Greenhouse vs Cold Frame 

By  Enda

What's the difference between a greenhouse and a cold frame?

A greenhouse can be quite a large structure designed to allow you to grow plants all year round and is usually temperature controlled.  A cold frame is usually a small structure, with a transparent roof, which is just high enough to accept new, baby plants. Cold frames keep the plants warm and dry for a short period of time and are mainly used to transition plants from seedlings to full planting out.

Generally speaking any type of greenhouse, mini greenhouse, cold frame, heated frame or a cloche allow you to grow a wider range of plants. That is because any of the above items offer various degrees of protection from the weather and from birds and pets.

They also really help a lot with extending your growing season. As an example of that, with a good greenhouse, you could easily grow early strawberries or late lettuces.

Cloches are often used in vegetable gardens and allotments to help protect vegetables and they are also useful for the protection of many rock and border plants.

We will explain each type below in a lot more detail, as we think that will help explain the key differences. That way you can make a much better choice of protection in terms of what you can afford to buy, and what the alternatives are. However, before that, we have done a direct comparison table of the key differences between a greenhouse and a cold frame.

Quick Comparison Table


  • These can be expensive to purchase with an average price of £500-600 for an 8x6
  • The best choice for all year growing and to extend what you can grow
  • Can be heated and ventilated easily
  • They have lots of room and you can have staging and good working space
  • Available in 8 different styles and shapes
  • A greenhouse that is properly heated and ventilated will allow you to grow almost anything


  • These are much cheaper with an average cost of around £75 and can also be easily made at home
  • Good for acclimatising seedlings and young plants 
  • Can be insulated in the winter
  • You have restricted and limited space in any type of cold frame
  • These come in a few different designs
  • Limited use for growing - mainly for seedlings and young plant growth

Greenhouses - The key things to know

If you are in anyway serious about gardening you really should own a greenhouse. Any type of greenhouse is always going to be better than no greenhouse at all. Our really strong recommendation is always to buy the biggest one that you can afford. Trust us, you will have no trouble whatsoever in filling it with plants.

In the past we have bought and used small greenhouses and oh so quickly they became a great source of frustration as we simply ran out of room. Even if you have to save up for a while, it is better to do that and get as big a greenhouse as you can. That of course assumes you have the room in your garden to have one.


For smaller gardens, or anyone with limited outdoor space, then a mini greenhouse is an excellent choice.

As we mentioned earlier a greenhouse gives you a longer growing season, offers protection from the weather, and more plant growing options. If properly set up and developed, a greenhouse gives you the very best growing opportunities for vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Cold Frames - the key things to know

Cold frames are of course a great option for some gardeners. They don't give you the many benefits of a greenhouse, but they are much cheaper to buy, and also very easy to make at home. Most cold frames have a pretty similar design. They have a low front and a higher back. The top then slopes from back to front.

This sloped design helps prevent rain and snow from resting on the top, and also maximises any available sunlight.

If you plan on buying a cold frame they will either come with a wooden frame or the frame will be made from an aluminium alloy material. In most cases the top and sides will be glazed down to the ground.

cold frame made of wood

These are also easy to make at home and most gardeners will use external plywood to make the frame. Rather than buy expensive glass, many UK gardeners will use some form of clear plastic instead.

Mini- Greenhouse vs Cold Frame

If you have limited space in your garden, or are working on a smaller budget, then a mini greenhouse is certainly worthwhile some consideration. These cost anything between £50-£100 depending on the size and the material the smaller greenhouse is made from.

In some cases, these will be big enough for some gardeners to be able to grow flowers, plants or something like tomatoes or peppers. These usually have a few shelves which make these different from a cold frame. You can get more plants into a mini-greenhouse and they are easier to work at as well.

Both of these can work well in most gardens. The cold frame is much easier to make at home, and can be covered with glass, clear plastic or even rigid plastic including corrugated plastic. Mini-greenhouses tend to be covered with clear plastic and unless cared for this can rip.

It is always worthwhile trying the cold frame first and see if it meets your needs as they are pretty cheap to make at home. That way you can see if they work for you.


I am someone who enjoys a little gardening. Now I am not someone who spend hours in the garden, but I do like both my front and back gardens to look really nice. Well kept lawns, neatly trimmed hedges, and borders filled with plants, make a huge difference, to how your property looks.

Enda McLarnon

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