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DIY Cold Frame Using Old Windows

The Little DIY Cold Frame that Thought it Was a Greenhouse

Plans for an easy-to-make cold frame from old windows and how to keep your cold frame warm during winter.

Imagine the disappointment…through your entire, albeit short, existence…you’ve been lauded as a ‘Greenhouse’. There’s a certain cache to ‘Greenhouse’…it’s lofty and it’s a structure that serious gardeners all over the world aspire for…it’s right up there with ‘Conservatory’. But then, as a result of a few queries on the googler, you realize that you are not a ‘Greenhouse’, you are, in fact, really a ‘cold frame’. Hmmm…a ‘cold frame’, and a ‘DIY cold frame’ at that.

I guess I should have known the difference, I’m sure many of you in the colder climes surely know the difference…but all along I’ve been calling my newest build a ‘Greenhouse’, when in fact, it’s a Cold Frame. The difference between the two is simple, a greenhouse is heated while a cold frame is not. The difference is significant, but for my needs, this little DIY cold frame that thinks it’s a greenhouse suits the bill perfectly.

So, you may or may not remember that I’ve started a little Meyer Lemon Grove. And by ‘little’ I mean…well…4 baby Meyer Lemon ‘trees’.

And if I’m perfectly honest here, we’re talking ‘saplings’, just barely out of the seedling stage.

But I’m a little protective of these little guys…

I mean, I started them from the very beginning.

I was gifted a lovely, luscious Meyer Lemon by a girlfriend last Christmas; and not just any Meyer Lemon. This lemon was from her very own tree! What a truly lovely, personal and thoughtful gift! So, with this treasured Meyer Lemon, I made this Fig Conserve and then saved the seeds, with the hopes of starting my very own Meyer Lemon Grove.

I’ve conceded that my Greenhouse is actually a Cold Frame, don’t ask me to concede that I don’t have a Meyer Lemon Grove…that’s too much for one day.

So, these are my babies in February of this year…all sprouted and growing!

DIY Cold Frame: Meyer Lemon seedlings in February
DIY Cold Frame: Meyer Lemon seedlings in clay pots

And now look at them! I am giddy with how well they are growing, like a proud mama!

So, now that I’ve nursed my babies from the very beginning…through droughts and hurricanes…I’m just a little invested in them.

(True Confession: Before the recent hurricane hit, I put my Meyer Lemon Grove under our deck to keep them safe from the wind and the rain. But, when we couldn’t get home for a week after the hurricane, I started to worry that they were dying under the deck. So, I actually…yes…this is the confession…reached out to friends who had stayed in town to go by my house and check on my Meyer Lemons…in the midst of all the Hurricane cleanup. Yup…I did that.)

This means that I needed to come up with a plan for the upcoming winter; our last winter was so bitterly cold, not at all suitable for my burgeoning Meyer Lemon Grove.

DIY Cold Frame: Finished cold frame with lemon seedlings inside

So, what’s a Lemon Farmer to do…

Well…of course, I needed a build a “Greenhouse”…I mean to DIY a “Cold Frame” for my mini-grove! And I’ll be able to get my basil and other tender crops outside a little earlier this spring…double perks!!

So, I headed to our local Architectural Salvage store and bought 4 old windows…2 sets of the exact same size.

DIY Cold Frame: 4 old windows before assembly

They were dirty, and chippy, and looking for a purpose other than sitting on a shelf. It is a noble journey to be transformed from a dusty, old window to a much more regal DIY cold frame. 

We then hightailed it to the hardware store and purchased a 4′ by 8′ sheet of plywood and some hinges, came home and built this fantastic greenhouse….er, cold frame.  I’ve got to be honest…it really was a quick project.

DIY Cold Frame: finished cold frame
DIY Cold Frame

What Materials We Used to Build our DIY Cold Frame:

Some of these links may be affiliate links and I may earn a small commission off of the sale of these products, but the price you are charged is not affected. You can see my full disclosure policy here.

We get many of our building supplies at Home Depot. They have a wonderful program by which you can order here online and then pick-up at your nearest store within hours or at your convenience. In addition to building materials, they have an extensive selection of power tools and a power tool rental program if buying is not an option for you.

Without a handy set of “cold frame” plans, we set about figuring out how to build a DIY cold frame from these old windows.  

How we Made our DIY Cold Frame:

  • Without a doubt, this project was made easier with 2 sets of hands.
  • With the plywood on the floor, we set the windows up on the plywood in the size we wanted the finished Cold Frame to be.
    DIY Cold Frame: line up frame to determine where to outline on plywood

Once we had it how we wanted it…we traced the outline of the windows on the plywood. Mark your outline on the outside of the window. You want the plywood to cover all the edges of the windows. It wasn’t perfectly symmetrical as one window on the roof is offset such that we could hinge it to the other one; one roof window is secured permanently, while the other is hinged.  You can see that in these pics.

DIY Cold Frame: hinged top, sealed with polyurethane
Hinged lid
  • I would HIGHLY recommend priming and sealing your plywood side panels before you cut them. Also, seal the bottom of the plywood that will be on the ground and the part of the exposed window frame that is hinged with the polyurethane.  We had to do this after the Cold Frame was built and realized it would be much easier to do it beforehand. You can then touch up the cut sides easily after you cut the wood.
  • We cut out 2 side pieces based on the outline. We cut the original one and then used that as the guide to cut the second one.
  • We then nailed the plywood sides of the Cold Frame to the windows, making sure all our edges were squared up.
DIY Cold Frame: Lining up plywood and windows for assembly
  • Turned it on its side and nailed the other side to the windows.
    Partially built cold frame
  • Then we nailed the stationary roof window to both sides.
  • Once the 3 windows were secured to the 2 sides, we hinged the final window to the stationary window.
  • Assuming you primed and painted before you nailed everything together, you are done!
DIY Cold Frame: Open, hinged top of cold frame
DIY Cold Frame using old windowns
  • Put your greenhouse, I mean cold frame in a sunny spot such that the window side will receive sun throughout the day.

Since we are in the Southeast and don’t get the prolonged cold and freezing weather of some of you, I’m pretty confident I can keep my lemons in the cold frame all winter. However, if it looks like we are in for a prolonged, bitterly cold period, I will run an extension cord to it and place an outdoor spotlight like this with a 60 W bulb in it. For what it’s worth, LED bulbs don’t put off quite as much heat as incandescent bulbs, so you would want to stick with incandescent for this task.

(At which point I can call it a Greenhouse again?)

I might also experiment with filled water bottles painted black which will absorb the sun’s heat during the day, keeping the air in the cold frame warmer at night.

And if it seems necessary, I will also cover the cold frame with a blanket or tarp, ensuring that it stays even warmer.

If you are in colder climates, you can use your cold frame to extend your fall and spring growing seasons, as well as grow your winter greens like spinach, kale, etc…protecting them from the harsher elements.  In fact, a cold frame will create a little microclimate a zone and a half warmer than your actual location.

Easily build a diy cold frame using old windows to extend your growing season and help your plants winter over. #garden #coldframe #oldwindows #diy #winter #upcycle

OK, so if you want to make a little DIY Cold Frame that thinks it’s a Greenhouse, bookmark this page or pin the following image!

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  1. I live in Minnesota. I also have a Meyer lemon tree. ‘He’ spends most of the year looking out the window, watching as the world goes by. I take him out for a while during the summers (which are notoriously short). He reliably gives me about 9 lemons a year, and joy beyond measure. : ) There is a lot to be said about watching plants grow, and the pleasure inherent in caring for them.
    You did a terrific job with the greenhouse/cold frame. Your plants will be very happy beneath its roof.

    1. Hey Jan!

      How old is your lemon? I am chomping at the bit to have it produce fruit! And I can picture your little lemon sitting in the window…watching the world go by! Do you use any artificial light?

      Thanks for sharing about your little guy!

      Hugs, Lynn

  2. I love this – cold frame, greenhouse it doesn’t matter because it’s super cute so how about this ‘Tiny Greenhouse” Great project and one of these years I plan to find some old windows so I can do something similar. Vintage wooden windows are the best.

    1. Hey there friend…somehow I am very surprised you haven’t built yourself one yet! This is right up your alley. And I love those old windows…only cleaned them up the bare minimum. Actually like all the grunge

    1. Anita, it was so easy, but really did need 2 sets of hands to hold the windows while we were tracing and hammering. Surely he’ll join you if you bake him chocolate chip cookies!!! Works every time for me.

      Hugs, Lynn

  3. Hello from one gardening Lynn to another! Love your desire to care for your Meyer Lemons over the winter. I live in zone 8 on the Westcoast of Canada. I have 2 lemons and a mandarin orange. Two of them have fruit so I want to make sure they survive the winter. Last year I brought the lemon indoors and ended up with scale🙁. I do have a greenhouse and I heat it to 40 deg F or 5 deg C
    Happy gardening

    1. Hey there Gardening Lynn! And I’m in Zone 8a as well! We were in Vancouver over the summer and surprised to learn just how temperate that area is! I do have an older Meyer Lemon as well and he did not enjoy being indoors over the winter either…keeping my fingers crossed that they all flourish in their GREENHOUSE this summer. I’m curious, if you have a greenhouse, why did you bring your Meyer Lemon indoors?

    1. That’s true Sheila…I will keep it close enough to my home that it won’t be a big deal to have to bring them in. But I am anxious to see how much they flourish being in the sun year-round. I have another Meyer Lemon, about a year older, and it did not love being in the house all winter last year. We shall see.

      Have a fantastic weekend my friend.

      Hugs, Lynn

  4. I would love to have a cold frame like that, but since the shed that used to be in my backyard was blown away in a windstorm, I wouldn’t trust it. I think you should switch from “grove” to “orchard.” It doesn’t rely on numbers and sounds prettier, anyway.

    1. Orchard does sound prettier! Orchard it is (though my orchard is down to 2 trees now! 😢 Those Meyer Lemons are pills to keep healthy! And if you have had a shed blow away, I don’t think you should plan on a cold frame unless you could have it in a sheltered space. Ours went through a Category 1 hurricane this summer, but it was right up against the house and did fine.

      Hugs, my friend,


  5. I absolutely love this idea! I also am Mom to a Meyer Lemon tree (given to me by my husband) and it lives outside on my side porch in the summer and looks out the window the rest of the year. I NEED this cold frame/greenhouse. This is my second year of growing and I have 14 lemons at present (only 4 last year) with 4 almost ready to harvest. I get so much enjoyment from it whether or not it produces. Thanks for sharing this idea and I will need to do some talking with my other half to see if we can’t find some windows and get started on it. We live in 7b gardening zone and I think it would be so helpful for my tree. 🙂

    1. Hi Ellen,

      I found mine at my local architectural salvage store…check there. But, now I need guidance from you. I started mine from a seed, probably 4 years ago. It is about 2-3 feet tall now, but I have never had a flower, let alone fruit. How do you get yours to flower? I’d love any tips you can share.

      Hugs, Lynn

  6. Hi. I love this and may try it. Thanks for sharing. One question…How do you get inside to harvest greens etc?

    1. Hi Debbie, One side of the ‘roof’ is hinged, so it just swings up. Hope this helps…let me know if you have additional questions.

      Hugs, Lynn

  7. I wonder if the front window could be hinged to one end to open like a little door for easier access? How deep is the reach down to the bottom?

    1. Good Morning Nora, It is a pretty deep reach, but I’m tall. I think you could hinge the front window at the bottom, but then you’d have the window laying on the ground in front of you, which may make access difficult as well. Perhaps the better solution would be to put some bricks or something down to give your plants height, place the cold frame over the bricks and then place your plants on the bricks. Does that make sense?

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