If you already enjoy growing fresh veggies and fruits in your garden during the growing season, you might want to bring it to the next level by growing year-round in a greenhouse.
However, there are many things to consider before getting a greenhouse: What type of greenhouse is the best choice for me?, What size do I need?, Where should I place it? and so on. This guide will help you with all these questions so that you will have an easier start with greenhouse gardening.
Benefits of growing a greenhouse
Greenhouse gardening has many benefits and only two disadvantages: You have to put time and money into it. In return, you can enjoy the following benefits:
Longer growing season
A greenhouse stretches the growing season so that you can either start growing earlier every year or you can actually grow your plants year-round. This is especially interesting for people, who live in colder climates.
The structure of a greenhouse uses the heat of the sun to increase the temperature inside the greenhouse. So the inside temperature is always higher than outside. This way you can even enjoy your tomatoes during the fall and winter months.
A greenhouse means protection for your plants. While your outside crops are at the mercy of insects and rodents, you don’t have to worry about this with a greenhouse. In the garden, your plants are exposed to insects, rodents, and other animals, as well as diseases. A greenhouse can provide isolation and, therefore, protection.
Protection from the elements
Storm, hail, wind, heavy rain, or even drought cannot harm your plants because they are protected by the sturdy structure of a greenhouse. Just like your house provides security from the weather, a greenhouse does the same for your plants.
It’s a carefree way of gardening because unforeseen weather changes won’t damage your crops.
Saving on grocery bills
If you don’t have a garden and grow your own veggies and fruits, you most likely spend a lot more money in grocery stores or farmer’s markets. A greenhouse gives you room to grow for a longer time in the year. This means you don’t have to spend the money in supermarkets to get mediocre veggies and of course veggies from your own garden always taste better.
At the same time, you will have full control over your plants. This means you know what chemicals you are using or not using.
Studies have shown that vegetables and fruits have chemical residues and some of these pesticides have already been banned in the U.S., and yet they still are used in some areas.
In your own greenhouse, you can decide what is best for you and your family. You can learn how to use organic pest control in case you really need it.
Vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers – a greenhouse can be used for any kind of plant. Since you can use bed separators, shelves, and tables, you can even vary the soil to make the most out of your own greenhouse.
Some greenhouse designs also make it an excellent place for social events. A nice Sunday’s brunch next to your strawberry plants and citrus trees in an Orangerie could be your new family ritual.
What are the different greenhouse types?
We know it can be overwhelming when you browse through different internet sources and see different types of greenhouses. We want to make it easy for you by providing the most common names, terms, and structures.
Greenhouse types by purpose
One big factor in choosing the right greenhouse is the purpose of use. Manufacturers designed different greenhouses according to the usage of them. So they can offer the perfect greenhouses for different ways of life.
A hobby greenhouse most likely is the one that you are looking for. It’s the place for hobby gardeners to grow their plants in a secured and controlled environment. A hobby greenhouse is an overall term for “non-professional” gardeners, who grow vegetables and other plants for their family in a greenhouse.
In contrast to the hobby greenhouse, this type of greenhouse is for professionals, who grow plants for a commercial use, i.e. farmers.
They usually are bigger and have some additional features for growing at a large scale.
The name already reveals its purpose. Educational greenhouses are made for schools, universities, and other educational institutions. These greenhouse kits are for education and therapy.
Conservatories are greenhouses that have a shared purpose. While people still grow plants, they use them for social happenings at the same time.
They mostly are freestanding greenhouses. Some cities have them as a recreational attraction for visiting. Conservatories have been very popular in the nineteenth century when tea parties were held in them to enjoy the great atmosphere of citrus trees. It’s a nice place to escape the winter.
Cold greenhouses and cold frames
In winter, the temperatures can drop quite extremely, even inside a cold greenhouse. It doesn’t use an alternate heating source and it isn’t as insulated as hot greenhouses.
Cold frames or cold greenhouses are good for getting started earlier in the growing season and extending it into fall. However, they are still limited by the weather.
In a cool greenhouse, the temperature stays above freezing (45–50 °F) so that your plants will be protected over the winter. This makes it perfect for flowers and plants that aren’t winter-proof, such as hyacinths and geraniums.
With 50–55 °F, a warm greenhouse provides a protective space for plants that are sensitive to low temperatures, such as orchids, chrysanthemums, and roses. However, this will not secure tropical plants.
Hot greenhouses or hothouses
In hothouses, you will have temperatures starting at 60°F and higher, which makes it perfect for tropical plants and year-round growing.
Want to read more about the different temperatures inside a greenhouse? Read this.
In this section, you will learn more about outdoor greenhouses that can stand in your backyard. The freestanding greenhouses are all structures that are not connected to a wall or house.
When you think of a greenhouse, a gable roof design will pop up in your mind. The conventional greenhouse looks like a simple house made of glass or Polycarbonate. It has a simple, but solid structure.
It is one of the most popular structures. It offers a lot of room to grow your plants efficiently.
The name already tells you what shape an A-frame greenhouse is. This triangular house uses the minimal amount of materials. Besides the hoop house, it is one of the most common greenhouse structures for DIY projects.
However, it has its limits in the functionality as it is pretty narrow and air flow can become a problem in corners.
The hoop house is shaped like a half of a hoop, which is the origin of its name. The support comes from aluminum or plastic pipes that are often covered in one or two layers of polymer plastic.
With costs of less than $1 per square foot, the hoop house is considered one of the cheapest greenhouse constructions.
Another popular style for greenhouses is the Quonset. The hoop house basically can be considered a Quonset because it has the same shape.
Compared to the A-frame, the Quonset offers more room to move inside the greenhouse.
Gothic arch or onion-shaped greenhouse
The shape of the Gothic arch greenhouse is similar to the Quonset house but has a pointed top. So it looks like the pointed tip of a water drop or an onion.
The benefits of a Gothic arch greenhouse are that they enable good light transmission and a lot of room. They are also perfect for areas with lots of snow and wind.
Victorian greenhouses were very common in the nineteenth century and symbolized wealth and status quo. They were far more than a house for gardening.
A Victorian greenhouse was rather used as a green social meeting point. The design is practical as well as artistic. So it stands out against the other greenhouse structures.
Geodesic Dome Greenhouse
A Geodesic Dome greenhouse is constructed like a dome by using triangular shapes. It needs precise angles and measurements. The structure is very strong and can withstand all weathers, including tornadoes and earthquakes.
Geodesic Dome greenhouses have a high energy efficiency and a better light transmission than conventional greenhouses. Read more…
Read more about the different shapes and structures of greenhouses in this article!
Besides the freestanding greenhouses, there are also greenhouse structures that can be attached to your house or window. It’s a great solution for people, who don’t have a large backyard and want to use their space efficiently.
Lean-to greenhouses are great solutions for small backyards. They share one wall with your house to give them more stability. It is important to choose a south-facing wall so that the lean-to greenhouse receives sunlight throughout the day.
A window greenhouse or garden window is the tiny greenhouse option for your window. It’s an extension for your normal window in order to give your plants more sunlight. The window greenhouse is good for herbs and plants that need more sunlight, but don’t take much room.
Using the full potential of the window light, a Windowfarm is a vertical construct that uses the room temperature and an organic “liquid soil” (also seen as hydroponic farming). It is an urban greenhouse solution, completely based on DIY.
After talking so much about solid greenhouse structures, we want to mention the portable greenhouses as well.
The benefit is that you can move the structure with the seasons or for any other reason. Mostly portable greenhouses are cold frames or raised garden beds. However, there are also some small greenhouses that can be moved.
Controlling the basic elements in your greenhouse
As mentioned earlier in this article, a greenhouse allows you to take control over the basic elements in order to protect your plants and provide them the best conditions to grow. However, there are still some tricks to optimize the greenhouse gardening by using the elements to their full potential.
Water – The essence of life
Besides the sun, your plants need water to grow. Proper watering is an essential key to successful greenhouse gardening. As your plants are protected from the rain, you have to find a way to properly irrigate your plants. You can either manually give them water, which is achievable for hobby gardeners with small greenhouses but can take a lot of time. There are also irrigation systems that will do the job for you.
Watering systems for greenhouses
There are basically two types of irrigation systems: Ground and sprinkler systems. Not every plant needs the same amount of water, for example, lettuce doesn’t need as much water as hibiscus. So you want to pair the plants by their water needs and install the watering system accordingly. You can utilize shelves, benches, and racks in order to organize them better.
Hydroponic systems are meant for growing without soil. It normally uses Rockwool or perlite to provide a stable foundation for the roots. The crops are planted in trays on tables that float in the water. So they don’t even touch the ground. Hydroponic greenhouses are not affected by low temperatures in the soil, which makes it a great alternative option for year-round growing as well.
Fire – why the sun is not so easy to control
The sun means power, warmth, but also destruction. While the sunshine is extremely helpful in the winter in order to warm up the greenhouse, it can be the killer in summer (and spring). Therefore you have to utilize it wisely. The positioning of your greenhouse is always the essential key to taking the full advantage of the sunlight.
Position for sun exposure or protection
As the sun will be mostly in the South throughout the day, you want to face the longest side of your greenhouse to the South. This way you can benefit from the necessary sunlight for greenhouse gardening.
If you are living in a climate zone that has hot summers but cold winters, you will be confronted with less sunlight in winters and too much of it in summers. So you have to consider the changing angle of the sunlight in the different seasons, as well as insulate the North side and the roof (mostly done by thicker polycarbonate plastic).
You can also use a shade cloth as an additional accessory in order to protect your plants from too much sunlight. However, it won’t decrease the temperature extremely.
Light deprivation greenhouse
The process of light deprivation (or light dep) forces plants to grow faster because they continuously get sunlight. This is obviously impossible with nature. So farmers use lighting systems to extend the lighting circle, which results in faster growth. It can be used for indoor and outdoor gardening and is very popular for growing cannabis.
Earth – Provide the perfect soil to your plants
Greenhouse gardening makes it easy to provide the perfect soil to your plants so that they can get the maximum amount of nutrients. This also means that you have to pick a good soil, which isn’t easy with all the information found online.
By using separated growing beds and pots, you can adapt the soil to the needs of your plants. If you just want to use one soil for different types of plants, you should choose a balanced mix.