Complete Buying Guide for Polytunnels
These days, the market is full of useful items for gardeners who want to look after their lawns, flowers, and plants. Today, we’re going to be focusing on one of the very best when it comes to weather protection and creating controlled climates; polytunnels. If you’ve never heard of this product before, don’t panic just yet because this buying guide is going to explain everything you need to know. Not only will we discuss what they are, we’ll look at how they work, considerations you need to make before investing, frequently asked questions, and even a few examples of high-quality polytunnels. First, let’s look at the basics…
What’s a Polytunnel?
As you probably know, the climate of your region ultimately decides what you’re able to grow throughout the year. In the UK, the weather is a huge problem for farmers and gardeners because the wind and heavy rain can destroy much of what’s planted. As a solution to this, a polytunnel, much like a greenhouse in that it’s a frame covered with polythene, will keep plants within its own climate. If you would like to grow certain types of vegetables, fruits, or crops, but worry about the weather, this is the perfect solution.
Depending on the size of your garden and your overall needs, you’ll find different polytunnels on the market. For example, the most basic product is a regular tunnel which can be acquired for an affordable price and then installed without too much work. Since these are popular with part-time gardeners and those who enjoy planting fruits and vegetables for leisure, these tend to be among the smaller polytunnels.
Elsewhere, a sturdier frame can also be found and this type of polytunnel will be a little closer to a greenhouse. As long as you’re willing to invest more money, you could benefit from stronger construction and added insulation; heaters can also be installed in these models. Finally, the polythene cover can be replaced with solar panels for more durability and slightly different results. As you can see, the market caters towards different needs so it’s always wise to think about what you need before shopping around.
Polytunnel v Greenhouse
If you’re currently sitting there wondering why this product exists when greenhouses do a perfectly good job, you aren't alone because this is a common question. However, there are some important differences between the two so it’s worth explaining them here. At the end of this section, you should have a clearer idea of what you need.
First and foremost, there’s normally a big difference between the price of a greenhouse and the price of a polytunnel. While greenhouses are fantastic additions to any garden, the cost can put many people off. If you want the same idea but with a more affordable fee, a polytunnel should fill the need. Often, you’ll get the same space inside as well as the same level of ventilation.
Furthermore, polytunnels can generally be installed faster because there’s no worrying about preparing the land; the ground needs to be completely flat for a greenhouse to be installed whereas a polytunnel has a lot more freedom. On the whole, ‘freedom’ is a good word for the polytunnel because modifications are much easier than with a greenhouse (which is hard to move or modify once installed). If you’re going for a custom greenhouse, you can buy and receive a polytunnel faster too.
On the other hand, greenhouses are probably easier to repair because it’s normally a pane of glass that needs replacing or another simple fix. With a tunnel, the problems that arise, although rare, do require more attention. Additionally, polytunnels might not be the right solution if you want something permanent.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both products and the one you choose will depend on your own needs. Of course, feel free to speak with friends and get recommendations but don’t go all out on a personalised, fixed greenhouse when a simple tunnel will do just as well.
Now you know the difference between a greenhouse and a polytunnel, what do you need to know before purchasing the latter?
Location - Where are you planning to put the polytunnel? If you’re going for the solar option, do you need to place the item in a specific part of the garden? How much room do you have for the installation? If you forget simple questions like these, you might find yourself with a polytunnel that’s too small or too big. Luckily, many companies can produce a polytunnel as little as 10 feet or even up to 70 feet long.
Although we said polytunnels don’t necessarily need flat ground like a greenhouse, a flat area will always be better than a hilly area so keep this in mind too. Everybody has their own unique features in their garden, so consider your own before spending any money.
Installation - As a general rule, more time will be required for the larger tunnels (and vice versa!). With a small polytunnel, there’s no reason why you can’t have it all set up within a couple of hours. If you go for a large design, not only will it take longer but you also might want to draft in some help.
Choosing a Cover - When looking for a company to provide your polytunnel, quality is one of the most important factors if you want some life from the product. While you will find cheap options on the market, this may mean the cover is of a poor quality and, as they say, pay cheap and you will normally pay twice. With a high-quality polythene cover, many have enjoyed their tunnels for two decades before needing a replacement.
While on the note of quality, it could also be worthwhile to get a guarantee. This way, you’ll be covered within the first few years of its life; this protection could go a long way.
Growing Needs - What do you plan to grow inside your tunnel? Rather than buying a basic product, it might be worth investing a little more in one that allows for shelves and potting benches.
Ventilation - How will you ventilate the tunnel? Don’t forget, the greenhouse effect still applies to this product so you should think about how you’re going to let fresh air in to prevent plants from overheating, drying, and dying.
As long as you keep these considerations in mind, you should find it easier to buy the right polytunnel to suit your garden!
Securing a Polytunnel
If a tunnel isn’t built into the ground like a greenhouse, how does it stay secure? When discussing polytunnels, it’s easy to think of a tent with a couple of hooks in the ground…this isn't the case. Although it is certainly easier than installing a greenhouse, your polytunnel should still come with extensive instructions from the manufacturer to prevent damage; some will even offer to install it on your behalf if you want to be sure of a solid job.
For example, one method to keep the tunnel in place is to erect four wooden posts in the four corners. To these corners, you can then attach metal frames to the frame of the polytunnel. Otherwise, it might be a clamping system the manufacturer recommends which doesn’t require brackets and instead allows for adjustments as and when they’re necessary. With a trench likely to be needed, why not ask a friend for help and have a little fun with the installation? If you really don’t feel comfortable with doing it yourself, there’s no shame in asking for professional help!
Maintenance and Repair
Even the sturdiest product in the world can get damaged, so what are the most common issues people experience? During the winter, green algae can build up on the cover so you’ll need to know how to clean it properly. If allowed to build, the growth of your crops will be stunted since less light will pass through. Like mould on food, the visible algae won’t be all that’s on the cover so be sure to clean the whole thing frequently. Although there are various methods you can try, many like to tackle the task with a hose, a bucket of soapy water, and a sponge.
Also, tears and rips can occur and it’s always better to fix these early before they get worse. Luckily, a simple piece of polythene repair tape is all that’s required. While some people use different tapes, we recommend something designed for polythene because light will pass through it unobstructed; this is great for your plants.
Away from the cover, you should also perform regular checks of the frame. The longer you leave problems, the bigger (and more expensive) they become. If the same problem seems to keep happening, investigate the issue and find out why this is the case. If you can deal with the root problem, it’ll be a longer-lasting fix and you can enjoy your polytunnel without worrying.
Reviews of Polytunnels available for sale in the UK
As promised, we’re now going to look at six different polytunnels just so you can get an idea of what’s available. With the different brands, sizes, and features, you’ll notice that your needs can normally be met whether you choose one of these or use it as motivation to continue your research!
- 4x2x2 metres (LxWxH)
- Rain collector
- One window
- Complete metal frame
- Sturdy design
First up, we have this fantastic design from FeelGoodUK and it offers four metres in length; two metres in width and height. Overall, this makes it perfect for a garden or allotment and the welded joints mean that it stands tall even through the strongest winds. For many, the wide window comes in handy and the metal frame means that you don’t need to worry about a roll-up door (which is typically the weakest part of the polytunnel!).
Inside the packaging, you’ll find the poles, cover, screws, and instructions to get started. Sadly, some customers have had issues with the cover; if you experience the same, investing in a new polythene cover might be worthwhile to match the strong frame. With this model, your plants will enjoy the microclimate regardless of what’s happening outside
FeelGoodUK PT4 Polytunnel
- 3x2x2 metres (LxWxH)
- Anti-rust frame
- Two different sections
- Zipped door at both ends
- Steel poles as a frame
What we like about this model is the number of useful features. Although you’ll find larger, if this is what you need, the anti-rust frame can prevent frustration after a few seasons, the doors at either end make it ideal for those with restricted space, and the steel poles used for the frame allow for a sturdy polytunnel for years to come.
In order to stop insects from getting inside, the windows have a mesh covering and this can be useful in the long summer evenings where bugs and insects are seemingly everywhere. With the double doors, this also allows for freedom when it comes to controlling the climate inside the polytunnel. We all want to be able to control humidity for our plants and this tunnel is close to providing this while still protecting plants from extreme temperatures.
- 2.5x2x2 metres (LxWxH)
- 19mm steel tubes
- Durable materials
- PE gridding fabric
If the two products we’ve shown so far are still too large, this one from Outsunny cuts away half a metre in length while retaining the same height and width. Just as we expect by now, since the design is so important, the manufacturers have chosen galvanised steel tubes which should mean it protects your plants both now and long into the future.
Due to the size, it’s important to note the roll-up windows. While the benefits of this include natural ventilation (especially since there are four!) and easy access, it doesn’t offer the same stability as the metal frame we saw previously. This being said, it still has everything you need for basic gardening while boasting diagonal storm-bracing bars, excess cover for efficient installation, and high-quality ground (and support) bars.
- 3x2x2 metres (LxWxH)
- 140G transparent material
- Controlled climate
- 25mm frame poles
- Double zipped door
As you may have noticed, 3x2x2 metres seems to be a standard size for this product and Palm Springs have followed suit with their own model. However, there are some important differences between this polytunnel and those seen previously. Starting with the frame poles, they come in at 25mm which is stronger than many. Furthermore, the manufacturers send an anchoring kit with every order so you shouldn't have any problems getting the tunnel anchored to the ground; this saves further expense elsewhere.
As standard, you’ll have the ability to control the environment and the double zipped door aids this process. On both sides, the tunnel has a ground and support bar while the cover is UV protected. In terms of fastenings, Palm Springs has chosen Velcro and customers seem to be getting along with them successfully.
Palm Springs Polytunnel Greenhouse
- 1.43x1.43x1.95 metres (LxWxH)
- Three-tier shelves
- PE gridding fabric
- Ground and support bar
- 16mm tube
With these example products, we really wanted to make sure that there was something for everyone which is why we’ve included this second Outsunny model. Smaller than every other to this point, the length is just short of 1.5 metres so it can slot into small spaces. Of course, this’ll be beneficial for many but it also means it impacts other areas of the polytunnel such as the steel tubes which are 16mm thick. Compared to others you’ll find, this is definitely small but the size of the pipes are relative to the size of the tunnel and 16mm seems to work perfectly.
Elsewhere, we like this product because it has a three-tier shelf system on both sides. Whether you use it for displaying plants or just storage, this is a great addition to have. For the cover, it’s a 140G material, translucent, and anti-UV.
Outsunny Walk-In Garden Greenhouse
- 0.77x1.68x1.95 metres (LxWxH)
- Four reinforcing ground pegs
- Different heights from front to back
- Side ventilation
- Easy installation
Sticking with the theme of providing everybody with an option, what if you just need a small design for tomatoes? Well, Harbour Housewares has you in mind with this ‘greenhouse’ because the length is just 77cm. With the height, it actually drops from the front to the back and this is to help the growth of tomatoes. To make things even better, the product is designed so you can slot the frame together without requiring any tools (and a degree from the local university!) as some products do. With four ground pegs and easy installation, you should be up and running in no time.
Sure, this isn't going to be an option for everybody but it’s great for beginners, those with little space, and anybody who wants to just grow tomatoes.
Harbour Housewares Greenhouse/Growbag
With the information we’ve provided here, you’re now an expert on the topic of polytunnels. As long as you choose a product that meets your own needs, a polytunnel is fantastic for looking after your plants and growing things otherwise impossible in a UK climate!
Last update on 2021-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API