Raised Bed Covers: Ultimate Plant Protection

As gardeners, we’re very protective of our plants. They need a lot of protection! Taking plant species out of their native habitats gave us the gift of gardening, but along with it came the dangers of new problems. Our gardens face pests, disease, rain, wind, heat, and frost. It’s enough to make any flower wilt!. That’s why we’d like to discuss what may just be the most valuable thing in your garden: raised bed covers.

Pop-up, shading, hinged, tent, structured – there are thousands of different raised garden bed coverings out there. Because of this, we’re confident that in this article we’ll help you determine exactly what type of cover your garden raised beds need.

Don’t have a raised bed to cover yet? Check out the Epic Gardening shop before diving into this topic with us, or alternately try building a DIY raised bed. Raised beds are fantastic for growing in!

Good Raised Bed Cover Options:

What is a Raised Bed Cover?

Raised Bed Covers
Raised bed covers, such as this floating row cover, help protect plants. Source: Baugher

A raised bed cover is exactly what it sounds like: something to cover and protect your garden bed. They secure in, on, or around the bed and cover up the vegetation to protect it from the elements. Each garden bed cover has a frame that connects to the raised bed or ground and holds up the protective covering. The frame and cover materials vary widely, all with their own pros, cons, and uses.

Many gardeners opt to create their own coverings. Here’s just a few different types that are common:

Hoop houses: These constructions out of PVC and sheet plastic or floating row cover protect millions of plants every year. They’re easy to assemble and disassemble as needed.

Box frame covers: A box frame can be exactly the rigid sort of structure needed to keep snow off of plants or to shield them from wind or other harsh conditions. These are usually kept intact after construction and may actually remain around the plant with or without a cover attached.

Retractable: These attach to the end of the bed and pull out to cover it entirely. Usually, these are a variation of a hoop house, although other versions do exist.

Commercial raised bed cover
Commercial raised bed covers are definitely an option! Source: UnconventionalEmma

Others say you can’t beat the convenience and reliance of store-bought. Hundreds of retailers supply all sorts of coverings designed for any type of raised bed out there. Here are just a few of the most common ones:

Mini greenhouse or cold frame: A sturdy structure that attaches to the raised beds and features a door or hinge for easy access to the flora. Cold frames usually have a heavier cover material than a miniature greenhouse does.

Plant tents: Basically a clear tent for vegetation (they even have zippers!). Fits just inside or around the raised garden beds.

Pop-up or fixed cloches: Bell-shaped, individual coverings that are useful for gardening in boxes or on the ground. 

As you can gather from these types, you have to consider the structure of your raised garden beds before choosing a cover. You wouldn’t want to buy a fancy greenhouse cover just to find out it isn’t the same shape as the bed, right?

Before shopping around for materials or premade covers, take note of the measurements and material of your raised garden bed and determine what you want to accomplish. If all you’re looking for is a little light shade on a hot day or something to support a floating row cover, it may not need to be as impervious as something designed to protect your plants from a storm.

How Does a Raised Bed Cover Help?

As we mentioned, a raised garden bed cover is meant to keep your precious plants safe and sound. However, some protect against certain dangers better than others. We highly recommend that you think about what you’re saving your backyard from and then choose your coverings from there. 

Protection From The Elements

Greenery loves its rain and sun, but too much can do more harm than good. High heat and direct sunlight are detrimental to many garden plants, particularly edible ones. Shade cloth is designed with that in mind. It’s a woven fabric usually made of plastic or filament, that shades the plant without blocking out the sun entirely. When used in a raised garden bed cover, it’s usually only spread across the top so it only shades during the hottest part of the day.

On the flip side, cold temperatures and frost can cause just as much, if not more, damage. This is where solid plastic comes in. These are clear sheets of polyethylene that will lock in heat. Because of their versatility, they’re often used in large and small scale greenhouses. Cold frames are also excellent, and more durable, choices for keeping your garden bed warm and frost-free.

Heavy rain and wind typically requires some type of durable sheeting. However, no quality of cover will hold up without a sturdy and secure structure. Garden coverings that sit on top of or around the bed may easily blow away. If you live in an area with frequent high winds, you have to securely attach the cover to the bed or make sure it has some weight to it.

Often with rain and wind come hail. It may be fun to watch, but these little balls of ice can really give your garden a beating. Fine netting is actually excellent in this situation. When held up properly, it will gently catch the hail before it hits plants. Plastic sheets or glass may be far less effective since they can be broken by particularly fierce hail.

Protection From Animals

Bird mesh over berries

We love our pets, but they sure can wreak havoc on the garden. Most coverings should keep them out although sturdier is better. We recommend a good garden bed fence to discourage Fido’s exploration.

Dogs and cats aren’t the only animals that may visit your garden. Birds and wildlife may think that your vegetable garden is the perfect lunch! Bird netting or chicken wire will usually keep them out. If you opt for bird netting though, make sure it’s pulled taut so winged visitors won’t get caught in it.

Larger wild animals, such as deer, may need a bigger barrier. Choose a strong structure with a solid or mesh cover that can’t be easily ripped. Cattle panels are a fantastic choice because they’re made to contain strong animals. They’re made from wire that’s welded into a grid fence. This fencing makes a great structure base for bed coverings.

Remember that even though we want our plants safe, animals still need to eat. If your area is home to wild herbivores, consider leaving a bed uncovered and making a vegetative free-for-all.

Protection From Pests And Diseases

No matter what or where you grow, flying insects will be there. That’s why we love floating row covers. They’re lightweight, portable, and perfect at keeping these pests from laying eggs and munching on the plants. Solid sheeting or tightly-knit fabric as a floating row cover is the most efficient at keeping these insects away.

For crawling pests, you need something anchored directly on the ground or bed so nothing can sneak underneath. Fine mesh laid at the base of the bed or simply securing your floating row cover at the soil’s surface is a great way to keep them out.

Solid sheeting also works for preventing the spread of airborne fungal spores. Creating a full roof out of this will also protect the greenery from excess rain, causing it to slide off to either side and reduce the risk of overwatering.

Unfortunately, keeping out insects includes blocking pollinators. You have to remove or open up the coverings at blossom time if you want your plants to produce.

What don’t garden coverings protect against?

Sadly, all the world’s problems can’t be fixed with a single cover. No matter the setup, they won’t protect your garden against pre-existing soil-based diseases and pests or extreme temperatures (not to mention the occasional tornado or hurricane). Also, depending on the material you choose, the cover may lock in humidity, which can be good or bad depending on the plant.

Types Of Garden Bed Cover Frames

Hoop house frame
A hoop house frame in place on a raised bed. This can support multiple cover types. Source: Sarah and Jason

A protective cover is only as good as its frame, and there are plenty to choose from! Here are the top three frame materials out there.

Wood

It doesn’t get more basic than wood, hammer, and nails. This tried-and-tested material is perfect for cold frames and mobile greenhouses since it easily allows for hinges. Wooden frames are rigid enough to hold up against adverse weather and last for a long time. 

This is one of the more expensive options, especially for those that buy the frame instead of making it as not everyone has carpentry skills. These frames are also usually large, heavy, and awkward to move from one raised garden bed to another.

PVC

PVC pipe is such a gift to the DIY-er. It’s almost like adult tinkertoys, since it comes in and can build so many different shapes. You can form rounded hoop houses, square structures, and even angled roofs. PVC is lightweight, easy to work with, and can be disassembled when not in use. Plus, it’s super affordable!

Because it’s so lightweight, PVC pipe is no match for heavy winds unless you secure it down. That can be tricky too though since you can’t just drive a nail through the pipe. You’ll need an attaching piece that works for the PVC and your garden bed material. This type of frame also has limited choices for openings since it can’t easily be hinged.

Metal

Metal frames are perhaps the most durable. They’re sturdy like wood but won’t rot, soften in the heat, or sustain insect damage. However, metal frames can be much more expensive and hard to make yourself. Metal is also usually heavy and heats up quickly in the afternoon sun. 

Types Of Garden Coverings

Floating row cover on plants without a frame
Even just applying a floating row cover directly over plants can provide protection. Source: Baugher

Now that you’ve picked out your frame, there are plenty of cover materials to choose from. Keeping in mind the material recommended for your situation, take a look at some common raised bed covers and what they’re made from.

Mesh

You can find mesh with varying hole sizes. Go for a large hole mesh if you’re looking to keep out animals since it won’t interfere with the elements. For smaller animals, like birds, small hole mesh is more ideal.

Mesh can be made of practically anything, but gardeners usually rely on polyethylene or polypropylene. It’s inexpensive, lightweight, and can UV resistant.

Fabric

Shade cloth is a popular choice for protecting your garden. Made of polyester, they’re either knitted or woven. The knitted fabric is more lightweight, durable, and better suited for gardening. Woven fabric is heavier and will fray or unravel if cut. Both types allow for ventilation, unlike solid material that traps in heat.

Plants need a spectrum of light rays for photosynthesis. However, extremes on the light spectrum, particularly infrared light, can seriously hinder vegetative growth. The goal of shaded cloth is to block the harmful rays while letting in just enough for photosynthesis. As such, they’re marketed at different filtering levels. For example, 70% shaded cloth blocks out 70% of the sun’s rays. You can find levels from as little as 5% up to 90%. 

Woven fabric is also used for floating row covers. It can be super lightweight, heavy, or anything in between. The heavyweight fabric can protect against the cold and is often used as a frost blanket.

Plastic

This includes quite a variety of strong, waterproof coverings. We’ll break them up into rigid and flexible materials. On the rigid side is plastic panels. They’re usually made of durable polycarbonate and are smooth or corrugated.

Flexible materials, such as plastic sheets, are easy to work with and fit most structures. One popular type is translucent tarps, which are woven tarps with an extra layer of clear plastic. All these materials come in a variety of thicknesses and opacity.

Metal

Chicken wire and other fence materials fall under this category. The metal does its job well and lasts for a long time. For a DIY raised bed cover, we recommend using either chicken wire or hardware cloth. It isn’t actually a cloth, but rather a roll of flexible, gridded wire. Hardware cloth is considerably easier to cut, store, and work with than chicken wire, without sacrificing quality.


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