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High Tunnel or Hoop House vs Greenhouse - Which Is Better for Your Garden

High Tunnel or Hoop House vs Greenhouse: Which Is Better for Your Garden?

Want fresh vegetables and fruits beyond the normal outdoor growing period? For gardeners investing in a protective structure like a high tunnel or greenhouse can make that possible. But what exactly is the difference between a hoop house and a greenhouse? Which option is right for your needs?

In this guide, we'll compare key factors about high tunnels vs greenhouses - from costs and building to ideal conditions and crop choices. Read on to learn the pros and cons of each protected environment and determine if a high tunnel or greenhouse best fits your gardening goals.

Key Takeaways

  • High tunnels or hoop houses provide affordable season extensions for cool-weather crops with minimal investment in utilities or maintenance. They add weeks or months onto the spring and fall growing period.

  • Greenhouses enable year-round cultivation and support greater crop diversity including heat-lovers like tomatoes. But have higher upfront and operating costs.

  • Hoop houses allow in-ground planting and passive ventilation. Greenhouses often use containers and have active HVAC systems.

  • For most home gardeners seeking budget-friendly season extensions, hoop houses are typically the better choice over greenhouses.

an actual product image of the Canopia Prestige 8' Greenhouse - Twin Wall with a woman inside tending to her plants

    What are High Tunnels? (Also Called Hoop Houses)

    High tunnels, also known as hoop houses, are unheated, plastic-covered structures that provide an intermediate level of environmental protection and control compared to open field conditions and heated greenhouses.

    Benefits of High Tunnels

    Hoop houses offer many advantages for small-scale growers:

    • Extend the growing season: Hoop houses can extend the growing season, producing in-ground crops for a longer period each year. These structures help protect plants amidst extreme heat, cold temperatures, frost, snow, and overly rainy seasons.

    • Increase yields: Many studies have proven that, compared to an open-field setting, hoop houses provide an improved growing environment where crops can grow more vigorously. The protected setting leads to higher productivity.

    • Protect plants: Hoop houses shield plants from heavy winds, driving rain, hail, and extreme weather events that can damage crops.

    • Accessible costs: Hoop house kits and DIY constructions are more affordable than traditional greenhouses for small growers. High tunnel costs range from $2-$8 per square foot while greenhouses are $15-$25 per square foot.

    • Earlier harvesting: Crops grown in high tunnels mature earlier, allowing harvests 4-6 weeks before field-grown plants.

    Disadvantages of High Tunnels

    While high tunnels have many benefits, they also come with some downsides:

    • Climate control limitations: Hoop houses allow less control over temperature, humidity, ventilation, and other environmental factors.
    • Pest and disease potential: Humid conditions can encourage fungal diseases. Pests like spider mites, whiteflies, and aphids may also thrive in the enclosed space. Good IPM practices are essential.

    • Limited winter production: Hoop houses lack adequate heat and light for most winter crops. They are not designed for year-round production like greenhouses.

    • Upfront costs: Though more affordable long-term, Hoop Houses construction and setup costs can still be prohibitive for some small growers. Grants and cost-share programs can help.

    a product image of the interior of the Solexx Conservatory 16x20x96 - DELUXE

        Key Differences Between High Tunnels and Greenhouses

        While high tunnels and greenhouses both allow protected cultivation, there are some notable differences between these growing structures:

        Construction and Materials

        • High tunnels typically have hoop-shaped, bowed metal or PVC frames covered in a single or double layer of greenhouse plastic. Unlike greenhouses, they are semi-permanent structures.

        • Greenhouses have rigid frames of galvanized steel, aluminum, or wood covered in glass or rigid polycarbonate panels. They are designed as permanent structures.

        Temperature Control and Microclimates

        • High tunnel temperatures fluctuate widely with outdoor conditions since they lack built-in heating and cooling systems. Ventilation is primarily passive.

        • Greenhouses carefully control temperature using automated heating and evaporative cooling systems paired with humidity sensors and thermostats.

        Growing Seasons and Crop Choices

        • High tunnels primarily extend spring and fall seasons but lack adequate warmth and light for winter crops. Mainly used for cool-season vegetables and some tender fruits.

        • Greenhouses enable year-round production of warm and cool-season crops including tomatoes, peppers, greens, herbs, berries, citrus, figs, and more. Wider diversity of plants.

        Pest Management and Disease Control

        • High tunnels offer some protection from pests but populations can quickly multiply in enclosed space. Diseases must be closely monitored and controlled.

        • Greenhouses can exclude most pests through screening and tightly sealed structures. Disease prevention relies heavily on climate control and air circulation.

        Ventilation and Air Circulation

        • High tunnels rely on passive ventilation from roll-up sides, roof vents, and doors. Strategic ventilation helps control humidity and pests.

        • Greenhouses use automated vents, exhaust fans, and horizontal airflow fans to maximize air exchange. Critical for preventing diseases.

        Costs and Maintenance

        • High tunnel kits can cost $2-$8 per square foot. Maintenance involves covering upkeep and repairs as needed.

        • Greenhouses range from $15-$25 per square foot for construction. They require ongoing maintenance of technical systems like HVAC.

        Key Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Hoop House vs Greenhouse

        When deciding between investing in a high tunnel system or a traditional greenhouse, first consider your gardening goals and growing conditions:

        Climate and Location Considerations

        • High tunnels are suitable for most climates but are especially popular in northern zones with cooler, shorter growing periods. Not ideal for the tropics.

        • Greenhouses work well across all climate zones but require substantial heating and cooling systems in extreme northern/southern locations to maintain ideal conditions.

        Intended Crops to Grow

        • High tunnels excel at extending seasons for cold-tolerant crops like leafy greens, roots, brassicas, berries, etc. Not suitable for warm-season fruits.

        • Greenhouses support nearly any type of edible, ornamental, or medicinal plant. From tomatoes and peppers to bananas, citrus, and more.

        The following table compares the suitability of different crop types for cultivation in high tunnels versus greenhouses:

        Crop Type High Tunnel Greenhouse
        Leafy Greens Excellent Excellent
        Roots and Tubers Excellent Excellent
        Brassicas Excellent Excellent
        Berries Good Excellent
        Warm-season Fruits Poor Excellent
        Citrus Poor Good
        Ornamentals Poor Excellent
        Medicinals Poor Excellent

        Budget and Construction Factors

        • High tunnel budgets range from DIY builds for under $1,000 to prefab kits up to $20,000. Require minimal utilities.

        • Greenhouses range from $15,000 to over $100,000+ depending on the type, size, and complexity of systems. Require plumbing and HVAC.

        Carefully weigh the upfront construction and ongoing maintenance costs for your needs. Research available grants or cost-share programs to offset investments.

        Your Gardening Goals and Priorities

        • Maximize growing space: Greenhouses offer more square footage and vertical growing potential year-round.

        • Lower start-up costs: High tunnels are more budget-friendly for small-scale growers.

        • Season extension: High tunnels add weeks or months onto spring and fall. Greenhouses offer true year-round production.

        • Crop diversity: Greenhouses support far more plant varieties including heat-lovers like tomatoes.

        • Food independence: With substantial effort and inputs, greenhouses can provide fresh produce year-round.

        Consider which structure best aligns with your gardening priorities - whether it's for growing space, costs, season extension, or crop options.

        Conclusion and Final Recommendations

        For most home gardeners looking to extend their growing season on a budget, hoop houses are usually the better option. They provide an affordable way to add several weeks or months onto the spring and fall production schedule. They excel at growing cool-season leafy greens and other hardy veggies without requiring a major upfront investment or technical maintenance.

        While greenhouses enable impressive year-round cultivation, they require significant construction expenses as well as ongoing HVAC and systems upkeep. For the average gardener, the costs and effort of a greenhouse may not be justified .

        Ultimately, one should weigh their specific gardening goals - space requirements, desired crops, budget, and labor limitations - before deciding between a passive high tunnel or an actively controlled greenhouse. But for extending the growing period without breaking the bank, a simple hoop house is hard to beat.


        Can crops be grown directly in the ground in a hoop house?

        Yes, hoop houses allow crops to be planted directly into the ground. In contrast, crops in greenhouses are often planted in raised beds or pots.

        Do hoop houses and greenhouses require different pest management strategies?

        Yes, due to the different environmental conditions created in hoop houses and greenhouses, pest management strategies may also differ. It is always highly recommended to maintain a pest-free environment in both of these structures to have healthy growing crops.

        What is the microclimate like inside a hoop house?

        A hoop house creates a microclimate that provides protection from the elements, including wind and rain. The covered structure contains the heat and humidity during the day. At night, the structure allows some heat to escape and cooler air to enter, providing a slightly more varied climate compared to a controlled environment greenhouse.

        Can one use a heater for a hoop house?

        There is typically no inbuilt heating or ventilation system in a hoop house, unlike a greenhouse. However, farmers and gardeners may decide to add a portable heater to a hoop house, especially if they are looking to extend their growing period later into the fall or wish to start earlier in the spring, even if they live in colder areas.

        Is building high tunnels different than building a greenhouse?

        Yes, building high tunnels or hoop house plans tends to be simpler compared to a greenhouse. Hoop houses consist mostly of ground posts and arches covered with plastic. Generally, the construction of greenhouses is more complex, involving a sturdy frame, glazing panels, and systems for heating and ventilation.

        Previous article Glass vs Polycarbonate Greenhouses: Which is Better for Your Growing Needs?
        Next article Cold Frame vs Greenhouse: Which Growing Structure is Best For Your Garden?

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        About The Author

        Andy Wu - Resident Expert

        Andy Wu - Resident Expert

        Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

        As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

        His main focus is on sheds and generators!

        In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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