What is the Difference Between Greenhouse and Cold Frame

The main difference between greenhouse and cold frame is that cold frames are smaller and shorter than greenhouses.

Both greenhouses and cold frames are manmade structures farmers use to extend the gardening season and to continue gardening throughout the whole year. If you are planning to incorporate an all-year-round gardening structure into your garden, first, you have to choose between a greenhouse or a cold frame, focusing on your growing goals, your gardening space, as well as your budget.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Greenhouse 
      – Definition, Features
2. What is Cold Frame
      – Definition, Features
3. Similarities Between Greenhouse and Cold Frame
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Greenhouse and Cold Frame
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Greenhouse, Cold Frame

Difference Between Greenhouse and Cold Frame - Comparison Summary

What is a Greenhouse

A greenhouse is a building constructed to protect tender or out-of-season crops from excessive weather conditions. We sometimes use the word ‘glasshouse’ to refer to a greenhouse. This is mainly because farmers use glass or plastic to build enclosed framed structures in modern greenhouses. Inside this enclosed structure, shelter is provided for crops like flowers, fruits, and vegetables, which require maintenance of special temperature conditions.

Compare Greenhouse and Cold Frame - What's the difference?

Moreover, span-type greenhouses, which have A-shaped or double-sloped roofs, are the most common greenhouse structures. However, there is no exact standard size for a greenhouse, and you can select a size of your choice based on your needs. Furthermore, every greenhouse has a large expanse of glazing on the roof and on the sides, which exposes the crops to natural sunlight throughout the day.   

What is a Cold Frame

A cold frame refers to a see-through frame that is built outdoors. Farmers build cold frames in order to protect their crops from cold weather conditions. Simply put, a cold frame permits natural sunlight to penetrate through its top, and this helps to preserve the temperature inside.

Greenhouse vs Cold Frame

Similar to a greenhouse, cold frames are typically unheated. The warmth inside the cold frame is generated from the solar energy that gets stored within the structure and soil during the daytime. Also, there are three main parts of a cold frame. They are the top, the sides, and the bottom. Usually, a light-permeable cover like greenhouse plastic or glass serves as the ‘top’ of the cold frame while its sides can have any material that will act as a supportive structure to hold the cover. When it comes to the bottom of the cold frame, we often use soil.

Similarities Between Greenhouse and Cold Frame

  • Cultivators build greenhouses and cold frames to protect their crops in extreme weather conditions.
  • Moreover, greenhouses and cold frames have roofs or tops built with glass or greenhouse plastic through which natural sunlight penetrates.

Difference Between Greenhouse and Cold Frame


A greenhouse is a manmade structure cultivators use to toughen up plants and cultivate off-seasonal crops, while a cold frame is an outdoor structure farmers often build to protect their crops from cold weather conditions.


Moreover, a cold frame is usually smaller in size than a greenhouse


A traditional cold frame is similar to a box with a transparent top, whereas greenhouses come in varying shapes and sizes, both vertical and horizontal.


A greenhouse toughens up the plants and cultivates off-seasonal crops, while a cold frame protects crops from cold weather conditions.


Managing a cold frame is relatively easier than taking care of a greenhouse, as a cold frame is smaller in size.


The main difference between greenhouse and cold frame is that a cold frame is smaller and shorter in size and is built to harden off plants, while greenhouses, which can be built in any size, are used not only to toughen up plants but also to cultivate off-seasonal crops.


1. “Greenhouse.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
2. “Do You Need a Cold Frame or Greenhouse?” Greenhouse Growing.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Greenhouse-plants-strawberries” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “Hand made cold frame” By scrappy annie (CC BY-NC 2.0) via Flickr

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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