Are you an aspiring green thumb with hopes to own a greenhouse, but don't know where to start? That's Why we wrote this Beginner's Guide to Greenhouses.
I was once oblivious on how to start a greenhouse. But now I have a sprawling sanctuary in my backyard. And so can you.
I used to stare into my vacant backyard every day and dream about growing fresh vegetables, herbs, and exotic, lush shrubbery year-round. But year after year, I told myself that it was too expensive and difficult to own a greenhouse.
Then, one year, I threw caution to the wind and, like the 66% of Americans that are switching to more sustainable lifestyles, I wanted to reconnect with nature.
If this sounds familiar, then a greenhouse may be for you. I've gone through the hard work, trial-and-error for you – and I want to help you bring your dreams within reach. Read on to understand how a greenhouse works and the benefits of owning one.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 Why Use a Greenhouse?
- 0.2 How Does a Greenhouse Work?
- 0.3 What Are the Types of Greenhouses?
- 0.4 How to Start a Greenhouse: Your Checklist
- 0.5 Choose Your Backyard Greenhouse Covering
- 1 Your glaze choices are:
- 2 What’s the difference between the three? Everything.
Why Use a Greenhouse?
A backyard greenhouse can help your plants thrive year-round in a warm environment designed for their growth. But that’s not all. Greenhouses offer a host of ad benefits for the above-average plant-lover, such as:
- Increased food production
- Extended growing season
- Lower water use
- Less insecticide need
- Enhanced work conditions
Now, I know you’re probably thinking:
“This all sounds good – but aren’t greenhouses expensive?”
The short answer: Yes. But innovations in solar energy, such as the solar panel technology currently in development at UC Santa Cruz, are paving the path to make greenhouse operations more attainable and affordable for everyday citizens like you and me.
How Does a Greenhouse Work?
Greenhouse gardening creates a simulated microclimate that mimics the native environment for plants. This simulation allows the crops, vegetables, and herbs to grow well beyond the season.
How? By penetrating solar radiation. Sunlight enters through the "glazing," or the glass or plastic ceilings and walls of a greenhouse. Trapped heat remains on the inside, which warms the soil, seedlings, and plants.
This process helps raise the temperature of the greenhouse to a higher degree than the air outdoors. Greenhouses, by design, then optimize light to increase photosynthesis and sustain plant growth.
Sunlight and Artificial Heat
Greenhouses receive amble heat from the sun during the spring and summer months, but once temperatures drop during fall and winter, you’ll need artificial heat to keep your microclimate warm.
Some greenhouses can connect to natural or bottled gas. I use a mixture of heating fans, solar batteries, and coils to radiate warm air to plants during the colder months. Mix and match – it's up to you.
Note: Heat usage can create high expenses. That’s why I recommend you explore multiple options for variety and affordability.
What Are the Types of Greenhouses?
Before you start a greenhouse, consider the types of structures for your specific needs. There are three primary greenhouse styles – free-standing, attached, and cold frames.
You can construct free-standing greenhouses in a well-sunlit area of your property. They have the advantage of containing more plants than other greenhouses and are more affordable to maintain, as well. These sanctuaries are pleasant, distraction-free zones that can provide you with a relaxing escape from the daily grind.
Attached greenhouses connect to your garage or home. This leaves only three walls that require construction. The structure is also made of lighter material.
Attached systems are ideal for growing seedlings, small vegetables, or herbs. However, there are a few disadvantages: the lack of a fourth-wall can limit sunlight. Square footage is also lower than other options.
Decorative greenhouses have a storied history; in the 19th century, these structures were owned by the wealthy, overflowed with exotic, lush shrubs, and were known for their aesthetic appeal. These usually feature sunrooms or enclosed sitting decks – an ideal space for entertaining guests.
How to Start a Greenhouse: Your Checklist
No one told me that starting a greenhouse took more than a pair of green thumbs and potting soil. So my first efforts were filled with difficulty. But not you. I’m here to guide your strategy and prepare you for greenhouse greatness.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Find a location. Greenhouse gardening works best with maximum sunlight. Select an area of your property that will receive more than five hours of direct sunshine each day.
- Secure adequate space. How much surface area do you need? Ask yourself this before you make any purchases or break any ground. Your greenhouse is an investment for years to come. That means you’ll need to plan for growth – literally!
- Conceptualize headroom. How do you envision your ceiling structures? Hanging plants could save you some valuable real estate on your greenhouse floor. Consider plant supports or grow lights during your planning phase.
- Select flooring. Your preference. While some gardeners prefer wooden flooring that's easy to clean, others may opt for a level dirt floor for simplicity. Some facilities are a blend of the two.
- Select plants. Which types will you keep in your greenhouse? Identify the variety of plants you’d like to have early to determine the minimum temperature of your greenhouse.
- Create a maintenance plan. Most greenhouse owners use mechanical ventilation and water treatment systems. Both come at a cost, and water delivery must connect to main water lines – but it's a worthy investment.
If you’ve run through all of the above steps, then your checklist is complete. Now put your plan into action – build that greenhouse!
Choose Your Backyard Greenhouse Covering
Once you have selected the type of greenhouse that you'd like, and checked-off your to-do lists, you should be ready to outfit your greenhouse setup with glaze. These coverings facilitate plant growth and also double as a protective biosphere to shields plants from inclement weather.
Your glaze choices are:
What’s the difference between the three? Everything.
Glass is naturally the most popular choice, but it’s also the most expensive glaze on the market. So if you’re looking to save money, plastic sheeting is the cheapest solution; however, it degrades rapidly.
Polycarbonate is cheap yet durable, mobile, can contour to different surfaces, and retains heat the best out of the three.
More Greenhouse Tips for Beginners
Plan Your Greenhouse with Confidence
Gardeners: Owning and operating a greenhouse does not have to be a pipe dream. With the use of modern technology, you can now explore your greenhouse gardening interest with ease. Your options range from browsing the internet for pre-built kits to do-it-yourself models – all of which are less expensive to purchase or build than their predecessors.
Heating and water can be problematic and expensive; however, with education and a utility plan in place, you can maintain your microclimate without breaking the bank.