Row Covers: Advantages, Limitations, Types and How To Use

Many gardeners and farmers rely on using row covers regularly. These fragile covers are crucial in protecting crops from pests and harsh weather conditions. While they offer many advantages, row covers also have their limitations.

What are row covers? Row covers are thin sheets of plastic or non-woven fabric to suspend over plants. The covers can be either transparent or semi-transparent depending on what you’re trying to protect the plants against. They shield plants from direct sunlight, cold temperatures, strong winds, and flying bugs.

As you might expect, row covers come in different types. Read more to find out the different uses of row covers, which types are suitable for which situations and a review of the best row covers in the market.

Row Covers for Garden

When swarms of bugs attack your plants from above or the weather conditions are unfavorable for your specific type of plant in the garden, you may want to protect the plants with a cover.

Row covers are designed for these specific purposes. 

Advantages of Using Row Covers

Row covers prove quite useful in various situations. Here are some of the advantages of using row covers.

  • Row covers protect seedlings and saplings against frost. Using heavy-weight covers will maintain warm temperatures around the plants.
  • The row covers also increase the soil temperatures, which improves the fast rate of the plants.
  • Vegetables such as cucumbers tend to have better yields under row covers.
  • Use row covers to protect the plants against strong winds.
  • They protect plants against flying pests.
  • Water retention and humidity levels improve under row covers, which helps with water conservation,

Row Cover Limitations

Row covers also have their disadvantages. Here are the main limitations of using row covers.

  • Pests hibernating in the soil for the winter can get trapped under the covers and feast on the plants.
  • On hot days, row covers can add between 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. which can increase moisture evaporation.
  • High humidity under the covers can lead to more plant diseases and infections.
  • If the covers come in contact with new shoots and leaves, they could damage them, especially on windy days.
  • Plants with an upright growth might be hard to use row covers with.
  • Strong winds might tear the row covers.
  • Most row covers are subject to damage from UV rays.

Row Cover Material

Row covers can be made of different materials. Most often, row covers are made of polyester or polypropylene. These are often thin and transparent covers that allow sunlight in.

Other row covers are made of non-woven fabrics. They protect against harsh sunlight, cold temperatures, and strong winds.

Types of Row Covers

There are many types of row covers. Each type is suitable for certain plants or serves a specific purpose. Here are the different types of row covers:

Floating Row Covers

Floating row covers are made of woven plastic, polyester, or polypropylene. They’re mainly used for pest control, but they also help retain heat, so they can extend the growing season in cold regions.

Due to their non-breathable material, these types of covers do a good job protecting plants against strong winds.

This type of cover is typically draped over a garden row and loosely secured using garden pins. Only short crops are eligible for floating row covers as taller plants, such as tomatoes, would be damaged.

Plastic Row Covers

Plastic row covers can either be transparent or semi-transparent depending on the material. Each type has its own uses.

You would use semi-transparent plastic row covers to protect the plants against direct exposure to harsh sunlight. Plants that need full sun, on the other hand, would benefit from transparent plastic covers.

Hoop Row Covers

Unlike floating row covers, hoop row covers don’t hang low over the plants. They are suspended on hoops, which keep a safe distance between the covers and the plants under them.

This improves ventilation, limits humidity levels, and protects the shoots and young leaves against damage from friction.

However, they need more work to install and are relatively more expensive than the other row cover types.

Netting Row Covers

Netting row covers are made of woven fabrics or mesh, which improves ventilation under the cover.

Their main benefit is preventing pests from getting to the plants. However, they have limited use when it comes to protecting against frost, harsh sun, or strong winds.

There are many types of netting covers, including bird netting, shade netting, insect netting, tulle, and more.

Understanding Row Cover Weights

When choosing the right row cover for your needs, two factors usually help you determine your choice.

The first is light transmission, and the other is the weight of the row covers. You wouldn’t want a heavy row cover to smother the plants and stunt their growth.

  • Lightweight covers average 0.45 pounds per square yard.
  • Medium-weight covers are between 0.5 to 0.55 pounds per square yard.
  • Heavyweight covers average between 0.9 to 2 pounds per square yard.

Do Row Covers Provide Shade?

This depends on the weight and type of the row cover you’re using. Transparent plastic covers are usually lightweight covers allowing 90 percent of the light to penetrate.

Medium-weight covers also made of plastic allow in 85 percent of the light. As for heavy-weight covers made of fabrics, they provide shade allowing only 30 percent of the light to penetrate.

Do Row Covers Prevent Pollination?

Since row covers prevent pests from getting to the plants, they also prevent good bugs and pollinators from reaching the flowers.

It’s one of the drawbacks of using row covers with vegetables and fruits. This applies to plants that rely on the wind for pollination as well.

Do Row Covers Let Rain Through?

Most row covers won’t let rain through. The only exception is netting row covers. The mesh of this type will let rain through. 

What Plants Benefit From Row Covers?

The majority of plants would benefit from row covers. This is especially true for plants that need high levels of humidity and heat and plants that require a long growing season.

Other plants that are sensitive to pest attacks might also benefit from row covers. 

Row Covers for Pest Control

One of the main advantages of row covers is their ability to limit pest access to plants.

Flying pests, both those that attack the plants directly and those that lay their eggs on the leaves and stems, won’t be able to get through the row covers. 

Row Covers for Raised Beds

Raised beds can benefit from either netting or fabric row covers. They provide excellent protection for the plants against insects and strong winds.

How To Use Row Covers

Multiple garden rows protected by hoop row covers.

Although row covers have great advantages, they still have their drawbacks. Learning how to use row covers and how to manage them is essential for the success of the various plants and crops you grow. 

When To Install Row Covers

You want to install your row covers before the threat to the plants materializes — not during an active infestation.

If you’re protecting the plants against pests, install the covers before the bugs attack. If you wait until you see insects feeding on the plants, then the row covers will only trap the pests inside.

The same applies to frost, strong winds, and direct sunlight.

How To Install Row Covers

  1. Choose the right type of row cover for your needs. A medium-weight cover is widely popular and serves in most situations.
  2. Get the measurements of your plant bed, and select a row cover that is double its width. This allows ample room for the plants to grow upright while securing the edges of the cover.
  3. Lay the cover loosely over the plants making sure the covers don’t touch the plants.
  4. Fold the sides before securing them.
  5. Secure the edges with garden pins, cinder blocks, rocks, or soil. Place the pins or heavy objects at intervals of 3 feet along the sides.

Garden Row Covers

Here we review some of the most popular row covers to use in the garden.

Cool Area Floating Row Cover Fabric

Made of non-woven polypropylene fabric, this row cover is ideal for protecting plants against frost, strong winds, and harsh sunlight.

It weighs 1 pound per square yard and measures 10 x 30 feet. You can cut it down according to the size of your plant bed.

Valibe Floating Row Cover Fabric

Also made of non-woven polypropylene fabric, Valibe is more lightweight than the previous product. It weighs 0.7 pounds per square yard and is both breathable and durable.

It protects against frost and can be used to germinate seeds in the garden.

Farrier Netting Protection for Plants

Made of polyethylene fine mesh, this row cover is diverse enough to use to protect plants against insects, as a barrier screen, and even inside greenhouses.

The mesh measures 0.8 x 1 mm to protect against tiny pests. It allows in air, rain, and light. 

Hoops for Row Covers

If you’re looking for hoops to install your row covers, the following are recommended products.

Garden Expert Hoop Supports

These hoops are made of steel and covered with plastic coating. They measure 4 feet high and come in a package of 10 pieces.

You can adjust the shape of the hoops according to your needs and the size of the plant bed you want to cover.

Sunpro Floating Row Cover Kit

Sunpro kit has everything you need to install your hoop row covers. It comes with 6 hoops and a 10×30-foot non-woven fabric cover. Also included are a pair of gloves, 12 clips, and 10 ground pegs. 

DIY Hoops for Row Covers

You can easily make your own hoops for row covers at home from flexible PVC pipes and some lumber. 

Making Inexpensive Row Covers

Inexpensive row covers can be made at home from frost blankets, plastic coverings, shade coverings, or tarps.

Closing Thoughts

Row covers protect the plants against pests, frost, strong winds, and exposure to sunlight. Choose the right row cover type and weight based on the type of plants you want to protect.