What is a cold frame?

Traditionally, a cold frame is used in gardening in order to prolong the growing season. Cold frames are different to mini greenhouses or heated greenhouses in that they are usually low to the ground, they use a transparent lid that lifts up and down and they offer a few degrees more of warmth than the outside. They are also sheltered from the wind, so all-in-all, they are good for sowing seeds and protecting delicate seedlings, raising cuttings and sheltering tender plants in the cooler months.


A cold frame is useful for hardening off plants in spring, getting them used to outside temperatures without putting them straight out in the elements. Depending on the seeds you are sowing, you can use a cold frame up to six weeks earlier than when you might sow in the ground, and can protect the seedlings of hardy annuals sown in autumn. A good-quality cold frame made from long-lasting, sustainable materials will last for many years and can be a cheaper way of tending to delicate seedlings than a full-blown greenhouse.

What can be grown in a cold frame?

A cold frame can be used for sowing seeds and protecting delicate seedlings, raising cuttings and sheltering tender plants in the cooler months. It can also be used for salad crops in the cooler months, extending the season. One of the nice things about a cold frame is that ca provide protection from pests including slugs, snails and rabbits.

Where's the best place for a cold frame?

A cold frame conserves heat and protects from the wind, so the best place for a cold frame is in a sheltered, sunny position. But it doesn't matter too much where you put it - it will offer more protection to your plants than if they were planted straight outside.

Don't miss our pieces on winter plant protection. And if you're looking to invest, we chose our favourite mini greenhouses here.

The best cold frames for 2023

Wooden framed polycarbonate cold frame

Wooden cold frame

A classic cold frame design using natural solid wood, side and top panels of polycarbonate and a tilt design. The tilt means rainwater doesn't pool in corners as it runs off the top. The wooden frame has a traditional, natural appearance and will slot in a spot in your garden very neatly. The cover is easy to open and keep open in the summer, so that your seedlings don't get too hot. This cold frame measures 100L x 65 W x 40 H cm.

Polycarbonate cold frame

Cold Frame

This cold frame comes with a width of 150cm, so a formidable option if you have a significant amount of seedlings to protect, and the space to go with it. Its size also means it is a good option for creating a specifically veg-orientated bed. The cold frame is designed to go on top of a veg trough, which means you can have your cold frame at ideal working height, or on the floor on its own, depending on what you prefer. This is a self-assembly cold frame, but isn't hard to put together and is a relatively inexpensive option for its size.

More like this

Timber grozone Cold Frame

Timber grozone cold frame

A chic-looking option for your cold frame, made with shatter-resistant plastic panelling and with wood that has been pressure treated for rot resistance. There's something discreet about the colour of this cold frame, which makes it easy to slot into a bed or border without it becoming a focal point. There are adjustable height settings for the opening lid, which means you can have this cold frame exactly how you want and need it. It measures at 100cm W, 65cm depth and 40cm height.

Zest4Leisure Sleeper Cold Frame from Robert Dyas

This unit is made from responsibly sourced timber and comes flat-packed for self-assembly with fixings and instructions. The wood is pressure treated to ensure it lasts longer. This unit is of sturdy construction and a good size at H43 x W170 x D60cm, with a side arm to prop open the glazed lid on warmer days.

The Gabriel Ash Baby Grand Cold Frame

This is a beautifully made, top-end choice that comes with a 10-year structural guarantee. It is made of western red cedar, with robust stainless steel and brass fixtures and fittings, 3mm toughened safety glass glazing panels and rust-proof powder-coated aluminium plinth and cappings, so is sure to be a useful and attractive feature in your garden well into the future. Made to order, it arrives flat-packed for easy self-assembly.

Tekoa cold frame

Coldframe from Wayfair

A nice house-shaped cold frame that offers a bit more space for when your seedlings get bigger, and to get your arms in for digging. It's a smaller option, with measurements of 19.48 inches height, 18.89 inches width and is also a cheaper option too. Made with fir wood, it should be durable throughout winter and any potential cold snap.

Alton Cedar cold frame

Alton cedar cold frame

A nice, deep cold frame option made from cedar which has the option to add paneling to the sides (see picture). The option offers more warmth for plants in colder climes, but may also fit in with your garden aesthetics better too. There is less light if you use the boards, but you can remove them easily and swap the glass panels back in. This cold frame is 134 cm and 64 cm wide. Once your plants are close to being hardened off there's also the option to remove the lid completely by sliding it off.

Large cold frame

Crocus cold frame

This cold frame comes with two easily adjustable lids and is made with FSC certified timber, glazed with acrylic and pressure treated. It has a width of 167 cm, depth of 50cm and height of 37.5 cm and will protect happily against everything from frost to slugs. We particularly like the slatted wooden panel look of this cold frame, although it will need two people to put together plus a drill. So make sure you are handy with a drill or there's someone nearby who is.



Daisy Bowie-Sell is digital editor of Gardens Illustrated. She has previously worked as a journalist for publications including the Daily Telegraph, WhatsOnStage and Time Out London