Polytunnel Or Greenhouses: What’s The Difference?

Written by  Harry Taylor
Last updated: July 5, 2023

You are looking to expand your gardening expertise and up-level your space to grow even more crops throughout the year. When choosing what structure, you need to extend your window for gardening, you have a choice between a polytunnel and a greenhouse. Both options will allow you to increase the variety of planting you opt for, but there may be more reason to choose one over the other when you get into the details. 

Here we explore which is the right choice for you: polytunnel or greenhouse.

What is a greenhouse?

A greenhouse is probably the most well-known of the two garden structures. It is a house-shaped structure framed in metal, usually aluminium, and glazed throughout – usually with glass. The greenhouse gives planting shelter, and the glass intensifies the sun’s heat, offering you a longer growing season.

What is a polytunnel?

A polytunnel is constructed from galvanised steel hoops and covered with clear or diffused plastic. Inside the polytunnel is a microclimate that can offer higher temperatures and humidity that your fruit and vegetables enjoy, and you can protect sensitive plants from inclement weather, such as frost.


While we are all comforted by the strength and longevity of a greenhouse, polytunnels provide a much better value for money. The materials needed to construct your polytunnel are cheaper and readily available, saving you money while serving the exact same purpose. If you only want to create a small growing area, a greenhouse may be cheaper, especially if you only need an 8 x 6 foot space. However, anything bigger than this than the polytunnel is the more efficient choice.


Greenhouses win out because they are more durable, especially in extreme weather. They are also known to last for years. While a polytunnel may be more prone to damage, especially in high winds, they are easier to maintain. An errant branch or piece of debris into a pane of glass in your greenhouse will be a job to repair. The good news is that most modern polytunnels are now manufactured to withstand the higher winds during a stormy autumn. Polytunnels can also last for decades, with only the need to replace a cover here and there every few years.

Ease of use

In terms of construction, the polytunnel is by far the easiest to use. There are fewer components in a polytunnel, and it can be put together in a matter of a couple of hours. They generally come as a kit with easy-to-follow instructions. This means they are also easier to relocate, should you move or wish to redesign your garden space.

While condensation can be a problem with polytunnels, this is easily resolved with an anti-fog cover.

A greenhouse feels much more like a permanent structure. You will likely hire the technicians from the company you bought it from to construct it in your garden. It means that it is likely to stay in this spot once built, even when you move home. You will also need to provide a completely level base on which to build the greenhouse, which is another reason why polytunnels are considered more practical.


While all the factors so far make it a close-run thing between a polytunnel and a greenhouse, with a greenhouse offering more in terms of aesthetics in the garden. However, when it comes to customising the growing space, the polytunnel far exceeds the capacity of the greenhouse. It is possible to purchase extras that make it possible to grow more than you ever thought possible. You can choose different irrigation systems, and there are different ways of ventilating the space that increase your growing options. 

The good news is that you can choose to make changes to your polytunnel as you grow in confidence or change your mind on what you want to grow. It is possible to redesign the specifications of your polytunnel later – and it is incredibly easy to do. The option to change your mind with a greenhouse is more limited – and the choices will be more expensive.

Weighing up your options

If you have a small garden with only a little space for growing plants all year round, then a greenhouse may be cheaper. It will likely also add more aesthetically to a smaller space, giving a country garden appeal.

However, if you have ambitions to grow many different crops and may want to adapt the area for different growing seasons, then a polytunnel may be better. It will offer more value, more choice, and greater versatility to your gardening choices. For a smaller financial outlay, you can expand the ambition of your cultivation.

To offer one final answer to the debate of polytunnel over the greenhouse, when you go to modern nurseries, which are they more likely to use to aid their cultivation? 

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