A greenhouse can be a very useful thing to have on your property. These can help preserve sun-loving and tropical plants during colder seasons. They’ll also protect veggie patches from pests, such as rabbits and squirrels.

There are more complex greenhouses out there, with irrigation systems and environmental controls for temperature, lights and humidity, but this article will focus on simple greenhouses without any extra technology or infrastructure.

All Shapes and Sizes

Greenhouses come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. You can have a greenhouse of your very own, even if you don’t have much space—or even if you don’t have a backyard at all!

At its core, a greenhouse is a structure that involves a lot of transparent or translucent windows that let light in, and essentially creates a mini-ecosystem by containing the plants inside and their associated humidity.

Since there are so many ways to repurpose building materials to make greenhouses, you may not need to buy much in the way of new materials at all! Even if you do end up having to buy materials, glass is a highly recyclable material; so, if you have to buy new panes of glass to construct a greenhouse, you’ll still be building in a sustainable way.

If you buy new materials, you should consider coming up with an idea of how you’ll repurpose or recycle the materials at the end of your greenhouse’s life.

There are tons of simple greenhouse building plans available online that you can tweak to accommodate the use of recycled materials. For more specific examples and explanations, continue reading below.

Buying a Used Greenhouse

Glass greenhouse - How to build a simple greenhouse with recycled materials

Before going out to salvage materials for a greenhouse, see if anyone is looking to get rid of theirs! Check websites like Craigslist, Kijiji, The Freecycle Network or even local trading groups such as Bunz groups.

Some areas also have groups on Facebook for enthusiastic local gardeners, where you may have some luck. You can even post an ad stating that you’re “In Search Of” (or ISO for short) a greenhouse, and that you’ll take care of removing it from the original owner’s property (if you have the skills and resources to do so).

Building With Recycled Materials

Old windows and other building materials can be used to put together a greenhouse (like this one from Instructables!).

Various Uses for Old Windows

Old windows, in particular, can be used in so many ways to create simple greenhouses. First of all, you can use one to create a “cold frame” by adding it as a hinged lid to a raised plant bed, which will lend some coverage to a veggie patch or smaller plants that don’t do well in the cold.

Furthermore, there’s the option of securing a few old windows together, in all sorts of different configurations, to create a small greenhouse outside. The windows can also be leaned against each other, or against an existing house or shed, to create a small greenhouse addition.

Recycling Wood Pallets

Wood pallets are an amazing source of recycled wood that can be repurposed for a simple greenhouse building project (among a plethora of other wood projects that require two-by-fours!).

Taking apart a pallet may take a little extra effort—especially if you’re not experienced—but it’s a repetitive and speedy task once you get the hang of it. If you end up with a lot of pallets that you’d like to repurpose, there are even special pry bars that have been designed for taking pallets apart in no time!

Repurposing Plastic and Other Odds and Ends

Plastic-covered greenhouse with arched design - How to build a simple greenhouse with recycled materials

A clear plastic tarp can be reused to create an arched greenhouse with some metal arches. Finding a way to repurpose white plastic and keep it out of a landfill is also a great way to help the environment—and your plants will appreciate the added protection from the elements.

Along the same lines, an old trampoline can be repurposed into a greenhouse if you cut the hoop in half and secure a clear plastic liner to it. Alternatively, a malleable type of wood such as cedar can be bent and tied into a hoop shape, and you can secure the liner to that.

Hard clear plastic, plastic or aluminum siding, and lumber such as that from an old house or shed can be repurposed into this lovely barn-style greenhouse by Ana White. You could even add a salvaged door into this plan!

On a much smaller scale, large plastic soda or juice bottles can be used to protect seedlings and smaller plants; particularly, from some pesky animals. To use a bottle for this purpose, simply cut out the bottom of it (the top spout will allow for air and moisture to get in), and press it into the soil over a plant. Make sure you wedge it deep enough into the soil that it won’t blow away or get upturned by critters.

Bottles like this can also be stacked together for easy storage, until the next time you need to protect some seedlings.

Buying New Materials

If you’re working under time constraints, and don’t have time to find salvaged materials, then it’s also possible to buy your own materials and find a greenhouse-building plan online that works for you [here are a few more from The Self Sufficient Living site that may meet your needs].

If choosing sustainable materials is one of your priorities, these may be a bit more costly, but they’ll also last longer and come with the added benefit of being eco-friendly. Look for options that make use of glass, bamboo, steel or aluminum. Remember that even a small effort made to incorporate sustainable practices will make a difference!

You could also consider having a plan for the materials you buy that will follow their use as parts of a greenhouse. This is called design for demolition or DfD. For example, if you’re buying lumber to build your greenhouse, you might want to construct it in a way that will enable you to preserve the wood if and when the greenhouse is eventually taken apart.

On a related note, it’s a good idea to think about where else the lumber could be used after demolition: Could it be donated to an organization like Habitat for Humanity? Used for smaller woodworking projects or for building raised flowerbeds? The number of possibilities can be endless, as long as you build with these plans in mind.

Indoor Greenhouses

If you’d like, you can even keep a mini-greenhouse indoors! Perhaps you have a solarium (or a room with lots of windows and natural light) in your home that you could repurpose into a room for plants.

You can also create a small greenhouse or terrarium by filling an old aquarium or goldfish bowl with some rocks or pebbles (for drainage) and then adding potting soil. Similarly, large mason jars can be turned upside down and put over small potted plants.

Show Us Your Ideas

There are so many ways to create a simple greenhouse for your plant babies, while also saving various materials from a nearby landfill. We’d love to see what you come up with! Share your ideas in the Comments section or tag us in your greenhouse posts on Instagram!


image 1: Unsplash; image 2: Unsplash