Low Tunnel Gardening

Are you looking for a way to grow your veggies into the colder months? Or get a jump start on your garden in the spring? Low tunnels may be the solution you’ve been searching for!

I’m so excited because I just installed my first low tunnel, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. These temporary structures are easy to build and can provide a mini greenhouse over your crops.

Low tunnels are typically 3 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide. You can construct them using wire hoops or pipe to support fabric or plastic cover, depending on what your goal is. Mine currently has shade cloth to protect my cool-weather seedlings from the August heat.

But if you use a plastic sheet, it creates a warm and protected environment for your plants. This allows you to grow cool-season vegetables such as kale, spinach, and beets even in the winter months. 

These mini greenhouses are a great way to get a head start in the spring, and keep growing later into the fall. Let’s take a look at what makes these mini hoop tunnels so wonderful!

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What are Low Tunnels?

Low tunnels are temporary structures that you build using hoops made of wire or pipe and covered with fabric or plastic cover. They are typically 3 to 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall, creating a small shelter over the crops.

These little hoop houses are used to protect crops from all kinds of elements, depending on what kind of cover you use. They’re a great tool for season extension in the garden!

Benefits of Low Tunnels

Low tunnels offer several benefits for gardeners and farmers, including:

  • Extended growing season: Can help you start planting in early spring and extend the growing season into the fall and even winter months, allowing you to harvest fresh produce for a longer period of time.
  • Protection from pests: Can help keep pests, such as insects and rodents, away from your crops, reducing the need for pesticides and other chemical treatments.
  • Protection from harsh weather conditions: Can protect your crops from frost, wind, heavy rain, and other weather conditions that can damage or destroy plants.
  • Increased yield: Can help increase the yield of your crops, resulting in a more abundant harvest by creating a warm and humid environment.

In addition to these benefits, they are also relatively easy to construct and maintain, making them a great option for gardeners and farmers of all skill levels. Their small size makes them great for raised beds, as well.

With a little bit of planning and effort, you can enjoy the benefits of low tunnels and lengthen your growing season while protecting your crops from pests and harsh weather conditions.

Installing a Low Tunnel

I opted to purchase some low tunnel hoops for my vegetable garden, but you can also install a DIY low tunnel frame using materials like rebar stakes and PVC pipe. Becky at The Seasonal Homestead has a great step-by-step tutorial of her husband’s set up.

At minimum you need:

  • metal hoops, or other sturdy material (mine are actually fiberglass)
  • stakes to secure the hoops (if yours aren’t going directly in the ground)
  • something to cover the tunnel (plastic sheeting, row cover, shade cloth, etc.)
  • sandbags or other weights to keep your cover in place
  • seeds or seedling to grow in your newly constructed low tunnel (or were you doing this for the aesthetic?)
Low tunnel covered in shade cloth

Since I bought a kit, it was a very quick installation with the ends of the hoops going right into the ground. I installed my low tunnel on some of the best soil in my garden, so it was easy to poke the ends into the ground deep enough they wouldn’t spring back out.

Once you have everything together, install your hoops or frame, cover with your chosen covering, and secure the covering into place. Then you are ready to plant in your new tunnel!

Using a Low Tunnel

Before you choose your covering for your low tunnel, you need to know what your goal is. Different covers perform different functions.

There are several types of covers that can be used to cover a low tunnel in the garden. Here are some of the most common ones and their uses:

  1. Row cover: This is a lightweight fabric cover that helps to protect plants from harsh weather conditions such as frost, wind, and heavy rain. It also helps to keep pests and insects away from the plants.
  2. Plastic sheeting: This is a clear or opaque plastic cover that creates a type of cold frame and is used to protect plants from cold weather and frost. It can also help to retain moisture in the soil and promote faster growth.
  3. Shade cloth: This is a mesh-like fabric cover that is used to provide shade for plants during hot weather. It can also help to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the plants, which can be beneficial for some types of plants.
  4. Insect netting: This is a mesh-like cover that is used to keep moths and butterflies away from plants. These covers are designed to keep insects out while still allowing air and sunlight to reach the plants.

The purpose of these covers is to provide protection for plants from various weather conditions, pests, and animals. They can also help to promote faster growth and better yields.

Low Tunnel vs High Tunnel

You may be wondering if a low tunnel is like a mini greenhouse, why not just build a big one and grow more? For me, a low tunnel was an obvious choice, but maybe it isn’t for you.

When it comes to protecting your crops from pests, inclement weather, and increasing crop yields, both low tunnels and high tunnels can be effective. However, there are some key differences between the two that you should consider before deciding which one to use.

Low Tunnels

Typically, low tunnels are 3 to 4 feet tall, and between 3 and 6 feet wide. This means they require less space, making them a good option for small gardens or backyard growers. They’re small, easy to install, and pretty portable.

This shorter tunnel is often more affordable and easier to maintain than their taller “big brothers.”  Low tunnels are great for crops that don’t require a lot of vertical space, such as lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens.

High Tunnels

High tunnels, on the other hand, are taller and wider than low tunnels, providing more space and a wider variety of crops. They are typically constructed using metal or PVC pipes, which are anchored into the ground and covered with a protective material, such as greenhouse plastic.

These larger structures are ideal for crops that require more vertical space, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. They also offer better protection from pests and inclement weather, which can help increase crop yields. However, these larger structures are more expensive and require more maintenance.

Overall, the choice between low tunnels and high profile tunnels will depend on your specific needs, space, and budget.

Small garden or backyard? Growing crops that don’t require a lot of vertical space? A smaller version may be the best option for you.

Bigger garden? Growing crops that require more vertical space? A larger walk-in tunnel may be the way to go.


Low tunnels are a great way to extend your growing season, protect your crops from pests and harsh weather conditions, and increase your yield.

Remember to choose the right materials for your low tunnel, and cover them with a suitable material based on your gardening goals. And make sure to properly secure your low tunnel to prevent it from collapsing or getting damaged.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different crops and techniques to find what works best for you. With a little practice, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh, homegrown produce year-round.

Thank you for reading and happy gardening!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you build a low tunnel for frost protection?

To build a low tunnel for frost protection, you’ll need to start by installing hoops or arches over your garden bed. These can be made from PVC pipes, metal conduit, or other materials. Once you’ve installed the hoops, you can cover them with a frost protection fabric, such as row cover or agricultural fleece. This will help trap heat and protect your plants from frost damage. You can also add additional layers of insulation, such as bubble wrap, to provide extra protection.

What are the benefits of low tunnels in gardening?

Low tunnels are a great way to extend your growing season and protect your plants from pests and harsh weather conditions. They are also easy to install and are used to cover a wide variety of crops. By using low tunnel hoops, you can create a microclimate that is ideal for plant growth. This can result in healthier plants and higher yields.

What types of crops best suit low tunnels?

Low tunnels are ideal for growing a wide variety of crops. Try cool-season vegetables like lettuce, spinach, brassicas, root vegetables, and even strawberries!

How do you choose the right low tunnel fabric for your garden?

When choosing a low tunnel fabric, it’s important to consider factors like durability, breathability, and UV resistance. Row cover and agricultural fleece are two popular options for frost protection. Shade cloth and insect netting can be used to protect against pests and harsh sunlight. Be sure to choose a fabric that is appropriate for your specific gardening needs and that will provide the level of protection you need.

What are the advantages of using a low tunnel kit?

A low tunnel kit can be a great option for gardeners who want a more convenient way to set up a low tunnel. These kits typically include pre-cut hoops or arches, as well as a fabric cover that is designed to fit the hoops perfectly. This can save you time and effort, and can ensure that your low tunnel is set up correctly and securely.

What are the differences between low tunnels and high tunnels for gardening?

Low tunnels are smaller and lower to the ground than high tunnels, which are typically larger and taller structures.. The larger, passive solar greenhouses are designed to provide more protection from the elements and can be used to grow crops year-round. However, they are also more expensive and require more effort to set up and maintain than low tunnels. Low tunnels are a more affordable and accessible option for many gardeners. But they still provide significant benefits in terms of crop yield and protection.

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