Whether you’re looking for an organic method of pest control, want to overwinter marginally hardy plants, or are hoping to start gardening earlier in the spring and extend your growing season later into fall, a hoop house may be just what you need. Not only are hoop houses versatile in use, they’re easy and inexpensive to build yourself.

Fall hoop house

A hoop house can help extend your growing season by protecting fall crops.

Photo Credit: Ann L. Mattingly

Hoop house base

Create the base of your hoop house with pieces of ¾-inch PVC pipe set securely in the soil.

Photo Credit: Ann L. Mattingly

PVC hoop placement

Insert the ½-inch pipe into the ¾-inch base to create your hoops.

Photo Credit: Ann L. Mattingly

Hoops in place

This hoop house was put together for an 8- by 4-foot planting area in less than 20 minutes – and for less than $20.

Photo Credit: Ann L. Mattingly

Row covered hoop houses

Floating row cover fabric completes this hoop house for crop protection.

Photo Credit: Ann L. Mattingly

The main part of a hoop house, of course, is its covering. The type you choose depends on how you plan on using your hoop house. For example, if I want to extend my growing season, I may choose to cover my hoop house in either a floating row cover fabric or a sheet of plastic. For insect control, I tend to use a light floating row cover material, and for critter control I may choose bird netting.

A floating row cover or woven polyethylene fabric are excellent means of controlling pests and critters. Both allow air, light and water through – but not insects. I use row cover fabric to deter pests like cabbage loopers, harlequin bugs and flee beetles. A word of warning, though: Make sure there aren’t any insects inside the hoop house or on your plants when you cover them, or they’ll have free rein to eat to their hearts’ content without having to worry about being eaten themselves. Trust me, you don’t want to lift the cover off your “protected” garden to inspect your beautiful little plants and find them eaten to nubs! I know this from firsthand experience!

Plastic is another hoop house covering that can help you extend your growing season and overwinter marginally hardy plants. Keep an eye on your hoop house’s internal temperature, though, as it can warm up under the plastic a great deal during the day.

If you’re trying to keep groundhogs, squirrels, birds, deer, cats and other nuisance critters away from your plants, bird netting is an excellent cover choice. Just know that it doesn’t work to protect against insects or to extend your growing season.

The easiest hoop house to build can be used in raised beds or for in-ground gardening. I use CPVC piping to build the hoops. This piping can be found in most hardware stores and is used for hot water. It has a slightly yellowish color and is narrower than the standard PVC pipe. This narrowness allows for much easier bending when it comes to making the hoops. My hoops are made out of ½-inch CPVC piping and usually run under $3 for a 10-foot length of pipe. I also purchase ¾-inch PVC pipe to use as the base that the ½-inch hoops fit into.

To begin building your hoop house, push a 4- to 6-foot section of the ¾-inch pipe into the ground every 3 feet or so on each side of your crop or row, lining up the pipe sections so they’re directly across from each other. Leave 2-3 inches of the piping above the ground. These pieces will keep the hoops from leaning when you put on the covering.

Now it’s time to put the hoops in place to complete the frame of your hoop house. Place one end of the ½-inch CPVC into the ¾-inch section, pushing it into the ground until it feels secure and bending the remaining length of the pipe over your crop. Place the other end in the ¾-inch base piece you established directly across from it until it, too, is secure. Repeat this with the rest of your hoops until your row or crop is entirely framed.

Cover the hoops with the material of your choice, making sure in all cases that the material is left long enough to hang on the ground. You can fix the covering to the hoops by using garden clips: a plastic U-shaped piece that fits tightly over the covering and CPVC piping. I’ve found a reliable online source for these clips at Pinetree Garden Seeds. I usually use one clip on the top of each hoop. In order to keep a tight seal and insects at bay, I also place stones or pieces of wood on the ends of the material lying on the ground. When you need to get inside the hoop house to weed, water or harvest, simply remove the stones or wood and lift the material. The clips don’t come off very easily and can tear the row cover fabric, so I usually don’t place them further down on the hoops (although you certainly could do this if you choose).

The end of summer or early fall is the perfect time to get started with your own backyard hoop house, particularly if you’re trying to protect your crops from late season insects or an early frost. Growing under hoops is a wonderful way to improve your gardening results, so I hope you give it a try!