Mini greenhouse buying guide

Mini greenhouse buying guide

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

A scaled down version of the real thing, mini greenhouses are a popular choice for smaller gardens. Budget-friendly and compact, these structures come with a range of different features to choose from depending on your space and what you expect to grow. Read on to find the right mini greenhouse for you.

Important features

  • Aims of a mini greenhouse
  • Dimensions
  • Materials
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How to choose a mini greenhouse

The stand-out feature of mini greenhouses is their size. These structures are so compact that you usually won't be able to fit inside, but they can be used for a wide range of purposes such as:

  • seed germination;

  • planting;

  • overwintering protection for plants or crops.

While there are plenty of options out there, your choice should mainly be driven by:

  • what you want to do with the structure:

  • the amount of space you have;

  • the type of material you need.

Uses

Type of greenhouse

Material

Seedlings and cuttings

Seed propagator

Hard plastic

Starting early crops on balconies or patios

Cold frame

Polycarbonate / glass

Overwintering potted plants

Lean-to greenhouse

Polycarbonate / glass

Upright mini greenhouse

Flexible plastic

Sensitive or exotic plants

Mini lean-to greenhouse (heated)

Polycarbonate / glass

Plant protection in garden

Mini polytunnel

Hard or flexi plastic / polycarbonate

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Mini greenhouses

Choosing the right mini greenhouse for your needs

Sowing seeds

Choisir une mini serre en fonction de son utilisation

Seed propagators are really handy for sowing annual vegetable or flower seeds indoors. They can be put to use from February or March which will allow you to put your plants in the ground by May.

These mini greenhouses are basically trays covered with a clear condensation-proof or ventilated cover. The base is nothing more than a seed tray designed to be filled with potting soil. Alternatively, you can use the tray to hold fibre seedling pots. This type of tool is also suitable for plant cuttings.

If you want to grow heat-loving crops like melons, aubergines or tomatoes, go for a heated mini greenhouse. These models are equipped with a heating element or heated mat to keep the soil at a constant temperature.

Planting

Choisir une mini serre en fonction de son utilisation

Cold frames are designed to be set up outdoors but are lightweight enough to be installed on a balcony. The roof of a cold frame is slanted to allow as much sunlight in as possible.

These structures usually measure about 50 cm to a metre squared and are mainly used to start plants early either through direct sowing or using young shop-bought plants. They can also be used to hold propagators or pots (to transplant young tomato plants, for example).

A cold frame is very handy for growing spring vegetables that don't take up a lot of room such as radishes or lettuces.

Mini greenhouse sizes

Quelles formes et dimensions pour une mini serre

The main advantage of a mini greenhouse is that it can be moved around to follow the position of the sun, or set up on a balcony, patio or even indoors.

It's essential to choose the right size of the greenhouse (in terms of surface area and height) whether you have a roomy balcony or just a window sill to play with. While most mini greenhouses come in fairly standard shapes, some may feature shelves to make the most of any vertical space you have.

Mini polytunnels

Quelles formes et dimensions pour une mini serre

Mini polytunnels are very practical and easy to move around. Some hard plastic models are modular meaning you can line up the components to create a tunnel that is just the right length for your space. These flexible structures are best for protecting plants or seedlings in a garden.

Upright mini greenhouses

Quelles formes et dimensions pour une mini serre

If you're hoping to store your potted plants for winter, an upright mini greenhouse won't take up a lot of floor space. The most basic models are made up of a series of shelves covered by a transparent cover with a zip opening. However, a lean-to greenhouse will also work well.

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Lean-to greenhouse

Mini greenhouse materials

Flexible plastic: polythylene or PVC

Quels matériaux faut-il privilégier

Polythylene and PVC are the cheapest options. They are perfect for very lightweight greenhouses but they do have a limited service life as they will eventually be damaged by UV rays. Go for the thickest plastic possible for more durability.

Polycarbonate

Quels matériaux faut-il privilégier

Lightweight, hardwearing and less expensive than glass, polycarbonate offers good thermal insulation and UV protection. Twin wall polycarbonate will block about 99% of UV rays and provide good insulation.

Glass

Quels matériaux faut-il privilégier

Greenhouse glass is the most transparent material. It lets in about 90% of sunlight while blocking UV rays. It is, however, very fragile and will break into sharp pieces. Tempered glass, or safety glass, boasts the same light and UV properties as greenhouse glass but is much stronger. Glass is the most expensive option.

Mini greenhouse material comparison

Material

Price

Insulation

Strength

Lifespan

Design

Maintenance

Flexible plastic

+++

+

+

+

+

+++

Greenhouse glass

+

+++

+

++

+++

++

Tempered glass

+

+++

++

++

+++

++

Basic polycarbonate

++

+

+++

++

+

++

Twin wall polycarbonate

+

++

+++

++

+

++

+ Poor      ++ Good     +++ Very good

Greenhouse structure materials 

Quels matériaux faut-il privilégier

The structural material of a mini greenhouse is in part dictated by the shape of the structure. PVC and steel are best for round shapes while aluminium and wood are used for straight structures. The structure material of a mini greenhouse is not as important as the outer material. However, it's worth noting that each material offers different properties:

  • PVC is sensitive but also lightweight and inexpensive;

  • steel is the strongest material but will eventually oxidise (with the exception of stainless steel); 

  • aluminium is weather-resistant but more expensive;

  • wood will need to be treated over the years.

 
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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study plant biology. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart). They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specialising in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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