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5 DIY Tabletop Greenhouses You Can Build Today (With Pictures)

cold frame with tomato plants

When they hear the word ‘greenhouse’, most people think of those giant glass greenhouses, but you might be surprised to know you can grow plants in a small box that can fit on a table too. Anything with enough space for soil and plants can become a cold frame or miniature greenhouse. We’ve gathered some of the best small greenhouses/cold frames you can build today with only a few materials.

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Before You Begin: What Is a Cold Frame?

A cold frame is kind of like a greenhouse, but much smaller and without heat sources or ventilation. At its core, just a box and soil suitable for plant growth. Cold frames can be brought inside with vulnerable seedlings in the late winter before the ground thaws, or to extend a growing season for another few weeks. Cabbage, for instance, can be grown for up to 2 months in a cold frame past the end of the season!

The 5 Plans for DIY Tabletop Greenhouses

1. DIY Dollar Store Bin Cold Frame

diy dollar store bin cold frame
Image By: Rural Sprout
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Tools: Power drill
Supplies: Clear tote/bin with lid, potting soil, seeds/seedlings, fertilizer (optional)

This is one of the simplest cold frames you can make for cheap, assuming you already have a drill at home. You just need a clear bin from the dollar store with a clear lid, then flip it over. Drill as many drainage holes in the bottom as you wish—at least one on each side is wise. Use high-quality potting soil that can feed your plants for a while or add some fertilizer of your choice to provide those nutrients.

2. DIY Wood & Window Cold Frame

diy wood & window cold frame
Image By: This Old House
Difficulty: Intermediate
Tools: Power drill, power saw, measuring tape
Supplies: Deck screws, salvaged window/wood, hinges, brass pull, decking, pavers

For a slightly nicer cold frame, you can convert a salvaged window, some wood, and other odds and ends to extend your growing season. The project is a bit more complex than previous ones, requiring saw usage as well as some woodworking. It’s rather basic stuff, all in all, but it can be daunting for novice gardeners.

3. DIY Pallet Cold Frame

diy pallet cold frame
Image Credit: Roots & Boots
Difficulty: Intermediate
Tools: Power drill, circular saw, miter saw (optional), screwdriver, pliers
Supplies: Salvage window, pallets, hinges, screws

For people with a lot of pallets (and windows), here’s a nice economical pallet cold frame you can build with a few power tools. If you don’t just have that stuff lying around, you can check dumpsters or Habitat for Humanity stores in your local area for pallets. Old windows are a bit harder to come by, sadly.

4. Hay Bale Cold Frame

diy straw bale cold frame
Image Credit: The Reid Homestead
Difficulty: Easy
Tools: N/A
Supplies: Straw bales, scrap windows

This might be the easiest cold frame yet, consisting just of straw bales and scrap windows. The glass is the essential part because it helps keep some heat from escaping. It’s not a full-blown greenhouse, but all you do is throw the windows over the top of the bales and grow plants in the soil between the bales. How much simpler can it get?

5. DIY Cold Frame Tent

diy cold frame tent
Image Credit: Dunn Lumber
Difficulty: Intermediate
Tools: Tape measure, chop saw, power drill, spade bit, driver bit, staple gun, sandpaper
Supplies: Dowel rod, specified lumber, deck screws, clear polyethylene sheeting, staples

If you’re not one of those people with tons of scrap windows, an easier and more affordable method is to just make a little plastic-and-wood lean-to cold frame. The plan is pretty thorough, covering every inch of the planting area inside, but that’s not actually necessary if you want to skimp and pinch a few pennies. The main areas to cover are directly over the planting zone, though extra plastic does help preserve heat. Use your best judgment.

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For a more compact way to extend the season or just harden off plants for the winter, cold frames are the way to go. You can use scrap windows and hay, simple clear bins, or spring for one of the more unique plans detailed above. Go wild, and feel free to adapt any of these plans to fit with what you have on hand.

Featured Image Credit: Paul Maguire, Shutterstock


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