Row Covers on Vegetable Plants

Why Row Covers?

Row covers are the backbone of every organic garden set-up. The specially designed fabric allows air, light and water to get through to plants growing below. At the same time, pests are kept out, crops are protected from extreme weather conditions and the usual growing season is extended with their added protection.

Row covers should be placed over your crop when it is planted. If the crop is grown for leaves (think spinach or kale or Swiss chard) or edible flowers (think broccoli and cauliflower), no pollination is needed and the row covers can stay on full time until harvest. If a crop needs pollination of its flowers to form fruit (think cucumbers, squash), you must remove the row covers once the plant starts to flower.

Some pests just come with the territory. Anything in the Brassica family (kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc.) is generally eaten by the cabbage white butterfly as well as some species of moths that lay their eggs on the plants. The eggs turn to caterpillars that feast on your brassicas until they become butterflies or moths who start the cycle all over again. You’ll see these pests around from spring through fall- you’ll notice holes in the foliage. One of the only ways to control this pest is early prevention. You guessed it, with row covers!!

Row covers also keep out squash and cucumber beetles who love eating young squash and cucumber plants. Mulching plants and installing row covers early in the season is the best way to keep these pests away. When they start to flower, you must remove the row cover for flower pollination. If the pest is still around, the plants will have grown large enough and strong enough to withstand a pest attack which may have killed them as tender seedlings.

Row covers prevent leaf miners from attacking spinach and Swiss chard plants. These insects live within the leaf tissue and there is no way to organically control them- you must prevent them from ever attacking your plants from the first day that you plant them!

Row covers are very useful to help plants get acclimated to sun or outdoor weather. They are also useful for mild frost and cold protection (30-39 degrees). For heavy frost protection, drape cotton sheets, blankets, or burlap right over the row covers and remove after the danger of frost is over. One of the best aspects of using row covers on your veggie crops is their longevity. Used properly (as in, be careful of ripping), row covers and their hoops should last for many years.

Row covers are excellent for early Spring growing and late Fall growing. They help extend the growing season by protecting the plants from extreme weather conditions. With row covers, you can keep growing many greens through several frosts.

How to Install Row Covers

Now that it’s obvious why row covers are so important, we’ll get into how easy they are to install. They are easiest to use in rows, but can cover single plants or differently shaped areas, as well.

Simply map out your planting area, place hoops a few feet apart. Bend metal hoops so they make an arc and install ends into the ground.

Put your plants into the ground, install soaker hoses if you want and mulch around plants.

Take row covers and pull them over the length of your garden beds and hoop layout. Take one end and place several rocks, bricks, long thin boards, or whatever else can securely hold down the fabric.

Extend your row covers over the hoops use the same method to secure the other side. Then cut the row cover to the correct length you need

• Tip: Consider cutting a narrow board the length of the bed and wrapping the row cover around it, stapling it to the board. This is an efficient way to lift and lower the row cover. The board can rest on the top of the hoops when you check on or tend the plants.

Secure row cover fabric on hoops by clipping clothes pins along the tops of row cover hoops.

Secure opposite end the same way you did the first end.

In an effort to provide horticultural information, these educational documents are written by Nancy DuBrule-Clemente and are the property of Natureworks Horticultural Services, LLC. You are granted permission to print/photocopy this educational information free of charge as long as you clearly show that these are Natureworks documents.