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Using row cover in a garden has many purposes and in our colder climate can make a big difference in length of the garden season and yields. Garden row cover can come in many forms, from a simple old bed sheet to an old piece of painter’s plastic to a store bought spun polypropylene cover. It can be as cheap and simple as you want or depending on your goals it may make sense to invest in a big roll of store bought row cover. Using row cover in a garden is guaranteed to help you grow more food. Read on to find out how!
What is row cover in a garden?
Before we talk about reasons to use a row cover, we’ll start with talking about what a row cover is. Row cover in a garden is something used to cover up plants for a variety of reasons. There are row covers that are porus and breathable so air and moisture can get through. There are row covers that are non- porous. Row cover can be as cheap and simple as you want or depending on your goals it may make sense to invest in store bought row cover. Garden row cover can come in many forms:
- An old bed sheet
- A piece of painter’s plastic
- An old lightweight blanket
- An old piece of lumber wrap
- A tarp
- Spun polypropylene (it looks like this) that comes in different lengths and weights
Here’s a great post from Mother of a Hubbard on choosing a row cover and deciding between fabric or plastic.
6 ways you can use row cover in a garden:
1. Use a Row Cover to Lengthen the gardening season by starting earlier in the spring.
When living in a cooler climate with a short growing season, using a row cover will allow you to start gardening earlier in the season. A row cover that allows sunlight through can increase the temperature underneath in the garden bed allowing you to plant earlier than if you were just direct seeding without a row cover. Some row covers can also protect from heavy frosts that may be too much for even the cold season veggies. Little Mountain Haven shares more tips and ideas in this post on using a variety of season extenders to grow earlier in the spring.
2. Use row cover in a garden for protection from the birds.
Last year I planted several hundred pea seeds in a 120′ bed in our garden. I was so excited since they were the first seeds being planted in our new garden. I watered, waited, watched, watered and waited some more. Only about 10 seeds sprouted out of hundreds. I initially thought the unusual dry conditions caused the seeds not too sprout but upon digging through the garden bed in several spots I was shocked. I couldn’t find any of the pea seeds. We figured out that all the birds we love to watch around the homestead had pecked out and eaten all the seeds. This year I covered the garden bed of peas and other early spring veggies with Agribon row cover like this. This row cover is porous so water and sunlight can get through. It is also rated to help protect against frosts down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit so I could plant in our garden a bit earlier this spring. I’m thrilled to report this method worked: our hundreds of pea seeds are sprouting and growing this year!
3. Row Cover in a garden for Bug protection.
Row cover can also be used for bug and pest protection. There are types of row cover you can buy that are actually thinner and sometimes called bug or insect netting. They aren’t too warm but keep plants protected from pests like cabbage worms and aphids. They actually look more like a mesh netting which you can see here.
4. Row Cover in a garden for Critter Protection
If you live in an area where there is a problem with critters like deer or bunnies eating your garden plants, a row cover can be used to prevent this. A light weight row cover like the kind used to keep out bugs can be used to cover garden plants so these nibbling critters can’t get to them!
5. Row cover in a garden to extend the gardening season in the fall.
Just like using row cover in the spring to protect against late season frosts, you can use row cover to protect from early season frosts to extend your growing season. This is especially helpful when gardening in colder climates like we are. I used to use old bed sheets, blankets and tarps to cover plants for protection from early season fall frosts but last year our garden was so big we ran out of our supply. We had an unusual early season hard frost in September and since we didn’t have enough sheets, blankets and tarps to cover all our plants, we had to harvest 300lbs of green tomatoes plus all our winter squash and pumpkins in just a few hours!
After that early frost, the weather stayed warm for about another month until we started consistently getting frosts every night. Had we had our Agribon row cover last year, we could have left all our tomatoes and squash in the garden to continue ripening and producing for another month and just covered them as needed. There’s a wealth of more information about using season extenders for fall and winter gardening in this post over at Little Mountain Haven.
6. Row cover for winter gardening.
I will confess right here that I’ve never tried winter gardening in Montana. That will all change this next year. I used to think it was impossible to grow anything through the winter in Montana without a big, expensive hoop house. I was wrong! This last winter I had a friend living in a little Montana town at an elevation of over 5,000 feet and she grew lettuce outside all winter long!! I was amazed, impressed and inspired. How did they do this? They planted lettuce seeds in a raised garden bed with a hoop cover in their yard. The first layer of row cover was an old sheet and the top layer of row cover was an old piece of clear plastic. Inside the hoop cover they strung a row of clear holiday lights to give a little extra warmth and light. They had a thermometer inside the hoop cover to track temperatures and it thrived even when it was in the negative temperatures! You can read more about why some plants continue to grow through a frost in this post from Mother of a Hubbard on the little known truth about frost and freeze tables.
Investing in a garden row cover
After reading about all these reasons to use a row cover in the garden, you might be wondering if it will be worth the extra time and energy to use these types of products in the garden. Little Mountain Haven shares some great insights into whether mini hoop tunnels are worth the effort.
This winter a bunch of garden blogging friends and I were discussing types of row cover. One person mentioned that she had used several types of row cover and thought Gro-Guard was more durable and affordable than Agribon. They were able to get Gro-Guard from the manufacturer near where they live. I contacted the manufacturer and due to our location and quantity we wanted, I was directed to the Berry Hill Drip website. The Gro-Guard company said this was the closest distributor to us (on the other side of the country!). The high shipping cost to where we live made this product way more expensive than Agribon.
We could only find small packages of row cover in our local garden shops so we ended up buying two different size rolls of Agribon. This is still a high quality product and was lower cost for us than the other brand. We ended up purchasing Agribon-19 which provided some frost protection but also still allowed 85% light transmission through the cover. It was a bit overwhelming at first trying to figure out exactly which grade of row cover to buy but this row cover comparison chart at Johnny’s Seeds was quite helpful.
I’m excited to be using a high quality garden row cover this gardening season. Already we’ve been able to start seeds out in our garden earlier than usual AND we’ve been able to protect the seeds from being eaten by all the birds around here. I can’t wait to see how late we can garden into the fall and winter this year now that we have this great row cover!
Do you use row cover in your garden? What do you love about using a row cover?