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Easy and Cheap DIY Cover to Protect Lettuce from Pests

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Lettuce and arugula patch covered with netting draped over sticks and secured in place with rocks on the left side of the image and lettuce plants and arugula plants growing in soil on the right side of the image.

For some people, simply putting a fence around their garden is enough to protect their lettuce from being eaten by pests like insects and animals. I’ve never found a fence to be enough for my lettuce, though. So, since I wanted to actually be able to eat some of the lettuce myself, I wanted to come up with something that would be an easy and cheap DIY cover to protect my lettuce plants from pests.

A good three foot tall chicken wire fence seems to work pretty well to keep the rabbits out for me, but I’ve still found my lettuce eaten by something in past years. I’m wondering if it might have actually been squirrels or chipmunks nibbling on my lettuce because I don’t have problems with deer where I live, and I don’t think it was a groundhog because a groundhog would have devoured a lot more plants than just eating some lettuce. And so, unless there were some very ravenous insects eating away at my lettuce, squirrels or chipmunks seem to be the likely culprits for my garden at least.

I wanted something that would be pretty easy and simple to put up, something that would help to deter pests from getting at my lettuce, something that wouldn’t cost much, and something that wouldn’t be too hard to me to get into to be able to harvest lettuce or other greens like arugula, etc.

Items Needed to Create a DIY Cover for Protecting Lettuce

What I ended up using was a very simple setup with some fine mesh netting, some short sticks and/or broken bamboo bean poles from previous garden seasons, and some rocks I gathered from around the yard. So the only item that was purchased for this was the netting, but even that was something that had been from a previous year that I’ve reused several times.

I couldn’t find the exact netting that I got before because it was several years ago that I ordered it, but this looks pretty similar to the netting that I used. You want something that is lightweight enough that both light and water will pass through it, but you also want a fine enough mesh that it will help to keep insects out. And, sadly, I’ve found from personal experience that using bird netting with larger holes can kill chipmunks because they try to get their heads through the holes and then get stuck. So I like to stick with a fine mesh netting now to avoid that problem. It’s also important to make sure that the amount of netting you get is a big enough size for both the length and the width that it will fit the size of your lettuce bed taking into account the fact that you will be raising it a foot or so off of the ground and also needing a bit of extra netting to be a border around the bed that is secured with rocks or some other weights. Since you can always trim extra netting if it’s too big, it’s probably better to get one that’s a bit bigger than you need than one that’s smaller.

You could buy some arched supports to go over your lettuce beds and drape the netting over them if you wanted, but I found that it worked just as well to just use some sticks and broken bean poles that I already had in the yard. It might not be quite as aesthetically pleasing, but it works perfectly well and it’s one less thing that you have to buy. Whatever you choose to use, you just want them to be tall enough that the netting can rest high enough above the plants that the lettuce plants have room to grow, but you also want to make sure that they aren’t so tall that the netting won’t be able to reach the ground on all four sides (or else the pests will have an open door to get right in at your lettuce.)

And the last thing that you need is just a pile of rocks from your yard or anything else that you can use to weigh the netting down on all four sides. You could also use boards or bricks, or anything you have lying around that will keep the netting secured to the ground all around the perimeter of your lettuce bed.

Setting Up the DIY Lettuce Cover

What I did was to put a stick in each corner of the area where I had my lettuce planted, and they were approximately a foot or so off the ground. They weren’t all exactly the same length because I was just using what I could find easily, and my lettuce is planted in an out-of-the-way area in the back of my garden. If you want it to look nicer, though, you can make sure your sticks are all the same length so it looks more even. Depending on the size of the area where you are planting your lettuce you might also want to add another stick in between each of the four corners to give it some more stability (so eight sticks total), so that the netting doesn’t drape down too much in between the sticks. You basically just want the the netting to be suspended in the air above the lettuce so it isn’t touching the lettuce and the lettuce has some room to grow.

And then I made sure the netting was draped over the sticks in a way that would allow there to be a couple of inches of netting on the ground on all four sides. If the netting isn’t touching the ground on all four sides you can still end up with openings for insects or small animals to get in and eat your lettuce.

And then once I had the netting positioned in place with some spare netting on the ground on all four sides, I used several small rocks that I found in the yard to weigh the netting down so that it would stay on the ground. You want to use enough rocks that you have a pretty good border all the way around without any big gaps between rocks. And if you decide to use boards or bricks or something similar you would do the same thing so that the borders are secured all the way around.

Bed of lettuce and arugula with a fine mesh netting cover over it suspended by sticks with rocks weighing down the netting all around the border.

How the DIY Lettuce Cover Works

I’ve found that this DIY lettuce protective cover has worked really well for me in keeping out smaller animals like squirrels and chipmunks. I don’t know for sure if it would work as well for larger animals such as rabbits, deer, groundhogs, etc. but I’ve found from other times when I’ve used netting that the netting tends to work fairly well as a deterrent. Even though the animals could get through the netting into the plants if they really tried, I’ve found that it usually seems to be enough of a barrier to confuse them a bit and make them go for something easier to eat. So, it’s not a guarantee, but it definitely seems to work better than just leaving the lettuce plants exposed.

And as far as insect pests go, I haven’t had as much of a problem with insects either. Crawling insects can still get into the netting, but the netting will help to keep flying insects out (as long as you are careful to secure the netting down to the ground on all four sides each time you harvest some. So, I’ve had some slugs eating at my lettuce, but I haven’t noticed too much of a problem with other insects so far this year.

And when it comes time to harvest some lettuce, I usually just move the rocks on one side and lift up the netting a bit so that I can reach in and grab what I want without having to take all of the rocks and netting off on all of the sides. It’s a bit more difficult to harvest than it would be without the netting barrier, but in the past when I didn’t use the netting I hardly got to harvest any lettuce at all, so I’ve found that it’s worth the little bit of extra effort to actually be able to eat some of the lettuce that I grew rather than having the animals or insects eat it all.

This past spring I had the best year with growing lettuce that I’ve had so far, and I think it was a combination of the weather being good, planting my lettuce a bit earlier than I had in previous years, and using the netting to protect my plants. At this point the original lettuce and arugula plants I put in the ground a couple of months ago are bolting and looking nowhere near as good as they did when I took these pictures, but I’m hoping to try putting in some more heat-tolerant lettuce varieties over the summer and then I’d like to grow some more lettuce and arugula into the cooler months in the fall, too.

I love being able to go outside and harvest lettuce fresh right from the garden, and using this DIY netting cover for my plants has really helped to protect my lettuce patch since I started using it, and I hope that maybe it will help to protect your lettuce plants, too.

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Lettuce and arugula seedlings growing in soil on the top half of the image and lettuce and arugula patch covered with netting draped over sticks and secured in place with rocks on the bottom half of the image with a text overlay in the center that reads "Easy and Cheap DIY Cover to Protect Lettuce from Pests."
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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William Post

Wednesday 26th of June 2024

The netting IS a good idea. My son uses it for his raised bed garden to keep the birds out. I may use it for my strawberry plants to keep the squirrels from eating every one! I grew a cherry tomato plant this year (which grew very well) and the Scrub Jays and Blackbirds would fly in and pick them every day and feed them to their babies! Sooo cute,I didn't have the heart to cover them.

Lori Elliott

Friday 28th of June 2024

I've used netting for strawberries before, too, and it's the only way I've been able to actually get any strawberries. And that's so adorable that the birds were feeding the tomatoes to their babies! I would have left them uncovered if I saw that in my garden, too.

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