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POLYTUNNELS COMPARED IN THE UK


Selecting the correct polytunnel for yourself can be a hit and miss affair. One reason for this is that there appears to be a huge range of different manufacturers and options all at very different prices

This article gathers data about all the main manufacturers of polytunnels in the UK and compares the prices and products they offer. In the polytunnel world there is some truth in the saying "you get what you pay for" but at the same time you can end up paying far too much for an inferior product. Use our comparisons below to easily work your way through the polytunnel maze.

 
Before the comparison however, it's probably best to consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of polytunnels compared to a greenhouse. The two definitely have advantages and disadvantages which we explain in some detail - click here to go to our comparison page.

We recommend that you buy a polytunnel which has a door at each end. This allows ventilation through the entire length, easy access for insects to pollinate plants and will keep temperatures down in warm weather. A single door will do the job nearly as well but will require more frequent opening and closing.

The comparison below includes an "average price check" which can be used for comparison purposes. It is based on the price of a basic 8ft wide by 10ft long (approx 2.4m by 3m) polytunnel without any accessories and does not include postage costs. Postage costs, where given are to the UK mainland. The prices we quote have been updated for 2015 but please verify them for yourself when making a purchase.

Wherever possible we also mention the spacing between hoops, a five foot spacing will give good strength, a higher spacing will reduce the strength.

We have read the terms and conditions of many of the suppliers listed below in an attempt to find out what guarantees are offered with their products and to our non-legal minds we were initially surprised to find that in general the guarantees relating to the basic structure (base tubes, hoops etc.) simply cover faults found on delivery. There appears to be no guarantee that the structures will last for a given number of years.

We pondered this lack of guarantee and came to the conclusion that extreme weather conditions are capable of damaging even the strongest polytunnel and in effect no guarantee is sensibly possible. Some manufacturers provide a limited guarantee on the polythene covering but detailed investigation revealed it to be a very limited guarantee in terms of what it covered.

Our advice as far as guarantees are concerned is to assume there is no meaningful guarantee. With this in mind it's absolutely essential to consider carefully the reputation of the manufacturer because this is your key to buying a strong product.

Where we easily can determine technical specifications which we believe are relevant we mention them. One of the companies has produced a technical specification comparison which gives some insight into the materials used in the construction of 3 brands of polytunnel. This is an interesting and readable document which can be found here. It is produced by a reputable company and it's readily available to the public.

EASY TO BUILD POLYTUNNELS


One frequently hidden aspect of polytunnels is how easy they are to construct. Every manufacturer is different and every person who buys a polytunnel has a different range of diy skills.

To avoid disappointment we suggest you allow two days to erect your polytunnel and they should be reasonably dry and wind free ones.

Some parts of the construction will be made considerably easier if two people are available although much of the work can be done by one person. If your diy skills are of concern then we can recommend the new easy build polytunnels recently released by Northern Polytunnels. More details of the easy build system can be found in our news item which can be found here.

Ordering a polytunnel can be slightly complicated because of the different materials, number of supports, sizes etc. For this reason we have included a quick note concerning how easy the website is to use and navigate. This is a purely personal view, your views may differ.

The companies below are listed in alphabetic sequence.

CITADEL


Click here for their website
Average price check is £350 with free delivery to mainland UK. This includes doors at both ends, 5ft hoop spacing. Citadel have been in business for over 30 years making them one of the most experienced polytunnel companies in the UK.

Doors are treated timber and 4ft 6in high, the polythene is guaranteed for five years against UV degradation. The diameter of their hoops is 25mm with a side thickness if 1.5mm. Interestingly Citadel is one of the few companies which specify the crucially important side thickness of their hoops - it is a key factor in their strength.

One option they provide, admittedly outside the scope of this comparison, is a lean-to-polytunnel. A 1.3m x 2.05m lean-to-polytunnel can be yours for just £257! There are several other sizes as well, maybe it's a good option if you have space against a wall.

The website is of a basic design but has a reassuringly honest feel to it. They have produced a key document (click here to see it) which is relatively short but it packs in all the information you would need about their products and positioning, building and using your greenhouse. It is a lesson to some other polytunnel companies in how to cram in lots of technical detail in a way that the average customer can understand.

E-BAY AND SIMILAR


Click here for their website
There are many websites selling cheap polytunnels which range in price from £50 to £150. In some gardening circles these are known as "blowaways". The reason for the name is not complicated, in high winds the covers and sometimes the entire structures blow away. In other cases the cheap metal tubing collapses, snaps or twists out of shape.

The advantage of these cheap polytunnels is their low price. If you simply haven't the money to spare they may be the only option. As far as economics go they are cheap in the short term but expensive and time-consuming in the long term. When you buy one of these expect them to last between one and two years. We have seen one which was blown down and totally destroyed within a month of it being bought, on the other hand some may last three years or so. The plastic covering will last two years at the most.

So it's a matter of paying your money and taking your choice. Over a five year period the overall cost of a "blowaway" will be about equivalent to a more expensive professionally constructed polytunnel. You will of course have to dispose of the cheaper one and buy / construct a new cheap one during that time frame. Anything past five years and the more expensive polytunnels win hands down.

FERRYMAN POLYTUNNELS


Click here for their website
Average price check is £336 with free delivery to mainland UK. This includes one door which can be either hinged or roll up. Hoops are at 5ft / 1.5m intervals with a diameter of 25mm. We couldn't find any mention of the thickness of the foundation tubes so we assume them to be the acceptable minimum of 1.5mm.

This is a family run business which started in the 1980s and the polytunnels are made in the UK. Door height is 6ft / 1.8m and the hoops are a commendable 2 pieces only. The website is clear, concise and functional. I did phone them (in mid April) to clarify a few points and was put through to their answer phone. However my request for a call back came through in a few minutes.

FIRST TUNNELS


Click here for their website
From personal experience this is a company which would not appear on our buy list. Average price check is £356 with free delivery to mainland UK. They advertise a rather meaningless "Price Match Promise" which offers to match any like for like price. Is it possible to find two polytunnels from different companies which are exactly alike? We think not!

Doors are 1.8m (6ft) high, the polythene covering imported from Southern Spain, the diameter of the hoops is about average at 25mm (thickness is not specified). The website (and their brochure) is not appealing to us, far too many "hand written" notes and annotations to inspire confidence.

HAYGROVE


Click here for their website
Haygrove are in a different class compared to the companies included in this review. Their prices are also in a different class. A direct price comparison is not possible because they specify the sizes of their polytunnels in metres rather than feet as is the normal in the UK. We would guestimate that their equivalent price for an 8ft x 10ft unit would be about £750 at their standard non-sale prices, more than double the equivalent of the companies on this page.

We can't really say if that price is warranted because we have no experience of the materials and construction methods they use. What is clear however is that the covering is strong as are the hoops and base. Far stronger than most others on this page. If you are interested in a polytunnel which costs more than a greenhouse then we suggest you visit their website (see above) and decide for yourself.

HIGHLAND POLYTUNNELS


Click here for their website
Highland Polytunnels have been trading for over 12 years and appear not to be involved with the manufacture of their polytunnels. The average price check for this company is £495 and postage is not included.

NORTHERN POLYTUNNELS


Click here for their website
Average price check is £383 with free delivery to mainland UK. This includes two doors, 5 ft hoop spacing. The price is about average compared to competitive polytunnels. Their polytunnels are renowned for strength withstanding all that even northern and Scottish winds can throw at them.  So we took a closer look to see if there was a reason for this. The construction of Northern Polytunnels is a quality level above the competition for a couple of reasons which we highlight below:
  • DIAMETER OF HOOPS
    Many polytunnel retailers don't specify the diameter of the hoops they use to support the covering and the reason may be that it's not particularly impressive. After all the diameter of the hoops is a key indication of their strength. Where the diameter is specified it's normally 25mm to 28mm which should be sufficient in many conditions. Northern polytunnels specify the diameter of their hoops to be 32mm, larger than all the competition and that contributes greatly to their strength.

  • FOUNDATION TUBES
    The thickness of Northern Polytunnel foundation tubes is 3.5mm, almost all other manufacturers have a thickness of 1.5mm. This is a key indicator of the strength of your polytunnel's strength.

  • HOOP CONSTRUCTION
    The fewer the joints in a polytunnel hoop the better. Northern Polytunnels have their hoops constructed in two parts, other manufacturers have three parts (sometimes more) to their hoops. In the case of of hoops, two parts is stronger than three or more parts!
     
  • EXPERIENCE
    Northern Polytunnels experience in the polytunnel business dates back to 1969, the longest in the business.

The website is well constructed and clutter free with a good ordering system. We did have two criticisms of the website in 2014 but it has now been redesigned to be even clearer. Instruction manuals, which are clear, concise, accurate and easy to understand, are available for download online.

In 2015 Northern Polytunnels introduced an easy-to-build range of polytunnels which still retain their renowned strength. Click here if you want to learn more about this option, the video shows one of their polytunnels being built and it's impressively quick and easy.

PREMIER POLYTUNNELS


Click here for their website
Average price check is £319 with free delivery in mainland UK. This includes only one door with a dummy door at the rear, a second door costs £25.00. Hoop spacing is 5ft. Their polythene covers have a four year guarantee against UV degradation. The company has been operating for just over 25 years.

The door is 1.8m (6ft) high, the polythene covering is 600-guage (we could not find a mention of where it is manufactured), the diameter of the hoops is about average at 28mm (thickness is not specified).

The website is professional, clear, concise and makes ordering easy. There is lots of documentation to help with constructing and repairs but no practical video assistance. They also offer a Construction helpline.

The same greenhouse (looks the same to us) is also sold by RecycleWorks at a slightly lower cost of £293. Check carefully though before buying to ensure the same accessories and equipment are included.

ROBINSON POLYTUNNELS


Click here for their website
Average price check is £243 with free delivery to mainland UK. But beware that does not include doors nor anti-hot spot tape. So in reality you can add £53 to that price bringing it to just under £300 which is still on the low side compared to many. Hoop spacing is 5ft apart. Polythene covers have a five year UV degradation guarantee. Details of how long the company has been operating for are not stated on the website however it would appear to be less than 10 years.

Robinson Polytunnels (not connected to Robinsons Greenhouses) is run by Stuart Robinson who previously worked for Northern Polytunnels (see above) for 13 years.

The doors are 1.8m (6ft) high, we could not find the thickness of the polythene from their website. The diameter of the hoops is 25.4mm with a thickness of 1.5mm.

The website is clear and easy to navigate, the ordering process is good. Instruction manuals are available for download online and there is a series of videos to help with construction.

TWO WESTS AND ELLIOTT


Click here for their website
Two Wests and Elliott don't design or manufacture their own polytunnels they simply use models provided by other manufacturers and resell them. Their website is very short on any technical information so we have not included details in this comparison.

SUMMARY OF POLYTUNNEL RETAILERS


First, all the above information has been researched with the intentions of informing our readers, if you are intending to buy a polytunnel then please check out the information to ensure it is correct and up to date.

As far as retailers are concerned, if you wish your company to be included above at no cost then please contact us. If your company appears above and you believe any information is incorrect or missing then please contact us and we will correct it / include it.

We have spent many hours researching the above information and have accumulated a knowledge database far more extensive that the summaries above. With this in mind we recommend the following three top retailers:

NORTHERN POLYTUNNELS
For very little extra you seem to be getting a polytunnel which is better constructed than others. It will be able to withstand the extremes of British weather where others may fail. Let's face it the strong winds of 2013, 2014 and spring 2015 have tested many polytunnel owners to the limit. With a Northern Polytunnel you will be paying an average price for an above average structure - well worth the money. Its history, dating back to 1969, is very reassuring as is its use of state of art computer assisted design methods.

ROBINSON POLYTUNNELS
For the price you have a lot of polytunnel which appears to equal the standards of many of the above retailers. They are relatively new to the business but maybe that has some advantages.

CITADEL
Smaller than some of the others maybe but they offer good quality polytunnels and a huge amount of personal service. Their commitment to selling you only what you need shines through.

AVOID THESE IF POSSIBLE
The cheaper types of polytunnels do not provide good light levels for your plants, ventilation standards are low and they are potentially "blowaways". However, if money is short they may be your only alternative.

Avoid retailers who advertise excessively and have gimmicky websites. Money spent on over the top advertising is less money able to be spent on producing a quality product.

WHAT CAN YOU GROW IN A POLYTUNNEL


What you choose to grow in a polytunnel depends on many factors including:
  • Your own personal preferences - vegetables, herbs, flowers for cutting, plants too tender to grow in the open, exotic plants, the list goes on and on.
     
  • How much heat can be provided. Is your polytunnel without additional heat, offering basic frost protection or year round heating.
     
  • Water supply may be a limiting factor. In the heat of a polytunnel many plants will require copious watering, this can be very time consuming especially if the plants are in pots.
     
  • Height of the polytunnel may also be a limiting factor for obvious reasons

Many plants and vegetables can be grown in a polytunnel but some simply do better when grown outside in the UK climate. Examples include currants, raspberries, lettuce at some times of the year, broad beans, leeks, onions and many others which appreciate and flourish better when they are exposed to cool of the British weather.

We can't discuss the many options in detail here but we have researched a few links (with accompanying short comments) which may well inspire you:

  • Daily Telegraph - this article is comprehensive but it is rather specialist and often assumes a supply of electricity and almost limitless supplies of water.
     
  • Garden Organic factsheet - aimed primarily at schools but makes some good observations.
     

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