’s a stiff spiral wire wound around the accelerator and it “springs open” when released so you don’t have to use stakes or other supports to hold it open.
It comes in three sizes: smaller for cucumbers and squash (16 by 16 inches), larger for peppers, eggplants and tomatoes (18″ in diameter and 28″ high), and taller to place around grow bag kits (18” wide and 38” tall).
What makes it so practical is that it collapses into a flat ring when not in use. Toggles can be pushed through fabric loops to hold the accelerator flat when it’s closed. I would’ve liked to see the fabric loops be a little larger as it was difficult to wrap them around the plastic and fit them over the toggles.
The loops can also be used to anchor the accelerator to the ground so it doesn’t blow away or damage young plants by moving around. You’ll need to buy earth anchors separately, or use tent pegs. I found that large earth staples worked beautifully – even in the high winds we experience here in Tucson, the accelerators didn’t budge.
One negative was that after 6 weeks anchored to the ground, the fabric loops started to decay a bit. I suspect that when I use them again next year they’ll probably disintegrate. Without those loops, the toggles can’t be used to hold the accelerator in the closed position; you’d need to use twine or Velcro straps instead. And anchoring the accelerator to the ground would require either trapping the toggles under the earth anchors or punching a small hole through the plastic and inserting the anchor through that. None of these are a real problem, just a minor potential inconvenience.
The pop-up accelerator has a mesh top that can be zipped into place to keep more heat in the accelerator or unzipped to let more air in. I’m not sure how much heat it traps and I only used it a couple of times on especially cold nights.
I found that the zipper around the mesh top wasn’t very sturdy. It split a couple of times and jammed repeatedly. I don’t think it would stand up well to frequent use and it would be good to see it beefed up a little, perhaps with larger teeth.
If you use the mesh top, don’t forget to uncover open it up before blooms appear so pollinators can do their job.
Even with the mesh top in place, it was easy to water plants inside the accelerator – just water from above with the shower or rain setting on a hose nozzle.
Does The Pop-Up Accelerator Work?
Cucumbers are sensitive to cold temperatures. I have a lemon cucumber and a Soyu Japanese cuke planted in the accelerator. They’ve successfully grown through a week of nighttime temperatures just below 40F – temperatures at which they’d normally have turned into mush – all without any signs of damage. And because the soil was warmer under the accelerator, the seeds germinated easily while the comparison seeds I planted just a few feet away didn’t sprout at all.
I also used the larger pop-up accelerator for a Brandywine tomato that I set out earlier than I normally would (Brandywines are my favorite heirloom tomato but they can be temperamental). Again, it came through those 40F nights with flying colors and started blooming in early April, about three weeks before the rest of my tomatoes.
Based on these experiences, I’d say that the pop-up accelerator definitely works to protect frost-tender plants and allows you to successfully transplant or sow plants at least a few weeks before the “normal” time.
This is an easy-to-use product that works as advertised. If you’re the impatient type like me, or just want to get heat-loving plants off to an early start, this is a worthwhile product to buy. It’s made of reinforced material that won’t tear and collapses flat for easy storage. It would be better if the loops were larger and made of stronger fabric, and if the zipper around the mesh top was of better quality, although none of these things are major negatives.
Where To Buy
The pop-up accelerators are available exclusively from Gardener’s Supply, where the small one retails for $12.95 and the large one for $14.95 (plus shipping). There’s also a pop-up accelerator for use around grow bag kits; it costs $15.95 plus shipping.
You can also find the smaller Pop-Up Cuke and Squash Accelerator on Amazon for $12.95 plus shipping.