DIY Fabric Garden Covers
From the very beginning of my gardening journey, I’d managed to need very few tools or supplies to grow. I’m typically a “use what you have” gardener, but I’m always grateful for the tools that I do purchase that make my life easier. These DIY garden covers are simply marvelous and a great solution for protecting your garden against birds, cabbage moths, and an assortment of other garden pests. Read on for how we added new DIY fabric garden covers to our garden on a budget. >>>
Why did I want to install fabric row covers in our garden?
In our case, I didn’t want to install these covers for frost protection. Yes, they offer a tiny bit (we only get down to 30 degrees at the coldest) but in reality it was all about a physical barrier for insects and birds in our case.
This year I had a much larger problem with birds than ever before. Combine that with our ever-growing garden size, and you’ve got major frustration. For example, anything I transplanted into the garden or sowed directly would be pecked out and completely destroyed within days. It was such a waste of time, money, and seeds! These DIY garden row covers provided peace of mind and truly allowed me to feel so much better about direct sowing winter garden crops such as turnips, lettuce, radishes, peas, and more!
See the photo below for a “before” shot of the raised bed.
Related resource: Where I Buy Seeds ~ Dependable, Unique, and Fun Seed Sources
Other Benefits of Fabric Row Covers
If you are interested in organic gardening, you probably know that most of us make use of physical barriers/controls often. For example, these DIY garden covers provide my first line of defense against birds and cabbage moths by making my plants inaccessible to them. In reality, there are actually many more touted benefits to having row covers like these that I am looking forward to trying out myself such as:
Extend your seasons. Fabric row covers can offer protection from the elements. For instance, many farmers choose a fabric that offers frost protection so they can plant out seedlings earlier in Spring! The fabric row cover I chose, Agribon-15, specifically isn’t made to retain heat. Therefore it doesn’t technically offer extreme frost protection, but that also means it hopefully won’t act like a greenhouse for my Summer garden and fry everything. UPDATE: 2022- after trying both Agribon and shadecloth, I found a insect mesh that works even better for protecting plants from insects. I share that HERE. I discuss more fabric options and choices below, depending on your specific gardening situation.
Insect barrier. For all kinds of insects! While my main reason for covering my beds was to stop birds from eating my seed sprouts, I’ve witnessed a HUGE benefit from using this DIY garden cover over my brassicas and cruciferous crops as well. While I rarely have severe problems with cabbage caterpillars, these row covers act as a physical barrier between cabbage white butterflies and your brassicas. If you’ve read my multi-prong approach to preventing cabbage caterpillars, you’ll know that physical barriers are highly effective. These fabric row covers give you less to worry about and you won’t need chemicals! I’ve read input from gardeners who also use Agribon-15 to protect their squashes and cucumbers from squash beetles and cucumber beetles in the Summer!
Related article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California
The full raised bed makeover
What started this DIY project? The raised bed you see above was a huge disappointment—I’d lost more than 3/4 of the crops I planted to birds, they ate all my directly sown seeds, and the irrigation was terrible. One evening we even had a critter come through and dig up most of the remaining plants to find grubs—it was most likely a raccoon or opposum. Essentially, I was at my wits end and decided to invest in some sort of DIY garden cover as protection.
Not only were birds terrible, this garden had a terrible irrigation setup. Last Summer (when we were in lockdown) the only irrigation hoses we had available were small, 1/4″ soaker hoses. These soaker hoses were terribly inefficient and were easily clogged by the minerals in our water. It took quite a few weeks for me to realize the water had basically stopped flowing in this bed altogether, and our plants were weakened. In this specific case we used a quick system from Garden in Minutes because we needed to plant fast and get the garden going! I was so happy with how it turned out! If you want to try any of their products yourself, you can also enter: freckledcali10 for $10 off $100
Between the new DIY garden covers and some brand new irrigation, I was excited to makeover this terrible raised bed and get some crops growing again. Ideally, I wanted to direct sow some quick-growing crops for Fall and Winter.
Will fabric row covers protect my garden from rats, raccoons, squirrels, or other critters? The truth is no, not really, but maybe? The fabric is so thin that anything could really tear through it if it wanted to. I just know that, in my garden, the critters are not desperate enough to actually WANT to tear through the fabric. They want the easy targets in the garden. If you are experiencing severe critter problems, you probably want to build actual frames/cages using hardware cloth, chicken wire, or something similar—-but maybe try this first?
For a specific list of crops, along with monthly sowing recommendations, be sure to check out my Current Season Seed Schedule (available to all subscribers)!
The Setup & Results
The DIY fabric garden covers were budget-friendly, easy to customize, and have worked wonderfully! You can see in the photo below that the bed now has seeds sprouting and plants that are undamaged!
The setup is basically metal hoops inserted into the garden bed to support the floating row cover fabric. Moreover, you can easily change out the fabric of mesh you drape over the hoops to suit your specific garden needs! You can see from the pictures that our beds are L-shaped, so obviously this made it more difficult to cover precisely. If you’ve got rectangular beds, this will be so much easier for you!
When I say there are “ready-made” options for garden covers, I mean that you can purchase kits or sets of row hoops that are ready to be placed in the garden. If you don’t feel like a DIY project or would rather have an adjustable hoop setup, definitely give these gardners hoops a look. Adjustable hoops can be convenient if you have multiple areas you might want to use them, or if you plan to adjust the height of your row covers as your plants grow.
Related Article: Top 10 Flowers for a Potager Garden~ Calendula made my list!
Choosing the Right Garden Row Cover Fabric
Why did I choose Agribon-15 garden fabric? There are many different varieties and types of garden fabric. Honestly, I chose Agribon as a brand because I had heard amazing reviews and it was affordable (this was not sponosored, I purchased this product myself). Garden fabric can serve many purposes, but what you want to look for are 1) how much insulation it provides and 2) the level of light transmission. Here in Southern California, our growing season is mostly year-round, and I tend to grow plants in the Winter that have a certain amount of frost-tolerance as it is (read my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California). Therefore, frost protection was not my number one concern. Check out some of the different types of fabric and their descriptions below:
Agribon Garden Fabric facts:
Agribon AG-15: provides slight frost protection. 90% light transmission.
Agribon AG-19: protects down to 28 degrees F. 85% light transmission.
Agribon AG-30: protects down to 26 degrees F. 70% light transmission.
*there are even more options online, but you get the idea.
For my garden, I was mostly concerned about simply having a cover AND I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to soak up light. Daylight hours are much shorter in Winter. It is these shorter days, sparse light, and cold temperatures that cause the extremely slow growth many of us see in our gardens in Winter. That was the main defining factor for me choosing the agribon-15 with it’s 90% light transmittance. If you are looking for a little more frost protection, you might want to look at the agribon-19 that allows in 85% of light.
This fabric is re-useable. Depending on how careful you are with the fabric, I’ve been told that some fabric covers can last between 1-3 years.
Update 2022: during the hotter months, Agribon kept in too much heat. I now prefer an insect netting/mesh that I share HERE —> Winter Garden Planting in Southern CA
Supplies for DIY Garden Covers
Heavy wire cutters (like these)
Scissors (my garden scissors)
Metal file (optional, but we used one to file down sharp edges after cutting) like this one
Clothespins (optional) Buy them here
Bricks or heavy stones to weigh down the fabric (optional)
How to Build and Assemble DIY Fabric Row Covers
Measure. The ladder mesh is 10′ long from the store. We used 5′ lengths to cover our beds. We just used our experience and guessed at the length. This let us make two hoops from each section of mesh. Our garden beds are 2 feet wide at the longest part of the “L” and 3 feet across at the widest. If you have a different size bed I suggest that you check out DIY Garden Arch: How to Build a Cattle Panel Trellis for a little low-tech math trick to calculate arch measurements.
Cut the ladder mesh. Anything that you can use to cut metal will work. We used a pair of side-cutting pliers.
File ends of cut wire (optional). You can see from the photo the cut can leave behind razor sharp points. Use a metal file to sand down the points for increased safety and to reduce the chances of snagging on something.
Install ladder mesh. It’s very VERY important to note that bending metal is always something you should do carefully. It can easily spring back. You can ask a friend to help you stick one end in the garden bed while you carefully bend the other side down into the other side of the bed. Alternatively, you can hold your ladder mesh with both hands towards either end, and carefully bend it into an arc yourself. Then, simply place the arch into your garden bed and adjust for fit.
We installed the hoops on the inside the raised bed and spaced them about 3 feet apart from each other. I didn’t measure exactly, but just did what seemed supportive enough for my fabric.
CAUTION: it is very important that you push your hoops into the ground deep enough that it is secure. How deep can depend on the situation and the hardness/texture of your soil.
Cover hoops with your fabric. This step is a little easier if you have some help. Hold the fabric at one end of your garden and unroll the fabric over the whole bed. Depending on how you plan to secure your fabric, make sure you leave enough extra. I personally made sure it went down to the ground on both sides so I could weigh it down with bricks in case of wind.
Cutting the fabric to fit. Cutting the fabric a little long and trimming is easier than cutting too short and starting all over again.
Secure fabric for wind and possible entrypoints for insects or critters. This is where you could use those clothes pins, bricks, weights, stones etc. to hold the fabric in place. We found that a combination of both works best for us. Clothespins hold fabric to the hoops more precisely while bricks hold the fabric against the ground or sides of the beds to keep the pests out.
Can Winter rain penetrate these covers?
Being in Southern California, rain is rare and precious. I myself was curious how these covers would interact with the rain. The website says “rain permeable” so after our first rainfall since installing the fabric row covers, I went out to check the garden. There were indeed water droplets on the leaves of my plants. Water definitely got through! Make sure that your covers are properly draped so that there are no flat spaces for rain to puddle or suffocate delicate seedlings.
Does the fabric rip easily?
Yes it does. Within the first two weeks I accidentally snagged the fabric in the process of checking on the progress of the bed. Due to its lightweight qualities, the fabric does easily snag/tear. I simply clipped the small hole closed and honestly am not worried about it at all. I do realize this is one reason I will always still love my multi-use shade cloths for other garden uses—they are less prone to snags and are very easy to fold and manage.
What do you think?
I am so happy to have a solution for better garden protection and success. These DIY garden covers can be re-used, and as time goes on I’ll report back anything I notice. UPDATE Fall 2021: another cool season is upon us, and I’ve written a new article updating you all on what I’ve observed using these row covers for Fall. Check it out HERE and another update HERE.
About a week or so into observing this new raised bed, I did notice some of the seedlings were being chomped by detritus insects (these are insects like earwigs, roly polies, etc.) and I decided to go full force to get rid of them. Eariwgs and roly polies are known for eating rotting or decaying leaves/wood in the garden, but I can tell you from horrifying experience that they will eat seedlings too! There are non-chemical methods for trapping these critters, see getting rid of earwigs and trapping roly polies, but I really wanted to see how this bed could grow so I went with an organic pellet called sluggo-plus. In the past, I’ve only used it to treat severe problems, but it’s something I usually have in my organic pest control toolkit. Just watch it around kids or pets.
Other articles you might find helpful after reading this: