Mary's Veggie Garden

May 16, 2017

Protecting the Harvest with a Row Cover: Part 2 – Size and Installation

Filed under: Floating Row Cover,Insects,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 7:26 am

Why use a floating row cover? See Part 1.

A floating row cover protects crops by providing a barrier to insects. An effective barrier covers the plants completely from the ground, up the side of the plants, over the top and back down to the ground. It also covers the plant completely through time – from the day the seeds sprout or the baby plant is transplanted into the garden through harvest.

How big should a row cover be?

I size my row covers to fit the plants at maturity. Vegetables grow quickly in June and many are full sized within a month.

The width of a floating row cover should be the sum of the width of the planting area plus 2 times the height of the plants plus the width under the anchors. A 10′ wide row cover will cover 2 rows of 2.5′ tall plants in a 4′ wide bed.

Potatoes under a row cover.

My row cover is 118″ wide – just shy of 10′ wide. The potatoes above are planted in a bed 3.5′ wide and the plants get 2.5-3′ tall. There is about 6″ of row cover under the boards on both sides which anchor the fabric to the ground. The extra width is drooping between the rows, but a few weeks later that row cover was stretched tight.  A similar arrangement works for growing bush beans in a 4′ bed.

I’ve used a 6′ wide row cover to cover a single row of broccoli plants. That worked until I harvested the main head but afterwards the plants outgrew the row cover and lifted it right off the ground. I keep my spring broccoli in my garden until fall and continue to harvest side shoots. The 10′ wide row cover is wide enough to cover the broccoli until fall.

In the picture below, a mix of rocks and boards holds the row cover against the ground. The extra width of fabric is held under the boards on the right and released slowly as the plants grow.

A row of broccoli protected from cabbage worms.

When should a row cover be installed?

A row cover should be installed when the plants are planted. If you plant seeds, cover the planting before the sprouts are visible.

Unprotected plants are very inviting to insects. Bean beetles and cabbage moths quickly find the crop and lay their eggs on the underside of leaves where they are difficult to see. Covering a crop that is already infested creates a bad situation because you can’t see the pests and the row cover blocks their predators.

How is a row cover anchored to the ground?

I use old wooden fence posts as shown in the pictures. I carefully remove all staples and nails which might snag and rip the row cover. I also use rocks. I stretch the cover tight between the rocks, pleat any excess fabric and place it under the rocks.

I always anchor excess fabric to the ground under a board or rock. That stops the fabric from blowing in the wind and rubbing excessively on the plants.

A newly installed floating row cover.

I planted a mix of seeds and transplants under the row cover above. The printing goes down the center of the fabric and I gathered about half the fabric (everything to the left of the printing) under the boards on the left side.

Does a floating row cover ever need support?

Occasionally I support a row cover, mainly when my transplants are very small or if the plants have been protected in a greenhouse without exposure to wind. The support should be something smooth that will not snag the fabric. I’ve used gallon milk bottles half filled with water. As the plant grows under the row cover the new leaves become accustomed to the movement of the fabric. Remove the support when the plant is taller than the support.

What about weeds?

In the community gardens, red root pigweed grows to 5′.  It can grow right through a row cover. I control weeds by mulching early and thickly with shredded leaves. I mulch transplants immediately, leaving a clear space 1″ around the stem. I mulch big seeded crops like beans before planting. I cover the entire planting area with shredded leaves then clear a strip 3″ wide and the length of the row to plant the seed. There is very little weeding needed after the plants emerge.


Water flows right through the row cover. It is best to water the roots, not the leaves, so I water my entire garden with soaker hoses.

How long is a row cover useful? Is there any use for an old row cover? Agribon AG-15 lasts one gardening season. By autumn it’s developing thin spots and tears.

Save an old row cover to protect germinating corn or other seeds from animals.

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