kitchen garden basics
Published April 21, 2022 by Nicole Burke

The Complete Guide to Garden Covers

Filed Under:
garden cover
garden mesh
organic gardening
pests
extend your season
cold climates
cold season
hot season
raised vegetable garden with cover

You Don't Need an Expensive Greenhouse or Lots of Harsh Chemicals to Protect Your Plants

A simple piece of fabric in your garden can mean the difference between plants that are scorched and shaded, frost-damaged and healthy, pest-ridden and pest-free.

I first started using garden mesh, or agfabric, in my garden to deter pests, and it quickly proved to be a garden game-changer, protecting my leafy greens from rabbits, squirrels, aphids, caterpillars, and slugs.

In addition to providing a simple barrier between the edible plants I want to save for myself and the million other things that want to eat them, garden mesh also has the following benefits:

  • protects seedlings and vulnerable plants from intense wind and other harsh weather conditions,
  • provides shade to scorch-prone plants in the summer,
  • extends your growing seasons by warming soil,
  • retains moisture in soil, and
  • protects plants from frost.

There's even a fabric called hardware cloth that you can use to protect your plants from attacks from below.

Let's look at the different types of garden covers out there and how each one can help you achieve the lush, pest-free garden of your dreams.

A raised bed salad garden with hoops and garden mesh

How to Protect Your Plants from Wind and Harsh Weather

Use Garden Cover Fabric to Protect Seedlings

Have you ever watched a nature documentary on the Discovery Channel? If you have, you know that when predators like lions attack, they tend to target the weakest members of the pack: the elderly, the young, and the injured. Well, it's the same in the plant world. Your plants are most vulnerable to pest pressure when they're young, when they're suffering from disease or stress (like under watering), or when their time in the garden has come to an end.

Nylon row covers can help you protect your newly sown seeds or young seedlings from pests.

There are several other advantages to using row covers as well.

First, covers help to lock in moisture. Water is the most critical component of a seed's successful germination, and seeds that are left to dry out might never sprout.

Second, covers help raise the soil temperature when you're ready to sow your seeds in the spring.

And finally, covers help protect your plants from strong winds and other harsh weather conditions. It's important to give seedlings a chance to develop strong roots before they're battered by wind or pelted by rain.

Our favorite garden cover ideas for plants and seedlings

  • Easy Seedling Poly Tunnels (pack of 3) - These 80 cm-long mini tunnels are perfect to protect seedlings and can easily be added or removed from your garden.
  • Micromesh Pest and Wind Barrier (pack of 2) - This tightly woven, green-tinted mesh comes with bamboo supports and protects over 26 feet in total. While the top is open, the tall sides provide a windbreak and deter low-flying insects, chickens, rodents, and cats.
  • Micromesh Prepack Blanket - This ultrafine mesh can be cut to size.
Covers to protect seedlings on Amazon

How to Extend Your Growing Seasons

Use Frost Cloth as a Garden Cover for Winter

Wouldn't it be great if every single one of us could garden outdoors for 365 days of the year? Unfortunately, many of us live in a climate that feels limiting (i.e., too cold for too much of the year). Something many of us don't realize, however, is that there are a lot of plants that can grow when there's a threat of frost. Even better: we can use frost clothes, tunnels, or fabric cloches to create our own garden thermostat and extend our growing seasons.

As winter nears, frost cloth can buy you extra time for your plants to finish producing for you. Leafy greens grown under frost cloth can hold up until temperatures dip below 25°F. 

In the late winter or early spring, you can be patient and wait for the temperature to rise on its own. Or you can use frost cloth to help nature along. Not only can frost cloth protect seeds from late-season frosts, it can actually help soil warm up faster. Covering with fabric, plastic, or even mesh creates a mini greenhouse effect over your garden bed—you can actually raise the temperature of your soil by 10 to 15 degrees.

That extra warmth means more days of growing in the garden, which means you’ve extended your season!

If you're using plastic over your plants, make sure to roll back your garden cover during sunny days to avoid scorching your plants.

Our Recommendations for Winter Garden Vegetable Cover

  • Freeze Protection Row Cover (Dimensions: 14' x 25') - This heavy-weight agfabric lets in 30 to 50 percent of sunlight and still allows air and moisture to reach your plants.
  • Portable Mini Greenhouse (Dimensions: 71"W x 36"D x 36"H) - This mini greenhouse is easy to assemble without any tools and has two zippered doors for quick access to your plants. Your plants will be nice and cozy inside this warm space.
  • The Planket (Dimensions: 10' x 20') - This plant blanket protects plants from frost, sleet, snow, and cold winds.

You can find the full list of my favorite season extenders available on Amazon here. If you have a specific row of plants you want to protect or even just a single plant, explore Gardener's Supply Company's line of clear PVC cloches, which can easily be placed over the plants you wish to protect or a new row of seeds.

Frost Cloth Cover ideas

Use Covers to Shade Plants During Hot Summer Days

In hot weather, you can extend the life of plants that are prone to being scorched or that prefer cooler weather (such as lettuce plants) by covering them with shade cloth or a wicker cloche. This simple act of giving leafy greens shade can delay bolting (going to seed) by a few weeks, if not the whole season.

Shade cloths will feel similar to the mesh I recommend to keep garden pests at bay, but they tend to be dark green or black in color to absorb more sunlight.

The "shade factor" you'll see on the packaging of shade cloths refers to the degree of sunlight that will be blocked by the material. Different products will range from 25 percent all the way to 90 percent. If you're trying to grow tender salad greens in the full sun on a hot day, look for a shade factor between 50 and 60 percent. Fruiting plants most likely won't require anything above 30 percent.

  • Black Sunblock Shade Cloth (Dimensions: 12' x 12') - This cloth filters about 70 percent of sunlight while also absorbing heat and providing protection from high temps.
  • Bosmere Net Tunnel Shade Cloth (Dimensions: 118''L x 18"W x 18"H) - This tunnel opens like an accordion and has drawstrings on either end so you can control ventilation or maximize protection.
  • Willow Cloche from Gardener's Supply Company - Perhaps the most beautiful way to shade your garden, this woven cloche gives some shade but also allows open airflow to prevent your plants from overheating.

Explore my complete Amazon list for floating row covers here.

Shade Cover ideas
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How to Keep Out Garden Pests and Animals

Use Covers to Protect Your Garden from Pests

Few things are more frustrating to a gardener than lovingly tending a kitchen bed, only to have your prized veggies become a tasty meal for something else.

When I first started growing salad greens, I learned quickly that there were about a million different pests that wanted to eat my leaves before I could get to them. I tried it all: cayenne pepper, shiny CDs, forks stuck in the dirt. But nothing was relieving the pest pressure on my plants. 

Until, that is, I found out about garden mesh fabric, or agfabric, created specifically for pest protection. I purchased some from a local garden store, and for me, nothing has worked better than this simple physical barrier that lets water, sunlight, and air in, but keeps pests, even birds and larger animals, out. 

The key is to cover your garden from the moment you first plant your transplants into the garden or sow some seeds. Young plants are particularly vulnerable to pest pressure, but garden mesh will give them all the protection they need from the get-go.

Ideally, your garden mesh should stay on your plants all the time, except, of course, for when you're ready to harvest, prune, or just gaze admiringly at your healthy plant babies. 

If you like to look at your kitchen garden during the day in all its leafy glory, you could leave it uncovered during sunlight hours and then drape the mesh over at night, when creepy crawlies are most active.

Read more about garden mesh as an organic solution for pest control.

Our Recommendations for Garden Insect Cover

  • Tierra Garden Micromesh Plant Blankets (Dimensions: 8' x 8') - This pre-cut blanket allows air, moisture, water, and liquid feed through, while providing shade, protecting your plants, and retaining moisture.
  • Garden Cloche Tunnel (Dimensions: 20'L x 20'W x 10'H) - This tunnel forms a mini greenhouse that can be accessed from either side.
  • Agfabric Garden Netting (Dimensions: 10'L x 20'W) - This fine bug netting can be cut down to fit any size garden.
  • Haxnick's Easy Poly Tunnel - I love these tunnels; they take about two seconds to install.

Explore more organic pest control recommendations available on Amazon here.

pest protection ideas

Use Hardware Cloth to Protect Your Vegetable Garden from Moles, Voles, and More

If you have pests that burrow and attack your garden from the ground, then you'll need to add something to the bottom of your raised beds to act as a barrier. Galvanized hardware cloth will do the trick. Think of it like an underground security fence.

And don't worry: galvanized steel is food safe and won't compromise the organic nature of your garden.

You can find hardware cloth measuring 10' x 3' here, or try searching for the size you need.

Instructions to Install Garden Covers

covering raised bed

HOW TO COVER GARDEN BED IN 3 EASY STEPS

Step 1: Install Hoops to Protect Your Plants Underneath

You could drape your cover directly over your garden bed, but you risk smooshing the more delicate plants you might be growing in your kitchen garden. If you don't have an existing support structure or appropriately sized trellis to hold your cover in place and keep it off your plants underneath, you can buy simple flexible hoops to do the trick.

Space your hoops every couple of feet in your raised bed to serve as a frame for the mesh. These hoops can support frost cloth, shade cloth, and agfabric.

Our Recommendations for Hoops

Support hoops ideas

Step 2: Drape Your Garden Cover Over the Hoops

Before you cover your garden with mesh, check the soil and your plants, including the underside of leaves, for visible pests. The last thing you want to do is trap pests inside your garden and give them a free-for-all buffet.

Once you're confident your garden is clear of pests, lay your mesh over the hoops. Tenting my garden this way has deterred animals from jumping straight into my bed (like the mother rabbit who was determined to have her babies beneath my lettuce). 

garden mesh

Step 3: Hold Your Garden Cover Cloth in Place with Pins or Clips

Pins, garden staples, or clips are essential to holding your covers in place. Without them, your covers could sink under piles of snow or, worse yet, blow away. Holding your cover in place also adds an extra layer of security from animals like squirrels who might be looking to burrow their way in.

Pins/Staples

Landscaping pins, also called garden staples, can be pushed right through garden mesh to secure the fabric in place. They're easy to install and remove when you're ready to tend or harvest your plants.

Look for pins made of galvanized steel so that they're rust-resistant.

You can buy pins on Amazon here or Gardener's Supply Company here. Gardener's Supply also has pins with a handy loop at the top for easier removal. You can find them here.

Clips

If you're using a thicker material or plastic for garden cover, you might need to secure your fabric in place with garden clips instead of landscaping pins. Clips can easily be attached to tubing, fences, or trellises.

Gardener's Supply Company sells a set of 12 stainless steel maxi garden clips here. If you're buying garden hoops or a greenhouse kit from them, look for clips made to fit the dimensions of those structures.

Purchase steel clips on Amazon here.

Pins and Clip Options from Gardener's Supply Company

There's a Cover for (Almost) All Your Garden Issues

Frost? Check. Hungry chickens? Check. Conniving squirrels? Check. Bright sunlight? Check.

So many of the problems you may have encountered in your vegetable garden journey thus far can be solved with a simple cover.

As you can see, many of the products I recommended can function as shade cloth, pest barrier, and frost protection. They can be used season after season, they can be stored easily when not in use, and they're relatively inexpensive. Now that you know the terms to search for (such as garden cloche, row cover, and frost cloth), you can do your own searches and discover the many options available to you. Find the product that's best for your garden space.

Start with one garden cover to solve your most pressing concern and see how a simple piece of fabric or plastic sheeting can help your garden thrive.

For more tips on how to increase production in your space, check out the many resources we offer here at Gardenary. We love helping you end your gardening woes once and for all, sans chemicals.

Keep on growing, my friends!

Want to learn more garden tips and tricks?

Join Gardenary 365

Our membership program is designed so that you can jump in and start gardening with us right away. The full Gardenary content library is at your fingertips the minute you sign up, including Kitchen Garden Academy, Salad School, and Herb Garden Guide.

The Complete Guide to Garden Covers