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Beginner Basics,  Pests

Using Hoops and Row Covers for Garden Pest Control, Shade & Frost Protection

Hoops and floating row covers are an invaluable tool in our organic garden! We use hoops and row covers to protect young sprouts and seedlings from the beaks of wild birds, to hang shade cloth over tender greens on abnormally warm days, to block out the dreaded white cabbage butterfly, and more! Truth be told, I was hesitant to use hoops and row covers in the past. I was worried they’d look unsightly… yet I have come to cherish them more than I ever thought I could! 


Read along to learn all about using hoops and row covers in the garden. Hoops and row covers come in many shapes, materials, and styles. They can protect your garden in more ways than you likely imagine! While we primarily use ours as a means of organic pest control, many other gardeners rely on hoops and row covers to extend the growing season by protecting crops from frost or heat. Let’s talk about various row cover options and hoop styles, including DIY hoops! Last but not least, we need to address a potential drawback of using row covers – inhibiting pollinators. 


Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links to products for your convenience, such as to items on Amazon. Homestead and Chill gains a small commission from purchases made through those links, at no additional cost to you.

Four raised garden beds are in the foreground, each one has a row cover draped over the top of it. The cover is fine mesh white insect netting and it is supported with metal hoops that are inserted into the inside of each garden bed allowing room for the plants below. There are various flowering perennials around the beds, the flowers ranging from purple to pink to yellow and blue. There are cacti, vines, and various trees around the perimeter.


The Basics: What Are Hoops & Row Covers?


Individual garden plots, raised beds, or sections thereof can be shrouded with row covers. Also called “floating row covers”, their purpose is to block out or otherwise protect plants from undesirable elements. Meaning, some row covers are designed to stop insects. Others may have the purpose of shielding plants from excess sun or cold when needed. On an even larger scale, hoop houses (similar to greenhouses) can accomplish the same results.

Traditionally, hoops are used to support the cloth-like “blanket” material – at the gardeners desired height over the plants. Some covers are held even higher on other supporting structures, allowing space for tall plants (or even people!) underneath. Other gardeners skip the hoops and lay light row covers directly on top of the plants themselves. That is, as long as the plants are mature enough to not get toppled.


Options for Hoops & Row Cover Materials


Garden hoops can be made of metal, plastic, or other materials. You can purchase pre-made hoops, or make your own! We’ll talk more about various row cover material in the pest, shade, and frost sections to follow.


PVC Pipe Garden Hoops

One common method is to create DIY hoops from PVC pipe. Slender ½-inch PVC pipe can be bent in an arch over a garden plot or raised bed and then secured in place on each side. To add PVC hoops to a wood raised garden bed, you could attach the pipe directly to the bed with pipe straps (a more permanent installation). Or, create a sleeve for the hoop pipes to slide in and out of. That makes it easier to remove the hoops when not in use. For example, by attaching larger 1-inch wide pipe sections to the inside or outside corners of the raised bed, and then sliding each end of the smaller ½” hoop pipe into them. A similar design can be done with metal pipes, but you will definitely need a pipe bender tool for that! 

We have not used PVC hoops so I don’t have personal detailed photos of the process. Yet is a common method and easy to find examples of online! Here is one article about PVC hoops from the folks at Peaceful Valley. They also happens to be on our list of Top 12 Places to buy organic garden seeds.


A two part image collage, the first image shows a small raised bed that has half inch PVC pipe connected to the sides of the bed with metal pipe clamps. The PVC arches over the bed and is connected to the other side in the same fashion. White netting is being used as a row cover and has been pulled up on one side to show how the hoop is connected. The bed is mostly full of soil and a few non descript plants. The second image is a close up of the PVC pipe connected to the corner of the outside of the garden bed with two metal pipe clamps connecting it to the bed.
Option1: A more permanent installation of PVC pipe hoops attached directly to a raised bed using pipe straps. Photo courtesy of Peaceful Valley
PVC pipe used as a hoop connected to the inside of a raised garden bed is shown. There is larger PVC piping that is connected to the inside corners of the bed while the PVC that is used for the hoop has be inserted into the larger diameter pipe so it can be inserted and removed as needed. The larger PVC diameter pipe is connected with metal pipe clamps. The raised bed is also devoid of soil to show how the hoops are attached.
Option 2: Attaching larger 1-inch PVC pipe “sleeves” to the bed with pipe straps, then sliding the smaller 1/2″ hoop pipe inside. This style is easier to remove or modify when desired. Photo courtesy of VeganStreet. This looks a lot like the wood and design that we use to build raised garden beds.


Pre-Made Garden Hoops

In our garden, we opted to outfit our raised beds with sleek metal wire pre-made hoops. I personally loved the no-fuss installation, lightweight material, and ease of taking them in and out of the beds as needed. They stack nicely in a neat pile when they’re not in use. Since the hoops have two rows of wire/stakes, the hoops can’t tip side to side. I also love the way they look in the garden! 

The hoops we use from Gardener’s Supply Company come in two different sizes. We have the smaller hoop option. They fit perfectly over shorter plants in our 2, 3, and 3.5-foot wide raised beds. We need to use the base extenders for them to fit over our 4.5 foot wide beds and still provide decent room below. Again, we’re mostly using them for small seedlings and greens, so we don’t need a huge amount of space under them. There is also a “high rise” super hoop option, perfect to cover larger beds or taller plants like tomatoes. Hint: the high-rise option is simply two of the smaller versions that connect in the middle. Therefore, you can use them at either height/length! 

There are plenty of other pre-made hoops out there as well. Depending on the length of your garden bed and weight of the row cover material, you’ll want two or three hoops per bed. In a modest square bed (about 3-foot by 3-foot), we’ve found two hoops work perfectly. In beds longer than 5 feet, we prefer to use three hoops: two on the ends, and one in the middle to prevent the row cover from drooping.


Four raised garden beds are shown with metal hoops inserted into the edges of the beds, making a perfect support for protective row covers. There are various winter vegetable plants planted throughout the beds. The perimeter of the image contains various vines, perennials, trees, and shrubs, all basking in the evening sun.
Our front yard garden raised bed, outfitted with Super Hoops from Gardener’s Supply. It is easy to pull off our insect netting row cover to work in the beds (or take photos) and put it back later. With the hoops and row covers, those tiny radish sprouts and tender young greens would be decimated by the birds in our garden at this time of year. The garden beds in the foreground are 3 feet wide, and the ones in the back are 4.5 wide.
A close up image of metal hoops with extenders making the hoops taller so larger plants can grow comfortably under the row covers. A row of bok choy is growing up and around the hoop emerging from the edge of the garden bed.
The addition of base extenders make the shorter hoop option fit our 4.5 foot wide beds perfectly. We don’t need the extenders for our more narrow beds.


How to Attach Row Covers to Hoops

Secure the row cover with any type of sturdy clip that fits around your chosen hoops. Standard close pins work perfectly for our wire hoops! For PVC hoops, try these specialized clips. Tuck in the sides of the row cover down inside the bed. Or if needed, use bricks or other heavy objects to pin the row covers tightly to the ground. Especially if you’re trying to keep out small sneaky critters!


Other Ways to Support Row Covers

Classic hoops aside, there are many other ways to support row covers! For example, you could build a wood frame around your garden bed to hang row cover material from.  I have also seen some gardeners put traditional stakes in the corners and center of their garden bed, add a tennis ball on top of each stake (to prevent the stakes from puncturing the row cover) and then drape the row cover over them. As I mentioned earlier, you can also gently lay row cover directly on top of plants, particularly if you’re in a hurry to protect them and don’t have hoop material available. Really, the options are endless if you think outside the box!


Using Hoops and Row Covers for Organic Pest Control


Hoops and row covers are an excellent choice for organic pest control. Acting as a physical barrier, they can protect plants from a wide array of pests – without the need for pesticides or other products.

If the right material is used (e.g. fine enough to keep out small insects), and the covers are kept closed and tucked in around the sides, hoops and row covers can effectively keep out cucumber beetles, squash bugs, leaf miners, and even smaller flying insects like whitefly or leafhoppers. Row covers also prevent cabbage white butterflies, squash vine borer moths, and tobacco or tomato hornworm moths from accessing the covered plants. If the adult moths and butterflies can’t get to the plants, they can’t lay eggs – which later would turn into pest caterpillars! Here is one example of a popular fine-mesh row cover material used as an insect barrier. We bought a large roll/sheet of it, and then cut it to fit our various beds as needed. 

Hoops and row covers can protect your crops from far more than pest insects! Covering a garden area or raised bed is a great way to prevent larger critters from bothering your plants if they become a problem. For example, to keep out squirrels, rabbits, birds, skunks, opossums, rodents, deer, free-ranging chickens, or even neighborhood cats.

Groups of little migrating birds visit our garden each spring and fall. Though I think they’re adorable, their arrival always seems perfectly timed with our biannual crop switchover – when all the plants are tiny and fragile. Without row covers, the birds would pick off our seedlings in a matter of hours! We prefer to use insect netting for bird protection. Birds get tangled too easily in classic black bird netting. Plus, why not keep both insects and birds out at the same time?


Raised garden beds with row covers shown tucked around the outside edges of the beds and held tightly together with clothespins. There are various flowering perennials growing around the beds with pink, orange, yellow, purple, and red flowers amongst varying shades of green.
Tucking in the insect netting row covers (doubling as bird protection) tightly around the edges, held in place with simple clothes pins.


A raised garden bed full of bok choy, mustard greens, kale, and komatsuna growing upwards amongst metal hoops that are arched over the raised bed.
In addition to blocking birds, the netting also keeps cabbage moths away from our greens – leaving them looking mighty fine!


Rather than draping hoops with fine netting material for insects, specialized shade or frost cloth can also be used.


Using Hoops and Row Covers to Shade Plants in Hot Weather


Shade cloth has the ability to keep the soil and plants below it significantly cooler than without. Shade cloth also reduces evaporation, keeping your soil moist and thus reducing the need to water as frequently. 

We often use hoops and shade cloth to cover tender leafy greens like lettuce and bok choy when unseasonably warm weather hits, hoping to extend their life in our garden. Without it, they are more prone to bolting (going to flower and seed) and becoming bitter when exposed to high heat. The same applies to broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, spinach, and other cool season crops. Therefore, shade cloth allows spring-planted cool season crops to survive longer into the summer months. Gardeners in hotter climates like Arizona, Hawaii, Texas, or Florida may rely on protecting their garden with shade cloth all summer long! There, even heat-loving summer crops like tomatoes and squash appreciate some relief from the otherwise blistering sun.

Shade cloth comes in a variety of ratings, most often expressed by the percentage of UV rays it will block. Clearly, plants still need some sun to photosynthesize and grow! Shade cloth around 30 to 60% is usually ideal to both cool plants as well as allow adequate light through. 30% shade cloth is great for hardy heat-loving crops like tomatoes and bell peppers, while leafy greens may fare best with a higher rating. In addition to laying shade cloth over hoops, you can also support it high above your garden space on stakes or arbors, between trees, or even from your house roof. We also use it to shade a portion of our greenhouse when needed. 


A row of bok choy shown from underneath the canopy of shade cloth.
Trying to keep some early spring-planted bok choy cool and happy with shade cloth during a heat wave. It worked! We got through over a week of 85F days, and it didn’t bolt until over a month later – once we were able to enjoy PLENTY more fat juicy bok choy leaves through the “cut and come again” harvest method.


Should I use black or white shade cloth?

You’ll notice that shade cloth comes in black, white, green, and other colors too. White and light-colored shade cloth reflects the sun’s heat away. On the other hand, black and dark-colored shade cloth absorbs it. Both options effectively prevent some heat and sunlight from passing through to the plants below. However, I have read that black shade cloth behaves like a filter and deprives plants of more sunlight (and also provides less full-spectrum UV) than white shade cloth does. Therefore, black shade cloth may slow plant growth and flowering slightly in comparison to white shade cloth.

Despite this difference, black shade cloth appears to be far more common and readily available. Also note that flowering is more or less desirable with different plants! Slowing flowering is actually a good thing when it comes to leafy greens and brassicas. Yet with plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash, better flower production means better fruit set. I honestly feel you can’t go wrong with either one, as long as you stick to a medium-low UV rating.


Shade cloth is draped over one section of a raised garden bed, leaving the rest of the bed and its sun loving plants open to the sun above.
Shading a section of bok choy during a spring heat wave. All the other summer crops (squash, tomatoes, peppers and beans) loved it! We happen to have white shade cloth because that is what I purchased many years ago to shade a portion of our greenhouse. However, black shade cloth is just as effective. I can no longer find this particular product.


Extending the Season: Hoops & Row Covers for Frost Protection


Similar to shade cloth, frost cloth material can create a desirable microclimate for the plants below. In fact, frost cloth (also called garden fleece or frost blankets) can protect plants from frost damage even in outdoor temperatures as low as 20 degrees – depending on the type of material used! Frost blankets or garden fleece is available in various sizes, ratings, and thickness (see the chart below). Some even come in a domeshape, ready to cover shrubs or small trees.

Using frost cloth row covers enables northern gardeners to start seeds outdoors earlier in the springtime, warming the soil for a more quick and successful germination. Frost blankets can also protect tender just-transplanted seedlings from cool spring nights or a sudden frost warning. At the end of the season, row covers can help mature plants continue to grow long after the first fall or winter frost. 

When all else fails, you can also grab old bed sheets to protect plants if frost is in the forecast! Bed sheets aren’t quite as strong or guaranteed as specialized frost row covers, but on a chilly night, they’re better than nothing! If you secure sheets or row covers well enough on their hoops, they can also shield plants against hail, wind, or other inclement weather.


A nine part image that shows the various thickness of a variety of frost cloth. From thin to fairly visible through the cloth to thick and not much visibility through it. The Wright of the cloth starts at .5 ounce to 3.5 ounce.
Frost cloth is available in different weight or thickness (AgFabric shown here). The higher the number (thicker the fabric) the colder the temperatures it is rated to protect plants from – and also the more it will warm the soil below. For example, a .5 oz fabric may be rated for down to about 35F, while a 1.2 oz fabric can provide frost protection down to 24F. It should be noted that thicker fabrics also block more sunlight than thinner ones.



A Potential Drawback to Using Hoops and Row Covers: Pollinators


Maybe you’ve already considered it… but how will the pollinators get in if the plants are covered? Plants that rely on pollinators to set fruit, such as squash or cucumbers, are a bit trickier to protect than other crops. Therefore, hoops and row covers are most popular to prevent pests on young seedlings, leafy greens, brassicas (cabbage family), and root vegetables – all of which don’t need pollination.

However, it is still possible to use row covers for plants that do need pollination! You’ll just need to get creative and use a little personal trial-and-error. Keep those plants covered while they’re young. Then, once they begin to flower, you could either hand-pollinate, or open your row covers during key times of day when pollinators are active in your garden. Plants like tomatoes and bell peppers are usually self-fruitful and will do okay when covered.

Are you growing squash? Be sure to check out this article all about hand-pollinating zucchini and squash plants. Row covers or no row covers, we always hand-pollinate our squash to prevent end rot – even with plenty of bees buzzing around our garden.


Raised garden beds are shown at dusk, covered with row covers. The sky is shown in the background, a bright glowing orange sun has illuminated the horizon with shades of pink and purple mixed in. There are various trees and plants that are visible in the dwindling light.
Stay safe, baby plants.


And those are some of the ways to use hoops and row covers.


What do you think? Do you already use hoops and row covers in your garden? Or will this be a new and exciting addition for you? In all, I hope you found this article to be useful and interesting. As you can see, hoops and row covers can be incredibly useful AND attractive-looking! Please feel free to ask questions or leave feedback in the comments below. See you next time!


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6 Comments

  • JR

    Your site is awesome! Thanks for all of the great information. Keep it coming! On a semi related note, I’m curious about one of your statements: “we always hand-pollinate our squash to prevent end rot”. I had several squash this year where the end seem to “rot” (get soft, turn brown/moldy, etc) and the fruit went to waste. Why does this typically happen and how does hand pollination and row covering prevent it?

  • Michele

    What do you recommend for aphids? The comments for the cloth you linked state that aphids can get through. They’ve destroyed my brassicas in the past. 😢

      • Jacky

        Another wonderful article 🙂 thanks for sharing.

        I’ve been listening to the No-Till Market Garden Podcast, and it seems like almost all the farmers use covers of some type. Another benefit is that it really helps if you have a very windy climate, especially during transplant to cut down on losses.

        I once used the hoops to support a thick clear plastic on a bed of peppers, to create a mini green house, it worked so well and the plants were so healthy and high yielding.

        Looking forward to trying some of your tips at my new place.

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