The 8 Best Cold Frames, According to a Master Gardener

The Year-Round Cold Frame from Exaco is our top choice.

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Plants in a cold frame

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Treehugger Approved

Our Best Overall choice is the Exaco Year-Round frame. Our second choice is the Exaco BioStar 1500 Premium Cold Frame, although it's a bigger and pricier option.

It’s not just a far-fetched dream to be growing and eating your own food during colder months. Cold frames make it possible. Similar to the benefits you can get from greenhouses, cold frames allow you to extend your garden by months, even harvesting fruits, veggies, and herbs in winter (depending on where you live). Plus, it’s a really affordable and easy way to dabble in off-season gardening or starting seed in early spring. 

Unlike greenhouses or grow lights, which might take a little more investment or time to get started, cold frames offer a pretty quick and easy set-up. If you're handy, you could even build your own, using scrap or upcycled wood. Some people have even figured out how to turn old windows into inexpensive cold frames. One of the best perks of having a cold frame is that it’s an investment that will pay off for years. Once you have a designated growing space, it shouldn’t require much maintenance, and you’ll be able to use it in every season.

Here are the best cold frames to consider:

Best Overall: Exaco Year-Round Cold Frame

4.9
Exaco Year-Round Cold Frame

Amazon

Dimensions: 50 x 23 x 16 inches | Weight: 16 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

This durable, reliable cold frame is designed so you can use it year-round. The dual-function lid offers excellent insulation in winter, and then in spring and summer, it has a screen to keep your plants away from hungry insects. It's our top pick thanks to its combination of size, durability, and value.

At only 16 pounds total, you can easily break it down when it’s not in use or move it to other areas of your yard. The lid has the ability to stay open while you’re planting or tending to your garden. Go ahead and use this cold frame to make your growing season last longer than you ever thought possible.

Runner Up: Exaco Trading Biostar 1500 Cold Frame

Biostar 1500 Cold Frame

Courtesy of Amazon

Dimensions: 59 x 32 x 16 inches |  Weight: 23 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

A bigger (and more expensive) variation of our top pick, this is one of the most durable, reliable, and easy cold frames on the market today. Made to withstand up to 6 feet of snow with extra strength and insulation, it’s truly an option for any climate.

Gardeners especially love it because they can break it down and store it flat during the height of the season, allowing them to maximize their growing space. There are three separate roof windows—one even has an automated opener, which comes in handy when you want to quickly open it up for ventilation. Since it comes with a 10-year warranty, you can feel good knowing this unit can help you extend your season for years to come.

Best Budget: Outsunny 5.91' W x 1.75' D Cold Frame

Outsunny Cold Frame

Courtesy of Wayfair

Dimensions: 71 x 21 x 20 inches |  Weight: 8 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

Although it's not made from the most sustainable materials, this lightweight cold frame with protect your plants from chilly weather at an affordable price. Transparent polycarbonate panels are supported by an aluminum framework, with an adjustable roof for ventilation. This cold frame has no floor, so it's good if you want to protect plants that have already been planted directly in the ground.

The main drawback of this cold frame is assembly. It ships in a flatpack (which is good for shipping efficiency), but that means you need to build the structure yourself at home. Give yourself at least half an hour to put it together, and be sure to keep track of the many screws and small components.

Best Portable: Erommy Portable Mini Greenhouse

Portable Mini Greenhouse

Erommy

Dimensions: 95 x 32 x 32 inches | Weight: 9 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

You’ll be able to grow just about anywhere you have sunshine with this easy-to-install frame. The rectangle frame gives you plenty of space to grow and weighs in at only 9 pounds total, one of the lighter options for its size.

The steel frames won’t rust, and the PVC cover is heavy duty and able to stand up to just about any weather. It’s such a simple, yet affordable design that will truly give you the power to extend your growing season or start seeds weeks earlier than usual. Move it around anywhere you need it, or keep it in one spot throughout the year.

Best Handmade: Home Garden LLC Cedar Cold Frame

Home Garden LLC Cedar Cold Frame

Courtesy of Etsy

Dimensions: 48 x 24 x 14 inches | Weight: Not listed |  Assembly Required: Yes

Support a craftsperson with this cold frame handmade from cedar. Once assembled (easy instructions are included), it sits 48 inches long x 24 inches wide x 14 inches tall. It also includes a double-wall polycarbonate top that allows the cold frame to absorb sunlight to help keep plants warm in cold weather. It's a quality design, and the seller is quick to respond if you have questions.

If this cold frame inspires you to want to build an entire piece on your own, then check out the plans from this artisan on Etsy. It comes with detailed instructions and all the info you need to build one from start to finish.

Best Pop-Up: Zenport SH3212A Garden Cold Frame Greenhouse Cloche

Zenport SH3212A Garden Cold Frame Greenhouse Cloche

Courtesy of Amazon

Dimensions: 47 x 23 x 23 inches | Weight: 4 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

Here’s another affordable option for creating your own cold frame. Since it easily pops up, you can pretty much create a mini garden instantly. It’ll work great in your existing garden, on a deck, a patio, or any other sunny location where you have the space.

The waterproof, transparent cover is easy to zip up, offering easy access to plants and good ventilation. When you’re done with the frame, just fold it flat for storage. This would be a simple solution for starting your own seeds in spring. Just put your seed-starting trays down, and cover with this portable frame.

Best for Small Spaces: Giantex Portable Wooden Cold Frame

Wooden Cold Frame

Amazon

Dimensions: 39 x 25 x 15 inches | Weight: 9 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

With a hinged lid, this compact cold frame gives easy access to your seedlings. It’s available in multiple sizes, yet all are compatible and fit well into small spaces. It's big enough to kickstart your garden without hogging up too much space.

The frame is made from heavy-duty wood and has a foldable top you can have open or closed. The entire unit can be broken down easily and reassembled without any tools required.

Best Elevated: Happy Grill Wooden Cold Frame

Happy Grill Cold Frame

Courtesy of Amazon

Dimensions: 30 x 23 x 43 inches | Weight: 24 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

Cold frames are traditionally low to the ground, but with this one, you don’t have to do a lot of bending or kneeling because it’s elevated (your back will thank you). It has two shelves for vertical gardening.

You can open the wood unit both from the side and the top, making for easy access and ventilation. Polycarbonate glazing board keeps your plants warm. Plus, all parts are detachable, so you can set it up wherever and move it as the season shifts.

Best for a Patio: Mcombo Wooden Cold Frame Kit with Shelf

Wooden Cold Frame with Shelf

Amazon

Dimensions: 36 x 20 x 40 inches | Weight: 44 pounds | Assembly Required: Yes

Space isn’t an issue with this cold frame. You can set it up on a deck, patio, or porch and still extend your season in spring, fall, or both! Made from solid fir wood, this design features transparent polycarbonate panels, which will help retain heat in spring and protect plants in fall.

Underneath, you’ll find a shelf to give you extra storage or space for your garden supplies. It would be perfect for starting seeds or protecting plants from frost. It would also make a great gift for the gardener in your life, because there are so many uses for it. 

Final Verdict

You can’t go wrong with the Exaco Year-Round frame, which you can find at many major retailers. If you want a frame for a small space or patio, check out this raised Mini Greenhouse. It’s the perfect spot for starting seeds in spring, and it can keep plants going through fall.

What to Consider When Shopping for a Cold Frame

Size and Location

What’s the space you have open to host a cold frame? Is it more of a rectangle or a square? Do you know the exact dimensions? Does the entire space get sunshine regularly? Knowing these things ahead of time is essential in choosing the right one for you. Measure the space where you’d like to place your cold frame, and check the dimensions before ordering.

Ventilation

This is an important part of growing any plants. You need good ventilation to have proper air circulation for plants to grow and thrive. This doesn’t have to be a fancy system—just having air flow is a good start. A cold frame shouldn’t be shut tight all the time. When it's starting to get warmer, you’ll want to be able to open up the top during the day to let in fresh air and prevent overheating. Bonus points if the top stays open on its own.

Materials

Look for durable materials, like heavy recycled plastic or solid wood, which will be able to withstand wind, rain, and other weather conditions. Learning about what a cold frame is made from can be a key indicator of the overall longevity. Also, make sure the panels (like polycarbonate panels) are transparent to let in plenty of sunlight for the overall good of the plants.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the difference between a cold frame and a greenhouse?

    Cold frames and greenhouses can look quite similar. In fact, many people will use the names interchangeably, or they’ll call a cold frame a cold greenhouse. Essentially, greenhouses often have a heat and/or light source they use to truly offer year-round growing options. Meanwhile, a cold frame lacks these and instead draws heat and energy from elements like the sun or ground. This might limit your options, but it will still allow you to extend your typical growing season by many months.

  • Where should you place a cold frame?

    Because cold frames don’t rely on outside elements or heat sources, it’s important to choose a good, sunny location. This will be the best thing you can do in order to have success overall. Some people will nestle their cold frames into the ground to utilize the natural heat of the ground. If you do this, it’s still important to choose a sunny location.

  • Do cold frames need to be airtight?

    It’s a myth to think the cold frames need to be airtight in order to keep all cold air out. This isn’t true at all. In fact, it’s good for the frame to have some air flow and the option to add more if needed.

  • How much cold can a cold frame withstand?

    This is dependent on a lot of factors. First, it depends on the type of crop or plant you’re trying to grow. It also matters as to how much insulation you have around your frame. If you choose to surround your frame with natural or synthetic insulation, plants can sometimes thrive even when temperatures are below freezing.

Why Trust Treehugger

Treehugger wants to help you grow year-round, allowing you to be more sustainable and self-sufficient. The author, Stacy Tornio, is a master gardener who lives in Wisconsin, so she knows how important it is to extend the growing season as much as possible. She’s been gardening since she was a kid and writing about plants for over 15 years.