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Frugal Greenhouse Designs and Idea

Updated on October 9, 2013

As Spring Approaches

I know! It may not seem like winter will ever end, but spring is, indeed, approaching, and with it our minds turn to gardening.

For those who want to get an early start, who cannot wait until the weather warms up sufficiently so that seeds can be planted directly to the soil, greenhouses offer a viable alternative.

Greenhouses allow us to laugh at the early spring frosts, and they also allow us to extend the growing season. However, for many the cost of a greenhouse is prohibitive, and that is why this article has been written.

This writer struggled for years trying to save money for one of the expensive greenhouse kits, until one day I realized that simple and frugal are just as good. All that is really needed is a transparent material that allows sunshine in; in other words, say goodbye to fancy and say hello to practical.

The following are suggestions you might consider if you want the benefits of a greenhouse but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars to receive those benefits. It is not an exhaustive list of ideas, but rather just enough to get you thinking creatively.

Tent pole framing for this year's greenhouse
Tent pole framing for this year's greenhouse | Source

A greenhouse for under $50

Tent Poles Anyone?

How many of you have an old two-person or three-person tent sitting in the garage? Here is an idea that you can use for the first month or so of spring, and then take it down and use it for camping during the summer.

Most small tents use fiberglass poles that bend easily. What we have done in our garden is use those poles to our advantage. Simply by wedging one end of the pole on one side of a raised garden bed, and wedging the other end on the other side of the bed, we have the perfect frame for our greenhouse.

It is then a simple matter of taping plastic over the frame. We use duct tape because, well, who doesn’t have duct tape? It is the magical cure-all for any DIY project, and it works quite well holding our greenhouse together.

The side of our greenhouse faces south for maximum sunshine in the early spring, and we leave the ends open for air circulation.

Warning: do not put this up until all concerns with late snows are gone. This type of greenhouse alternative does not handle a lot of weight. It is fine for rain, and it is secure in normal winds, but it will collapse if snow settles on top of it.

If you have the tent poles then the total cost of this greenhouse is $5-$10, which is the cost of the plastic.

Framing and plastic against the house
Framing and plastic against the house | Source

Use Your House or Other Structure

If your house or garage or shed have a southern facing wall, use that wall as support for a make-shift greenhouse.

Take an eight or ten foot long strip of plastic, and tack one end on a 1x2 inch piece of wood, and do the same thing on the other end. Then nail one end up on the side of your home or garage, and anchor the other end on the ground. This makes a lean-to structure that is tall enough to stand in, and allows room for a gardener’s bench and/or a stand for seedling trays.

This can literally be made in a half hour, and total cost is in the neighborhood of $10, depending on whether you have the 1x2 pieces of wood or you need to buy them and the plastic. Let’s face it, ten bucks is a pretty good cost to get you started early with your gardening projects.

Garage Sale Treasures

I don’t know about you, but spring not only means gardening but for me it also means garage sales, and oftentimes the two go hand in hand. I love old windows, and I love old glass storm doors, and I can usually find both at garage sales.

Old windows and storm doors are transparent, and those transparent materials make perfect greenhouses.

If you have scrap lumber, built a quick frame and attach the old windows and storm doors to the frame to make a poor-man’s standing greenhouse.

Total cost? Hard to say. I have found old windows at garage sales for five bucks tops, and it is not unusual to get them for free along the side of the road when people are doing their spring cleaning. During the winter is the time to start looking for sales and giveaways; the more stuff you get for free, the less your greenhouse is going to cost.

Windows and pallets
Windows and pallets | Source

Wooden Pallets Are a Godsend

I keep singing the praises of wooden pallets as a building medium; hopefully some of you are listening.

Wooden pallets provide the perfect framing for a greenhouse, or any other structure for that matter. Screw them together two deep and two tall; do three sides and leave one end open for access. Then drape plastic sheeting over the structure and you have a greenhouse.

You can even get fancy and cut out windows if you want to provide cross-ventillation.

Many stores are more than willing to give you the pallets for free, so the total cost of your greenhouse is the cost of the plastic sheeting, and a true frugal pioneer will be able to find cheap plastic sheeting with little effort.

Pvc Piping

I saved this idea for last because it will cost the most, unless you can find PVC piping at a garage sale. Go to Home Depot and pick up some small plastic piping sections and the elbow joints so you can curve them into the shape of an igloo. You only need three sections about eight or ten feet long.

Then use them in the manner I explained earlier regarding the tent poles. Wedge them into one side of your raised garden bed, curve them and wedge the other end into the other side. Attach plastic sheeting over it and you again have a serviceable greenhouse.

The PVC, about one inch in diameter, is not expensive. You should be able to buy it for ten dollars, unless you find it for free on Craigslist.

Winter Greenhouses

Don't let winter scare you off. As the winter months approach it is the perfect time to protect those delicate plants by constructing an inexpensive greenhouse. If you live where the winters are harsh make sure to build it solidly to withstand the heavy snows. In areas where mild winters occur you just might be able to grow crops during the winter months with the help of a greenhouse.

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Use Your Imagination

The only limit you have is the limitations of your imagination. All you need is a clear material, whether it be plastic or glass, and then some sort of frame. There is no reason in the world to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a greenhouse, unless of course you are concerned about the aesthetics of a lovely greenhouse vs a frugal greenhouse.

Personally, I would rather save money. Plus, I get a certain amount of satisfaction looking at my frugal greenhouse and knowing it hardly cost me anything. I’ll let other people worry about how things look; I’m much more concerned with recycling and not spending beyond my means.

Happy Gardening!

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

"Helping writers to spread their wings and fly."

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Some really great ideas here Bill. I am not the gardner in the family. My dad is and am going t pass this onto him with all your invaluable tips. Thanks for sharing and have of course voted up, shared and tweeted, too!!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Janine! I will be by shortly to see your blog.

      You are always appreciated!

      bill

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Hey Bill! This is awesome! While I was in Mexico - the house sitter texting me to tell me my gazebo was blown away in a bad storm here! It was trashed! Not even able to fix it. So I'm back to the drawing board...I guess! I see some good ideas here...!

    • adjkp25 profile image

      David 4 years ago from Northern California

      I'm all for building a greenhouse cheap but I'm afraid our spring and summer winds won't allow me to use any of your ideas, I wish I could though. We bought a portable greenhouse last year and it barely made one season.

      I guess I will be building something a bit more permanent in the next few months. Great ideas though.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Hey Kelly, sorry about the gazebo! I'm clueless how to build one of those, but I'll bet I could figure it out with time.

      Thanks for stopping by; I hope you are well and happy!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      adjkp Wow I had no idea you had such severe winds. Good luck finding a permanent solution to that, but thanks for dropping by.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      These are great ideas, Bill. Setting up a greenhouse in the late winter or early spring is good advice. One thing to watch is the humidity level. Too much humidity lends itself to molds and mildews that thrive and find homes on your precious plants. Your recommendation to remove the plastic in the summer should help to avoid the possiblity of mold and mildew thwarting your efforts.

      You've become quite the handyman, haven't you? :-)

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Billy, great ideas, but the greenhouses and the sheds here in England are where we go to get away from our nearest and dearest. Only now and again, you understand:).

      So they must be pretty comfy, also I don't think the plastic will be able to stand up to the torrential downpour we have been experiencing. But never-the-less, good money saving ideas, and I know many people do use them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I am a handyman by necessity, just as my father was. One learns to make do when one has very little, as you well know. Thanks for the comment my friend and you are right about the humidity.

      love,

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo....I'm laughing because I once did exactly that. The greenhouse was my secret place to get away from the domestic bliss. LOL Thanks for the comment; I hope you are well and happy my friend.

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      Bill, my dear friend, you are the most resourceful man and I love your creative uses of recycled materials. I am so glad you started this with thoughts of Spring. I will never be a cold-weather person and cannot wait for the first signs of Spring to appear. I wish I could wiggle my nose like Bewitched used to do. I would send you some of the pallets I have started noticing since you increased my awareness for their many uses. I so wish I lived where I could build a pallet greenhouse. I loved this one Kindred. Growing things makes life good.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, we have had a very gentle winter and I'm still so damn eager for spring to get here. I mean we've hardly had any major storms, no snow to speak of, and I can't wait for things to warm up. :) Thanks my friend; my heart and soul just ain't in this type of writing, but I owe it to myself and to Bev to try to make it work once in a while.

    • lrc7815 profile image

      Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

      I understand Bill. I'm right there with you. :-)

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Billy - Wonderful and helpful suggestions for the green thumbed lover. I also am low on funds and start my greenhouse indoors with seeds. It saves me the added money I would normally spend on garden plants.

      Mom and I start counting the days as soon as the last day of winter leaves. It's a wonderful sight to see the sun setting later each day.

      I am a spring/summer girl and highly anticipate the upcoming gardening process.

      Great write as always.

      Love, Beckie XO

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Great ideas Bill! I really like the idea of using the pallets and storm windows...that is really very clever. Of course, in MN I would probably have to wait until June--just to be 100% sure that there would be no snowstorm!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Melissa, you are definitely at a disadvantage. I don't even know what to tell you for a solution to the Minnesota winters. I guess starting seeds indoors is about your only option.

      I know, I wrote another hub....but I'm so organized right now, and the ideas are flowing, and I just can't help myself. LOL Thanks as always!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I know you are, Linda!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Beckie, we don't have winters like you do in upstate New York, but having said that I can hardly wait for spring. I'm tired of the cold and damp. I need to be outside with dirt under my fingernails and sweat pouring. There are so many things I want to do in the garden this year, and I'm still two months from being able to do them. Sigh!

      Thanks Beckie; you are always appreciated my dear.

      love,

      billy

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow I never thought about using storm doors for greenhouses! How smart! Thank you. I can get an early start and keep out the stray animals! Thank you, thank you! Oh and where I live we have yard sales 10 months of the year! I am going to be shopping with a new eye.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jackie, I love it...garage sales ten months out of the year. :) Oh, the treasures that await you. Thank you; I hope an idea or two helps you.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I have always wanted a greenhouse and you have some great ideas. I know you said that spring was coming, and i know it is, but it's sleeting here tonight and we just got rid of 20 inches of snow. I refuse to think negative thoughts, so the garage sales perked me up, trere's nothing more i like than yard and garage sales. One- day- at- a- time..Cheers Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      20 inches of snow, Ruby! Oh my goodness! Maybe spring isn't that close after all. :) Hang in there, stay safe, and we'll keep hoping for warmer weather. Thank you Ruby!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      You find the best treasures at a garage sale, and this is very eco-friendly too. Back to basics!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is indeed, Michelle! I'll have pictures of ours as soon as winter ends. Thank you!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I can't garden anymore, but when I did, I stuck to the wide variety of plant that do well in SF.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. I resolve to have a garden this year so I may give this a shot to get a jump on Spring. Looks and sounds pretty simple. Thanks for the advice. Have a great day.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub again Billy.I have to admit that Dai has the green fingers but I will be passing this one onto him when he gets infrom work.

      Have a wonderful day and lots of love

      Eddy.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      These are great suggestions, Bill. I already have a small greenhouse and it's been really good for getting a head start on the gardening.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Martin; that climate of SF is a tough one, and for sure you have to stick with a particular range of plants.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bill, we follow the simple rule that if I can do it, anyone can. :) I hope you give it a shot, and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eddy, I'm the green fingers guy in this family. I just love to see things grow into beauty.

      Thank you my dear and I'll be over to visit you shortly.

      love,

      billy

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Phoenix, it sounds like you don't need me. Carry on my friend, and thank you!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Great informative hub. However we had a large, glassed in greenhouse and we dismantled it and now have decided not to have another greenhouse. Neither of us have very green thumbs. Passing this on for those who do.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Gypsy, that's too bad, but if it isn't working for you there is no reason to try and continue. I'd love to have it, though. :)

      Thank you my friend; I hope your week is a good one so far.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is a superb idea. How many people out there could have something so wonderful and begin their gardening early? I love this.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Deb! I had the feeling you'd like these ideas. :)

    • shedplansplus profile image

      shedplansplus 4 years ago

      Thanks for the ideas. There are some good tips here, and I have come away with a cheap easy greenhouse solution - pallets! By the way, the 'tent pole / duct tape' fills a gap in the meantime until I get busy building.

    • rbm profile image

      rbm 4 years ago

      Great ideas, thanks so much! We're using PVC pipes for our greenhouses, but I love the simplicity of using an old tent, and I never thought of using pallets either. Very clever ideas! Voted awesome and useful. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Shedplansplus, I'm glad these will work for you. We find the tent poles so easy, but we will probably switch to pallets for a permanent solution. Thanks for the visit.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you rbm! I won't recommend anything I haven't tried before, and I can vouch for all of these ideas.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I can't wait until we move in a few years to a place where I can garden again. This will be a great add to a garden. Love the cozy size, simple construction and the many windows. Thanks for the share on this great idea.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, you are very welcome. I'm excited to see where we move in three years. I want some acreage and room to roam. I hope we both find the perfect property in a few years.

      Thank you Dianna!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Unfortunately due to covenants, we can't have greenhouses in our neighborhood and I have always wanted one. Useful for those who can. I really love the one propped up against the house. I have never seen that before and it a big space saver.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer, the covenant thing is a tough egg to crack for sure. I'm sorry you can't have a greenhouse. I am so looking forward to spring getting here. :)

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 4 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Billy, I saw some great ideas I've never considered before for creating a greenhouse. These ideas will make a lot more gardening possibilities for me this year and for that, I am grateful and excited. :o)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well Mary, I am happy if you can use these ideas. They have come in handy for me in the early spring. :) Thank you for the visit.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Great ideas here Bill. A great way to save money. I used a shade house of mesh and clear plastic with aluminium poles.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 4 years ago from Jamaica

      Very practical, frugal and down to earth. I really like the pvc idea.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great addition, Rosemay! I hadn't thought of aluminum poles until you mentioned it. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Rasta! I'm into simple and these ideas are about as simple as you could ask for.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      For a while I have been cultivating vegetables inside a tunnel made from plastic sheets. I will see if I can use your ideas.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vinaya, I have seen similar tunnels used here; it's a good design and I'm sure it works quite well. Thank you and I hope you can use one of these ideas as well.

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Loving the ideas Bill, and yes.....I hear you loud and clear about the pallets. I'm more and more becoming a staunch proponent of that idea. I stopped by this hub in particular because it goes along with what I said about growing your own food. This is definitely a hub I'll have to pay another visit to sometime soon to resurrect those ideas for my wife and I to use. Voting up and useful!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Kas my friend, if these ideas help you then great. I think we are seeing a cultural revolution; it may start out slowly but it will gain momentum in the years to come. I think it is exciting and a great opportunity to get back to basics and understand what is truly important.

      Thank you!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      You probably don't want to hear this, but we don't have to worry about spring or winter here in Southern California. The weather is warm enough for year-round outdoor growing. I do like the idea of using pallets and old windows for the greenhouse though.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Aurelio, you are right, I don't want to hear it. LOL Thanks for the visit my friend.

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