Floating Row Covers

March 14, 2006

The use of Floating Row Covers is a great organic gardening technique for protecting vegetable plants from harmful insect pests.

Floating Row Covers can also be used to guard against frost damage and deter animals from eating young seedlings and vegetable transplants.

Organic Pest Control With Floating Row Covers

Floating row covers are a lightweight, almost transparent, spun fiber material that can be spread like a blanket over entire raised beds and rows of growing plants.

The primary purpose for using floating row covers is to create a barrier that protects corps from insect damage. While sunlight and rain pass right through the fleecy material, insects are unable to penetrate the fabric to reach the vegetable plants sheltered beneath.

Row covers are particularly effective at controlling squash bugs and other troublesome pests that are resistant to organic or chemical pesticides. In the case of squash plants, the row covers are placed over the entire row or bed just after planting and remain in place until the female blossoms are ready to be pollinated.

Using Floating Row Covers in the Garden

Because the floating row covers are so lightweight they can be draped over crops, even young seedlings without causing any damage to the plants. The row covers actually “float” over the vegetation and lift up as the plants mature and grow taller, leaving insect pests on the outside looking in and unable to reach your vegetable crops.

Heavyweight Row Covers Heavyweight Row Covers

Secure the edges of the fabric with rocks, soil, or earth staples to keep it anchored. You can use a sprinkler or hose to water right through the row covers without removing them.

In some applications, such as when planting root crops or leafy greens, the floating row covers can be left in place as long as you desire. More often, you’ll need to remove the row covers when the crops begin flowering to allow beneficial insects to pollinate the flowers.

Frost Protection and Other Uses

When used in early spring and during the fall season, row covers will provide a few degrees of frost protection by insulating and trapping the warmer air rising up from the ground.

Floating row covers can also be used to hide plants from hungry animals. The rabbits that visit my garden love to eat tender beet and bean seedlings and will nibble them right down to the ground. My solution is to shield these crops with row covers for a few weeks until the plants are older and not as attractive to the rabbits.

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  • I like to use floating row covers on radishes to prevent root maggots and spinach to prevent leaf miners. It’s cheap and easy.

  • Kenny Point

    Leaf miners; they’re a perfect example of a pest that’s difficult to control with sprays because the insect burrows inside of the plant’s leaves, but floating row covers can prevent them from damaging leafy greens like spinach and Swiss Chard.

  • Chelsea

    Dear Gardener,
    Im 17 and will be growing my own garden soon.
    When is the best time to begin planting? I live in south central pa. Is it too late to start being it is april 6 already or do I wait. Also if Im not too late what is good group of vegetables that I should put in first?
    Thanks so much!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Chelsea,
    No, you’re not too late, actually you’re right on time and can start by planting cool weather crops such as lettuce, leafy greens, cabbage, onion sets, peas, parsnips, right now. Wait at least another month before planting warm weather veggies such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, melons, and cucumbers. Check back here for more info and read the garden logs to see what I’m planting when, since we live in the same region. You can also send me an email or post another comment if you have any other questions.

  • Hi Chelsea, I live on Long Island…. & like Ken says we are in the northeast region. For the record, I’m no expert gardener….. but maybe these 2 tips might point you in the right direction. # 1 I would start cultivating the soil where you are going to plant your vegetables. # 2 I would start some of the slower growing / warm weather vege’s indoor’s in flats or small peat pot’s so when the weather warms up you’re ready to transplant.I will check back in a day or 2 for your response!!! Good luck,WAYNE.

  • becky

    HI Kenny: I just love your site. Thanks for sharing all your ideas and info. I’m having trouble with squirrels eating my seedling sprouts. Do you have any organic suggestions?

  • Where do you purchase floating row covers?

  • Kenny Point

    Becky, I haven’t noticed that problem with the squirrels. You could try covering the seedlings with a floating row cover and see if that’s enough to hide them from the squirrels. Another option would be to try constructing cages or cylinders out of wire fencing material that you could cover the seedlings with until they are big enough that the animals lose interest. 

    Margaret, if the row covers aren’t available at your local garden center you can order them from the Gardener’s Supply Company, or from Garden’s Alive. They also carry accessories such as earth staples and wire hoops that can be used with the fabric.

  • Robyn

    Can floating row covers be used to also deter deer from eating vegetable crops? Someone suggested to us to use it for this purpose for the entire growing season, but it seems like (a) we would have to remove it to allow plants to be pollinated, (b) it would make it too warm for certain cool weather crops, and encourage things like lettuces to bolt more quickly in the summer, and (c) the deer would just rip it up anyhow. We live in southern VT, so are dealing with a short season, and using row covers to extend the season is something we are familiar with.

  • Kenny Point

    Robyn, I’m really not sure how effective the floating row covers would be at preventing damage from deer as it wouldn’t take much effort for them to penetrate the thin fabric. On the other hand it couldn’t hurt and may be worth a try… be sure to let me know the results. I would agree with all of the points that you made regarding the pros and cons of using the floating row covers in your situation. Is your garden fenced at all? I have a friend who has suspended a single strand of wire about six feet above the perimeter of his garden and tied strips of yellow ribbon about every five feet. This is above a short fence that the deer could easily jump but he insists that the plastic strips of ribbons distract or spook the deer enough to keep them out of the garden. I haven’t used it, but recently noticed a product called:
    Deer Fortress

    that is supposed to repel deer. Good luck in dealing with your deer problems, I can’t imagine and get enough grief from the groundhogs!

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  • We have the new replacment for TufBell Floating Row Covers.

    Please check out the website.

    Thanks, Michael Hahn Michael@Fabrimetrics.com

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  • Dan Pittillo

    I had peanut beans scorched in the sun beneath floating row cover. Has anyone else had this problem?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Dan, the floating row covers do increase the temps underneath. There are different weights or thicknesses of the covers. For growth during the summer I always use the lightest covers available to help keep the plants from getting too hot under the material.

  • Sherlyn Kulay

    what kind of material can we use for floating row covers? I’m from the philippines and I don’t know If our local farm supplier would carry that, so I’m thinking about substituting by going to a textile supplier. maybe you have the technical name for the floating row cover. 😀

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  • Phyllis Shoop

    My husband made covers for his radishes. He made a light weight frame of cedar & covered it with nylon screen. It was simple, cheap & very effective. Never a worm in the radish bed.

  • denise

    I live in Texas and it’s hot. The grasshoppers are coming and I need to protect my black eye peas. Can I use the floating covers for this?

  • Karen

    IF your veggie plants are already infested with flea beetles, as are my potato and beet plants, will a floating cover still be helpful? I cannot use any kind of pesticide as I am gardening in a community garden, so I am perplexed as to what to do about the bugs! Not to mention the slugs! I live in Pierce County in Washington State. Slug capital of the world! But, I digress. It is the flea beetles that have gotten hold of my plants now.

  • susannah

    I had roly polies and slugs and they like wetter soil. I use a brand of organic diacutameous earth(?) (Safer Brand) from Johnny’s online and it works well.
    I have a plot in a community garden in so Cal and you can use insecticidal soap to spray. Aphids are bad here and, I used a trick of baking soda in water as well as the soap.

  • emma

    Hi, i’m wondering if you use any kind of fiberglass hoops before?

    Last year, my wires for supporting row cover are finally broken, rusted to death. I’m looking for something new that can be tried for this winter.

    I searched through internet and see a product in mrgarden.net which says it’s a kind of fiberglass hoop. And i googled about the material, seems it can resist rot and rust, sounds like a good product. But it’s my first try, so wanna know more before buying them in winter. Anyone use this kind of fiberglass thing before?

  • J Dan Pittillo

    I’ve been cutting 3/4 inch 20-foot PVC plumbing pipe into 5-foot sections, bending to the support rods spaced at 4-ft. squares with half-in 1.5-ft rebars driven about a foot angled into ground to stretch the Agribon covers over for frost protection. It installs easily (thorough tense bending of the pipe) and covers can be clamped to keep from blowing loose in wind and weighted down at each end of the rows with heavy rocks on a short board. I suppose you’d need to leave it open and simply clamped to the end arches in summer. In hottest days you might need to lift covers a bit though this would defeat the use to keep out insects.

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