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Barbara Pleasant: Garden Row Covers

Cucumber beetles are too big to get through tulle netting, so it makes an ideal floating row cover for cucumbers. 
Updated and revised in 2023, Starter Vegetable Gardens will help you grow a successful food garden on your first try. 
They may look trashy, but row cover tunnels can add a month to the growing season in spring.
One of the advantages of tulle netting over regular row cover is that you can see through it. The watermelon seedlings loved it.

You can use row cover or sheet plastic to make tunnel type cloches for small plantings.

Wouldn’t it be great to eat from your garden every day of the year? That’s the idea behind my newest book, Homegrown Pantry. Over 50 food crops are covered from both gardening and kitchen angles, the start of many great adventures in homegrown food. 

Tulle netting is ideal for keeping birds from stealing your strawberries. Clothespins will keep it in place.
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Row covers are essential to getting a spring crop of cabbage and broccoli, which would never survive our spring wind storms without protection. Weeds grow abundantly beneath row covers, too.

To defend my garden from bad weather or pests, I use various fabrics as barriers between my plants and the outside world. These are called row covers.


In spring and fall I use quite a bit of spunbound floating row cover because it’s 10 feet wide – just right for creating tunnels over my beds. I secure the edges with boards and use clothespins to attach the fabric to wire supports.


I also sew row cover and other lightweight fabrics into custom cloches and protective screens, which are fun to make and can be of great value to those of us who grow our own seedlings without a greenhouse.


In summer when insects and deer are my main worries, I use lightweight tulle netting (also called wedding net). For shade screens, it’s hard to beat custom crafted covers made from thrift store sheer curtains (only $2 each!). 

I grow many spring vegetables under a row cover tunnel held aloft with metal hoops. The row covers protect the plants from wind, hail, insects, chickens, rabbits and deer. Sturdy boards are used to secure the edges.

I sewed two covers for the outdoor plant shelf where I harden off seedlings – one made from plastic sheeting, and another made from a featherweight chiffon fabric I found as a remnant. On warm days the fabric cover tames the wind and filters the sun, but I can add the plastic cover for serious cold protection. Sewing row cover and other plastic plant protectors helps you customize your unique plant-growing set-up.

A paper backing helps when sewing row cover or sheet plastic.

Tips for Sewing Row Cover and Sheet Plastic

Sewing row cover or sheet plastic to make custom plant protectors is easy if you use the right techniques.


Use perpendicular pins. Before you sew plastic or row cover pieces together, pin the edges. Place pins at right angles to the future seam, about 8 inches apart. Take them out as you sew.

Use long stitches. Whether you’re stitching spunbound row cover, tulle or other featherweight fabrics or plastic sheeting, long basting stitches work best.

Use a paper backing. My sewing machine can’t grip plastic or other slippery fabrics to properly advance the stitches, and push-pulling it through by hand is a good way to break a needle. Placing strips of tissue paper under the layers of plastic solves this problem, and the paper tears off easily. In a pinch, I have even used toilet tissue with good results.

When sewing row covers by hand, work only with the finished edges of tulle, row cover or other very lightweight fabrics. The long “selvage” edges of fabrics are reinforced, so you can sew them together with a needle and thread. Three years ago I hand-stitched a large tulle row cover for my vegetable garden, and the seam is still holding.

row covers in vegetable garden
May 4: The garden came through the last frost undamaged thanks to myriad ghostly row covers.
Row Cover Tips and Updates
You don't need a sewing machine to sew pieces of row cover together. By hand sewing two pieces of tulle netting together lengthwise with needle and thread, I made an insect-resistant row cover wide enough to fit over a metal tunnel frame. Take note: When leaves start pushing against the row cover, grasshoppers will start eating their way through it.

Four of our beds have conduit frames to which we can attach row cover with “snap clamps,” which are widely available on the internet in various sizes. The clamps hold the row cover steady in the wind, and it’s easy to open the beds for planting and weeding. 

When I needed more space to harden off seedlings, I used snap clamps to attach row cover to a folding table turned upside-own. It worked like a charm.

A new type of row cover used for insect protection, stretchy ProtekNet admits sun and fresh air, but keeps plants safe from insects and rabbits. It lasts longer than regular row cover, and can be installed low and tight for excellent wind resistance. It’s not for frost protection, but ProtekNet is a great pest cover for hot weather. Garden-size pieces are available from many online retailers including Fedco and Renee’s Garden Seeds. Photo by Kelly Erb.