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Cold Frames

Cold frames are an invaluable addition to any garden of any size, they can be used alongside greenhouses or as a replacement for them. The term cold frame is used simply to describe any enclosure consisting of four walls and a transparent roof that is built low to the ground. They are used to trap heat and shelter plants whilst allowing sunlight to penetrate through.

Essentially cold frames are used as miniature greenhouses that enable growers to extend their seasons by a month or more on either end depending on the climate of the area. They are ideal for over-wintering plants, growing vegetables directly into the soil or more crucially for hardening off seedlings. Young plants require acclimatising prior to being planted out to avoid stunted growth or demise. In this instance cold frames act as a middle man between the shelter and protection of indoors or greenhouses and the conditions found outdoors.

The lids of a cold frame are sometimes referred to as 'lights', these lights can be hinged or sliding and they allow access and ventilation. Lights should be robust and easy to open, you should ensure you have adequate access around the cold frame in order to use them correctly and that the cold frames are sited such so that rainfall and strong winds do not cause damage to the plants. On all but the coldest days the lights must be opened to allow the cool air to circulate and closed again before sunset.

Insulation is also key to using a cold frame as it suits the very purpose of what it is for. Whilst we have no control over the surrounding climate we are able to supplement the cold frame as required by covering with materials such as fleece, blankets, newspapers or cardboard on the coldest nights. If using supplemental materials such as these it is important to remember to remove them the following day in order for the sunlight to penetrate through. Alternatively heaters are available that are specifically designed for cold frames.

There are many types of cold frames available in a variety of sizes and made from a variety of materials, it is essential to identify the specific requirements that you need in order to purchase the correct cold frame for your garden. Working through a simple checklist will aid with this process.


What size area do you have available in the garden for the cold frame?

Identifying the area of your garden in which you wish to place a cold frame is priority when looking to purchase one. Ensuring adequate access around the area is also key in order for you to tend to the plants. It is imperative that the cold frame you purchase is of adequate size to not only house the desired number of plants but to also allow you to work around it. In this instance it may be necessary to not place the cold frame against a wall in order for you to have access to every inch.

What types of plants do you wish to house in the cold frame?

It is important to note that as cold frames have a tilted lid and are taller at the back than the front it is possible to plant a variety of plants in them. However access to the back of the cold frame must be easily gained in order for you to tend to these plants adequately and therefore cold frames purchased must take height into consideration.

What is the primary use of your garden?

If your garden is constantly changing design and focus it may be necessary to choose a cold frame that is easily moved, there are lightweight versions available to purchase that will enable you to do this. If your garden is full of the hustle and bustle of family life then choosing a plastic version over a glass one will help to ensure the longevity of your cold frame whilst being safer for children to play around. A plastic one however will be less resilient to strong winds and may not retain the heat as well as a glass one.

The purpose and aesthetics of the cold frame?

Whilst the primary purpose is ultimately to shelter and house plants that does not mean they cannot also be aesthetically pleasing. Available in an array of materials such as wood, aluminium, glass and plastic it may be necessary to identify what look if any you require from a cold frame prior to purchase.

Once the desired cold frame has been purchased it needs to be utilised effectively, position on any flat area ideally in a sunny spot with good drainage. Cold frames are just as effective if placed on paved areas if the plants you wish to house in them are in pots or trays. If positioning the cold frame in a permanent location replace the top layer of soil with coarse gravel first then a layer of topsoil in order to improve drainage. Additionally the use of cold frames on raised beds will help to warm the soil in spring in a much more organic way than covering the soil with plastic.



Cloche is the colloquial term used in horticulture to describe a material that is utilised with the purpose of protecting plants from the cold, wind or insect damage. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes and with the ability to cover individual plants up to rows of them they are seen as an underrated piece of gardening equipment.

The word 'cloche' is French for 'bell' and whilst the term may conjure up images of wire hoops covered in plastic to form a low tunnel so often seen particularly in agriculture, they are becoming more widely used in domestic gardens to protect plants from the elements.

They work by providing the plants with a safe haven similar to cold frames during the growing season; they also assist with raising and hardening off seedlings, warming the soil and protecting against insects and wildlife.

Many manufacturers of cloches are catering to the growing desires of the public for their gardens to become focal points and have created ranges that are both practical and aesthetically pleasing.



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