Row Cover vs Shade Cloth


Gardening is a craft that relies on the perfect balance of sunlight, water, and care. But with the myriad of tools and techniques available today, it can be challenging to determine the best fit for your plants. A popular debate among garden enthusiasts is “Row Cover vs Shade Cloth.” What are they, and how do they differ? While both are designed to modify the environment for plants, they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics.

Throughout this article, we will dive deep into what makes each unique, and by the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of which one might be best for your gardening needs. So, let’s begin our journey of exploring the 8 key differences between row covers and shade cloths.

What is Row Cover?

What Is Row Cover

Row covers are simple yet effective tools used by gardeners to protect their plants. Think of them as lightweight blankets for your garden. They are usually made of a light fabric material that’s laid directly over plants. The primary purpose of row covers is to offer a shield against cold temperatures and light frosts, ensuring that plants remain warm and safe. They also provide an added benefit of keeping away some pests and insects.

What is Shade Cloth?

What Is Shade Cloth

Shade cloth is a versatile material used in gardening and agriculture to control the amount of sunlight that reaches plants. Made from woven or knitted fabric, it is available in various densities, allowing different levels of light to pass through. The primary purpose of shade cloth is to protect plants from intense sunlight, reducing heat stress and preventing sunburn on leaves and fruits.

What are the Differences Between Row Cover and Shade Cloth?

When it comes to optimizing the growth of plants and managing the garden’s environment, both row covers and shade cloths come into play. But how do they differ? Let’s dive into the eight significant distinctions one by one.

1. Purpose and Primary Use

  • Row Cover: Row covers are primarily used to protect plants from pests, cold temperatures, and unexpected frost. They act like a shield, keeping plants safe from harmful insects while also providing a slight boost in temperature. Gardeners often use row covers during early spring or late fall, when unexpected cold snaps can harm young plants.
  • Shade Cloth: On the other hand, shade cloth is designed to shield plants from the harsh rays of the sun. It’s particularly useful during hot summer days when intense sunlight can cause plants to wilt or even get sunburned. By reducing the amount of direct sunlight, shade cloths help ensure plants receive just the right amount of light and remain healthy.

In essence, while row covers are more about protection from the cold and pests, shade cloths focus on protection from too much sunlight. Both serve unique purposes in the garden, ensuring plants have the best environment for growth.

2. Material Composition

Row covers and shade cloths, while both used in gardening, are made of different materials that cater to their specific uses.

  • Row Cover: Row covers are typically made from lightweight fabric, often a spun polyester or a polypropylene. This material feels somewhat like a soft, thin blanket. Its design allows it to trap a bit of warmth while still letting in sunlight and rain.

Row Cover MaterialSource:

  • Shade Cloth: On the other hand, shade cloths are made from woven or knitted fabric, commonly using polyethylene materials. The material is sturdier and denser compared to row covers. Its primary purpose is to filter sunlight and create shade. Hence, it often has a mesh-like appearance with tiny holes that allow some light and air to pass through.

Shade Cloth Material

To put it simply, row covers are soft and light, designed for protection, while shade cloths are more robust and dense, designed to provide shade. It’s essential to understand these material differences when deciding which one to use for your plants.

3. Light Transmission

When we talk about light transmittance, we’re looking at how much sunlight can pass through a material. It’s a crucial aspect for plants as they need sunlight for growth. Let’s dive into how row covers and shade cloths differ in this regard.

  • Row Cover: Row covers are designed primarily to protect plants from cold temperatures, pests, and other potential threats. While they do allow sunlight to pass through, the amount varies based on the type of row cover you choose. Some row covers might let in a high percentage of sunlight, while others may be more opaque, allowing only a fraction. It’s important to pick the right kind for your garden’s needs.
  • Shade Cloth: As the name suggests, shade cloths are meant to provide shade. They block a portion of sunlight to prevent plants from getting too much heat. These cloths come in various densities, often categorized by the percentage of sunlight they block, like 30%, 50%, or even 70%. So, if you have plants that need protection from intense sunlight, a shade cloth can be a great choice.

In summary, while both row covers and shade cloths control the amount of sunlight reaching the plants, their primary purposes are different. Row covers focus more on protection, and their light transmittance varies. On the other hand, shade cloths are all about controlling sunlight intensity, with options available based on how much light you want to block.

4. Air Permeability

Breathability is essential in the world of gardening. It determines how well air circulates around plants, which affects their health and growth.

  • Row Cover: Row covers are typically designed with breathability in mind. Made from lightweight materials, they allow air to flow freely around plants. This airflow helps reduce the risk of mold and other diseases, while also ensuring that plants get the carbon dioxide they need for photosynthesis. For young plants or those sensitive to environmental changes, this can be a game-changer.

Row Cover Shade ClothSource:

  • Shade Cloth: Shade cloths, while primarily designed to block out sunlight, also offer some breathability. However, it’s less than that of row covers. Made from denser materials, shade cloths might restrict airflow slightly more. But don’t be mistaken; they still allow for sufficient circulation, ensuring plants don’t suffocate or become overly humid.

In short, while both row covers and shade cloths provide air circulation, row covers have a slight edge in terms of breathability. When choosing between the two, consider the specific needs of your plants and how much airflow they require to thrive.

5. Season Of Use

Row covers and shade cloths differ considerably when it comes to their primary seasons of use.

  • Row Cover: Row covers are mainly used during early spring and late fall. Their primary purpose is to protect tender plants from the unexpected cold snaps, frost, and light freezes that can happen during these transition periods. By using a row cover, gardeners can extend their growing season, allowing them to plant earlier in the spring and keep crops longer into the fall.
  • Shade Cloth: On the other hand, shade cloth is primarily used during the hot, sunny months of summer. When the sun’s rays become too intense, they can scorch and damage plants. Shade cloths act as a protective barrier, shielding plants from direct sunlight and reducing the overall temperature underneath. This ensures that the plants remain healthy and don’t wilt or suffer from heat stress.

In essence, while row covers are like a cozy blanket for plants during cooler times, shade cloths act like a sun hat during the hotter days.

To decide which one to use, it’s essential to consider the current season and the specific needs of your plants. If you’re looking to guard against the cold, row covers are your go-to. But if you’re aiming to protect plants from the scorching sun, shade cloths are the better choice.

6. Durability and Lifespan

When considering the use of row covers or shade cloths, understanding their durability and lifespan is essential for making an informed decision.

  • Row Cover: Row covers, typically made from lightweight materials like spun polyester or a polypropylene, can vary in their durability. Lighter weight row covers are less durable and may only last one season, especially if exposed to harsh weather conditions or direct sunlight for extended periods. Heavier row covers, while more durable, may still require replacement after a few seasons of use.
  • Shade Cloth: Shade cloths, on the other hand, tend to have a longer lifespan. They are usually made from woven or knitted polyethylene, materials that are more resilient to weathering and UV degradation. A high-quality shade cloth can last for several years, even when left outside year-round. However, the actual lifespan will depend on the conditions it is exposed to and how well it is maintained.

Durable Shade ClothSource:

In summary, while row covers are generally less durable and have a shorter lifespan than shade cloths, they can still provide valuable protection for plants. The choice between the two should be based on the specific needs of your garden, , and how frequently you are willing to replace or maintain the covering material.

7. Involved Cost

A key factor many gardeners consider when deciding between row covers and shade cloths is the cost involved. Each option comes with its own set of expenses, which can vary based on quality, size, and brand.

  • Row Cover: Row covers, being lightweight, tend to be less expensive upfront. They are often sold by the yard or in pre-cut sizes, allowing gardeners to purchase according to their specific needs. However, due to their lesser durability, you might find yourself replacing them more often, especially if they’re exposed to harsh conditions.
  • Shade Cloth: Shade cloths, on the other hand, are typically more of an investment. Made from sturdier materials, the initial cost of shade cloths is usually higher than that of row covers. But given their longer lifespan and durability, they can prove to be more cost-effective in the long run. The cost can also vary based on the density and UV protection offered by the shade cloth.

In summary, while row covers may be more budget-friendly initially, shade cloths might offer better value over time. It’s essential to weigh the immediate cost against the long-term benefits and durability when choosing the right option for your garden. Consider not just the initial expense but also the potential costs of replacement and maintenance in the future.

8. Installation and Maintenance

Both row covers and shade cloths serve gardeners and farmers by creating better environments for plants. But how easy are they to set up and care for? Let’s dive into their installation and maintenance needs.

Row Cover:

  • Installation: Setting up row covers is straightforward. Spread them over the plant rows and secure the edges with soil, rocks, or stakes. They should be placed loosely over plants, allowing room for growth.
  • Maintenance: Cleaning row covers is easy. Shake off any dirt or debris, and when needed, wash them gently with water and let them air dry. Over time, they might get small tears. Simple sewing or patching can often fix these.

Install Row CoverSource:

Shade Cloth:

  • Installation: Shade cloths are typically hung over plants or attached to a frame. Use clips or ties to fix them to the structure. Make sure the cloth is taut to prevent sagging.
  • Maintenance: To keep your shade cloth in good shape, clean it from time to time. A soft brush can be used to remove any settled dust. If it gets too dirty, rinse with water. It’s good practice to inspect for any wear and tear, addressing any issues as they arise.

In summary, both row covers and shade cloths are user-friendly when it comes to setup and care. They each have their own methods, but neither is too demanding. Regular checks and simple cleaning can ensure they last and do their job effectively.

How To Choose Between Row Cover and Shade Cloth?

Choosing between row covers and shade cloth isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision. Here are some simple guidelines to help make your choice easier:

1. Plant Type: First, consider the plants you’re growing. If you’re looking to protect plants from pests or slightly chilly weather, row covers are a great choice. However, if your main aim is to shield plants from strong sunlight or provide even shade, a shade cloth is more suitable.

2. Location and Climate: Think about where you’re located. If you’re in an area with mild winters and want to extend the growing season a bit, row covers can be handy. For hotter areas where scorching sun is a concern, shade cloth will be your best friend.

Choose Shade Cloth

3. Budget: While both tools are generally affordable, row covers tend to be less expensive than shade cloths. However, it’s essential to remember that investing in the right tool can save you money in the long run by protecting your plants better.

4. Maintenance: Both row covers and shade cloths require some level of maintenance. Yet, if you’re looking for something a tad easier to handle, you might prefer row covers. They’re lightweight and simpler to move around. On the other hand, shade cloths, once installed, can be left in place for a longer time without much fuss.

In conclusion, your decision should be based on your specific needs and the environment your plants are in. Evaluate each factor, weigh the pros and cons, and you’ll find the best solution for your garden.


In the world of gardening and agriculture, the tools we select significantly impact the quality and yield of our crops. Row covers and shade cloths, while seemingly similar, serve distinct purposes and uses. Row cover is primarily used to protect plants from insects, frost, and wind, offering a more enclosed environment. Shade cloth is designed to reduce sunlight and heat, providing protection against excessive sun exposure.

Both have their own set of advantages, but it’s essential to consider factors like durability, cost, and installation before making a choice. Always keep in mind your end goal, whether it’s to extend the growing season, shield plants from harsh weather, or prevent pest invasions.

Lastly, if you find yourself leaning towards the versatility and protection of shade cloth, QiBang Netting stands ready to provide top-quality solutions tailored for your needs. Remember, the right choice today leads to a thriving garden tomorrow. Contact QiBang Netting for all your shade cloth requirements!