Greenhouse Basics

A greenhouse is basically an enclosed structure that has transparent or translucent walls that allow sunlight to warm the space and create a microclimate. Greenhouses also allow you to control the amount of air and water your plants receive, as well as the temperature and humidity.

Greenhouses are usually a framework of wood, metal, plastic or PVC pipes with panes of glass or polycarbonate sheeting on all sides. Some greenhouses are portable and use polyethylene sheeting. Like garden arbors, they are generally easy to assemble and to take apart for summer storage. Greenhouse kits are available in varying sizes and styles that can be erected by do-it-yourself homeowners. More elaborate greenhouses can be built for you by a contractor.

While greenhouses are designed to capture the sun, they are also designed to control the level of shade with shade cloth or shelving units. You can have a small area for shade loving plants, and control the levels of filtered sunlight with different layers of shade cloth.

The variability and flexibility of the greenhouse allows you to grow just about any kind of plant you want, no matter the climate of where you live or what time of year you wish to garden!

We’ll talk more about how greenhouses work after we discuss thebasic types and their uses and the principles of setting up your greenhouse.

Your Ideal Greenhouse Environment

Deciding which greenhouse is right for you begins with brainstorming ideas for how you want to use your new greenhouse. For example, if you want to start a collection of orchids and you live in a colder part of the country, you will need to consider buying a substantial greenhouse with sufficient insulation to keep your plants under appropriate growing conditions year round. In this case, your greenhouse may have triple-pane glass or polycarbonate panels which will provide the proper insulation. It may also have a frame that is insulated, as well as insulation around the foundation. Sound complicated? Not to worry. Keep reading and you’ll quickly learn that selecting a greenhouse is easier than you imagined.

While you’re researching greenhouses, it is a good idea to take notes and make sketches of your property. Think about issues of space and the budget you have to work with. Rest assured that you will be able to find a greenhouse that fits your needs.

One fundamental idea in greenhouse design is how the interior microclimate is regulated. The more delicate your plants and the more varied your needs, the more you should consider insulation and more elaborate systems of irrigation and climate control. Less expensive greenhouse structures, such as cold frames and hobby homeowner kits (Clean Air Gardening greenhouses) can work very well for the casual greenhouse gardener. Simple designs may involve just a frame and polycarbonate panels that create a warmer environment than you have in your garden. These are ideal for extending the growing season, storing delicate plants in the early spring and late fall, forcing bulbs, etc.

As you get into more advanced greenhouse gardening, you may buy a greenhouse that has electricity and the possibility for regular irrigation. For example, if you plan on growing a collection of expensive orchids, you may consider a control system with sensors that will automatically open and close vents, adjust the temperature, and turn on and off a mist system. These systems can open and close a roof cover, and even send an alarm to the house (or your cell phone) if there is a problem. Your greenhouse may require lights and heaters, as well as fans. However, very few homeowners are actually going to need a system this costly and elaborate.

Of course, in the case of the more basic greenhouse, you will need to take more responsibility for controlling the climate inside the greenhouse. Believe it or not, this can actually be the most enjoyable part of greenhouse gardening. You can check the temperature, humidity, soil acidity, soil temperature and tweak things as needed. As you watch the results of your nurturing, you will realize that your greenhouse is a unique and malleable gardening space that you control.

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