Fall gardening row covers

Frost Protection for Plants – Prepare to Extend Your Gardening Season

Most traditional gardens are finished for the season long before the first frost.  But an organic garden seems to out-last the traditional ones.  Mine does anyway.

If you’re an organic gardener and live in zone 7 as I do and are prepared for frost protection for plants in your garden via garden fabric called row covers, you can extend your growing season possibly another month or two.

Even if the weather turns consistently cold sooner than usual, every week you extend your season is that much longer you can enjoy your garden and the bounty it gives.

We usually have a light freeze or frost and then have several weeks or longer of beautiful growing-weather.  All you have to do is give a little frost protection to your snap beans, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants via garden fabric (row covers) and they’ll keep right on going as long as the weather holds.

Frost Protection for Plants

The easy way to do that is with garden fabric  known as row covers.  It usually comes in widths of 6 to 12 feet and in lengths of 20′, 50′ or 100 feet.  You can cut it with scissors if you want. There are various kinds for various purposes.  This time of year we want the ones that offer protection from frost.

For years I’ve had the kind that gives frost protection for plants down to 28 degrees.  I literally have been using it for more than 12 years.  (The manufacturers advertise that it will last 2 years, but it just depends on how often you use it and how you care for it.)

It’s time for me to order new fabric (row covers), so I’m ordering the kind that gives frost protection for plants to 24 degrees. More bang for the buck and it enables the garden to go that much longer.  And — I’ll  use it in the Spring to cover my transplants rather than to have to hold them in pots so long.

What I Do with the Row Cover Fabric

When frost is called for in our area, I drape the fabric (row covers) right over my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Almost wrap them with it. I clip the fabric together with clothespins so the wind won’t blow it off.  Next day I just unwrap the plants and leave the row covers on the ground until the next frost or freeze is called for. Then I do it again.

Wrapping a pepper plant to protect from predicted frost. (See picture at  end of post for totally covered plant.)

With string beans, I drape the row covers over the entire row and put mulch and/or bricks or dirt along the edges to hold it in place.  I don’t use Earth Staples to hold it when I’m just protecting from frosts because it becomes too much hassle to take it off and put it back on. If you just anchor with mulch and/or dirt it’s easy to redo.

How Long Will Row Covers Keep Plants Going?

You can get through quite a few light freezes this way — as long as it doesn’t stay below freezing for more than a few hours.  Once it starts freezing for 3, 4 or more hours during the night or day — it’s probably over — at least for cold sensitive crops.

Cole Crops

With crops that can take frost –  like lettuce, spinach, and kale this same fabric – row covers – can be used in place of a cold frame when temperatures drop below freezing.  Just drape on the bed or better yet — put over supports like hoops to hold it off the plants.  It’ll give your greens the protection they need in the winter and it’s easy to just lay it back when you want to harvest.

How to Make the Row Covers Last

When you’re finished with it, bundle up the row cover fabric, put it in a plastic bag and store away from sun and moisture until you need it again.

Emergency Measures if You Don’t Have Row Covers

Here are some emergency actions you can take to give frost protection for plants if an expected frost is upon you and you don’t have row covers:

  • Try laying newspapers over the plants and then wrapping with an old sheet or old sheer curtains.
  • Card board might work as protection for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants if you can find a way to get it to stay on.
  • Maybe a large card board box over each plant.

Final Thoughts

Garden fabric (row covers) is a great investment and something every serious gardener will want to have on hand.  Order it when you can. It gives frost protection for plants and makes it easy to extend the growing season  – either at the end of season or at the beginning.

Here’s are two referral links for sources:

Row covers that protect to 24 degrees.

Row covers that protect to 28 degrees.

Pepper plant wrapped for expected frost.


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  • I’m also a big fan of row covers. I live in a 6B zone but have been able to keep most leaf crops and broccoli going strong through December. Some crops will last all winter. They don’t grow larger in the darker months, but they survive and you can continue to eat them all winter.

    Use double or triple layers of the row covers for something you want to last all winter. We’ve had things survive zero degrees here!

    Another tip: We plant our spring crop of greens in December and cover with two 26 degree row covers. The seeds get started and then ‘wait’ through January/early February. Then when we have the warm days at the end of February they take off!

  • Thank you SO MUCH Gayle for this great input!

    I had been wondering if I doubled the fabric if I could do any better in keeping my plants going. From your experience I now know it can be done.

    Had thought to do what you suggested with greens but had not planned for two row covers. I WILL NOW!!

    Your information is priceless! Thank you so much for sharing.


  • We had our first touch of frost last week. I used old sheets over the tomatoes that night. Went out the next day and bought the garden fabric. I’m ready for the next frost warning!

  • Good for you Don! Glad those sheets got you through. I’d hate to loose one tomato sooner than I had to!


  • Another thought about winter covers. Be sure the plants have enough air space (under low hoops is best). We have lost lettuce (to rot) at times when there was too much moisture against the plants, for example when snow or ice melted.

    Also, don’t try to harvest leaves in the coldest hours of the morning. Wait until the sun warms things up a bit. The leaves of winter crop veges will freeze slightly and then thaw again during mid-day. That’s the time to harvest.

    Final note. You might have mentioned it before, but this method of extending the harvest works with fall and spring vegetables but not with heat-lovers like beans, tomatoes, basil. Besides tolerating lower temperatures, the cooler season crops need less sunshine to grow.

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