How to Build Row Covers (and Protect your Cruciferous Vegetables!) | Shifting Roots

How to Build Row Covers (and Protect your Cruciferous Vegetables!)

Whether you’re trying to protect your vegetables from pests or extend your growing season, knowing how to build a floating row cover is a useful skill to have. While row cover kits are convenient, they can be tricky to find in-store, are often expensive, and don’t allow for a lot of flexibility in size.

You can easily create your own hoop house of any size with just a few simple supplies. I’ll show you how!

A 40 foot long row cover in our acreage garden near Saskatoon, SK, Canada in zone 3.

What is a Row Cover Made Of?

For our row covers we use frost cloth (which has a tight enough weave that will keep out bugs), rolls of plastic pipe found in the plumbing section, and either binder clips (for our backyard garden) or landscape staples (for the acreage garden). The system is fairly inexpensive and everything can be used over and over again from year to year.

Frost or bug cloth can usually be found at your local garden centre or ordered online. Order as wide of a size as makes sense for your hoops.

Our row cover tunnels at the acreage are all from one piece of garden fabric, which makes more sense, because there are less possible points of entry for bugs to get in. The ones at our house are made from two panels of garden fabric that overlap and are connected by binder clips. It’s a bit more cumbersome, but is easier to manage for watering or just taking a peek to see how the plants are doing.

Related: See how I modify the row cover for use in my raised beds here.

For the hoop house structure, we choose to use plastic pipe because it’s easy to find, is flexible, and does not require any special tools to shape it or cut it to size.

Most professional gardeners use metal pipes that they bend to size with a special tool. Both systems work, use the one you feel most comfortable with.

Brussel sprout grown under a row cover.

How do you Cover Vegetables?

When cutting the pipes to size, we have found that it’s best to cut them at an angle, so they push into the soil easier.

Once you’ve cut the pipes the same size, place them into the ground. We space ours no more than 4 feet apart, and often closer in our backyard.

Twist the fabric at one end of the hoops and secure with landscape staples. Unroll the fabric the length of the garden hoops, plus extra at the end to secure the other side. If you have two people doing the job, it’s easiest to have one person slowly unroll the bug fabric, and the other secure with landscape staples or binder clips at each side.

What Vegetables Need to Be Covered?

Technically, you can cover whatever vegetable you need to protect from frost or bugs. We cover all of our cruciferous vegetables: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, kohlrabi, kale, brussel sprouts, and the like.

Red cabbage grown underneath row covers.

We also have very aggressive birds at our house in the city, so we cover the vegetables they covet–lettuce, Swiss Chard, beets, and oddly enough, zinnias.

If you’re covering vegetables because of birds, you can use bird netting instead of bug or frost fabric.

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Can Row Covers Protect Vegetables From Wind?

In short, yes. But there’s a few things you should know. For a small-scale garden, I actually like to use row covers as a wind and sun protector to help with the hardening off process. The work well and as long as they are secured with binder clips and bricks they generally stay put.

Side note: Hardening off plants is hard, and I’ve found that using a floating row cover for a week after planting in the garden really helps reduce plant shock and the amount of plants that die.

However, in our acreage garden (pictured below), the wind will rip the landscape staples out of the ground, and the row cover ends up on one side of the hoops. Thankfully it has never come out altogether, but it is annoying to constantly have to put it back after we’ve had an excessively windy day. In this case, the binder clips might be more secure, but they are more expensive. When your row is 40 feet long, the costs quickly add up.

What About Watering? Can Rain Get Through?

Rain can get through the garden fabric, so you don’t need to constantly remove it. That said, not as much rain gets through the row covers as if there was no cover. I open them up for watering between rains, or if I want to take advantage of the water from a lighter rain.

Just don’t forget to close them back up again once the rain is over. Otherwise the bugs can get at your vegetables, totally defeating the point of using a row cover.

Any more questions? Anything you’d add? Let me know in the comments!

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!