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. Whereas insects can destroy your crops outside, you don't have to worry about this with a shield-like greenhouse. In the garden, your plants are exposed to insects, rodents, and other animals, as well as diseases, whereas a greenhouse provides 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.
Control over produce
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 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 a Chalet greenhouse 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 "professional gardeners", who grow plants for commercial use, i.e. farmers.
As the name already reveals its purpose, the 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, which you can also visit in some cities as a recreational attraction. 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 extreme, even inside a cold greenhouse, because 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. Besides the A-frame, this structure is one of the most popular. 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 a minimal amount of materials. It is one of the most common greenhouse structures. However, it has its limits in the functionality as it is a pretty narrow greenhouse and air flow can become a problem in corners.
The hoop house is shaped like 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 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. The benefits of a Gothic arch greenhouse are that they enable good light transmission and a lot of room at a relatively low price.
Read more about the different shapes and structures of greenhouses in this article!
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 high energy efficiency and better light transmission than conventional greenhouses. Read more...
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 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. 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 bed. However, there are also some small greenhouses that can be moved (e.g. the Geodesic Dome)
Controlling the basic elements in your greenhouse
As mentioned earlier in this article, a greenhouse allows you to take control of the basic elements to protect your plants and provide them the best conditions to grow. However, there are still some tricks to optimize greenhouse gardening by using the elements to their full potential.
Solar - Using this natural source of heat year-round
The sun is the energy and heating source for year-round gardening. 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.
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 Northside 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.
Light deprivation greenhouse
The process of light deprivation (or light dep) forces plants to grow faster because they continuously get sunlight. This is 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.
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 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 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.
Soil - Provide the best nutrients 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, 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.
Ventilation - a crucial key to greenhouse gardening
Controlling the air in a greenhouse regulates four different areas: Temperature, humidity, CO2/oxygen replacement, and air circulation. If you master the ventilation in your greenhouse, you will be rewarded with healthy crops. Using a vent or fan can reduce the heat and humidity inside the greenhouse to avoid greenhouse gases (greenhouse effect) because too high temperatures and humidity are counterproductive for plants. Like us, plants need something to breathe - in this case, it is CO2 and not oxygen. They convert CO2 into oxygen. Good airflow helps to provide enough CO2 for the photosynthesis. Last but not least, air circulation ensures that every plant can grow under the same air conditions. It also simulates the wind that they would have in an unprotected environment, which thickens the cell walls of the plant's stem and is crucial for pollination of certain plants.
Factors to consider before buying a greenhouse
By now, you already know a lot about the structures and functions of a greenhouse. So it's time to talk about picking the right greenhouse for your needs. There are, of course, things to consider before buying a greenhouse kit and we are very sure you still have questions about purchasing a greenhouse.
What greenhouse size should I choose?
Pick a size that you think is good and purchase at least one size larger. Why do we say that? Well, most customers regret that they didn't buy a larger greenhouse. Once you got infected with the 'greenhouse gardening bug', you may want to have more space to grow even more.
This probably is still very unspecific. The size of the greenhouse depends on your own needs. How many veggies, flowers, herbs or fruits do you want to plant? For how many people do you want to grow? You will find many sources that give different recommendations. Truth is, you determine the size with your needs and also your budget. So start making a plan by writing down all the plants you want to grow. Then take your time and mark the sections for these plants on the ground. You can place pots or grow bags on the ground to help out. Don't forget to include a path for you to enter the beds. Read more...
Where should I set up the greenhouse?
We already mentioned before that the perfect location for your greenhouse is with the longest side facing the sun (South). This will use the sunlight at its best. If you decide for a small 8' x 8' greenhouse, it isn't important which side is exposed to the sun as it is a square shape.
Here are some more quick tips to consider:
- Avoid trees nearby
- Choose a level foundation
- Good accessibility (for entering, cleaning, and maintenance)
- Access to resources (water and electricity, if needed)
- Good soil (if you don't use raised beds)
Want more information? - Read this...
Do I need a building permit for setting up a greenhouse?
The last thing you need is having trouble with the local requirements. As every community handles these things differently, we cannot give an exact answer. However, it is fairly easy to find out yourself.
You have to take care of two requirements: Zoning & Building Permit. The Zoning Permit regulates the location of your greenhouse in your garden, e.g. the distance between the lot line and greenhouse. So check with your local zoning department for further information. Then check with your state building department for a potential Building Permit. Some states have to accept structural integrity and physical appearance. However, they usually consider a greenhouse as a temporary structure so that you won't need a Building Permit. The best way to find out is to ask them, though.
Where should I buy a greenhouse?
You can buy greenhouses in a physical store, such as Home Depot, or in an online shop like Greenhouse Emporium (that's us). Whereas a physical store only has a few different greenhouses in stock, our online shop offers a variety of vendors and sizes, as well as accessories. We ship right from the manufacturer and can walk you through the whole process from finding the right greenhouse over purchasing and receiving the greenhouse kit. We are using secured payments so that there is nothing you have to worry about.
What features should my greenhouse have?
Greenhouses may look simple. There are basic features that effective greenhouse must possess. It is either you are building one for the first time or upgrading it. Let's take a look at these essential accessories.
Do not underestimate the benefits of an appropriate door for your greenhouse. Think of your equipment, ease of access, ventilation, and security. This might look like an insignificant detail but look at the details and its importance.
Greenhouse doors can create a constant airflow to cool down plants in summer. There are barn style doors which you can leave the top portion open to prevent pets from going inside. It will let in beneficial insects at the same time.
Give the most accessible way to move equipment. Higher and spacious doors give you more flexibility. A well-thought design with no door restrictions can mean a lot to any gardener. There are a lot of designs to choose from depending on your needs.
A greenhouse will quickly overheat without opened vents. It is the best way to release the heat and let in some cool breeze. The number of vents depends on the size of your greenhouse.
Manual vents are the most affordable model. You need to close and open it on specific times of the day on your own. There are automatic vent openers to save the day. It closes and opens depending on the temperature it senses. Or you may also use automatic electric vents which uses thermostats but it will cost you more.
Here comes the winter season and you need to protect your plants from frost. There are different ways to heat your greenhouses. And there are hundreds of heaters to choose from. It can be powered by electricity or gas.
Natural gas heaters need regular monitoring. Make sure to follow all the listed safety measures. It is more affordable than electric heaters.
Handy space heaters do well in small greenhouses. You can choose from several sizes. It can be ceramic, portable, fuel-based, and more.
Another effective heating method is hot water or steam heater. The steam provides quick temperature adjustments. It can provide enough heat without the need for electricity and gas.
Electric heaters are affordable and can be portable. It is easy to maintain, clean and install. You can choose from different sizes and styles.
Is it a temporary or permanent greenhouse? The foundation depends on your future plans, whether you are planning to move your greenhouse into another place or will it stay there forever.
This is more of a permanent foundation. It has to be fixed deep into the spot around the boundary of your greenhouse. This is worth your labor because it can support your greenhouse for more years to come.
Wood is the most common type of foundation, especially for smaller greenhouses. This is more affordable than concrete. It is easier to install. It won’t require tiresome digging.
Beam and post foundation
This foundation is another easy option for a greenhouse. If you live in warmer environments, you can use a partial post to hold your greenhouse because the possibility of freezing is not that significant. Your post will have to rest on a solid base that is established below the freeze line. It will prevent your greenhouse from tilting off the ground.
Glass vs Polycarbonate Greenhouse
Ancestral greenhouses are made from several glass panels. But in 1970, the original brownish Polycarbonate evolved to a clear glasslike tint. Since then, the choices for greenhouse covering materials are constantly increasing. There are glass, Polycarbonate, vinyl, Polyethylene Plastic films, and more. Now let us talk about the pros and cons of glass and Polycarbonate.
Advantages of glass greenhouses
Glass greenhouses allow excellent light transmission than any other glazings. You will instantly see the inner beauty of your greenhouse. It also offers a longer lifespan. Glasses can stay functional for decades. It can stay as clear as crystal for many years with proper care..
Glass greenhouses add more value to your property. An excellent investment as time goes by. It adds luxury to any property. It can mainly be for plants, a spa, or just an events place.
Glasses are non-combustible, immune to UV radiation, and air pollutant degeneration. It also keeps its original radiation transmission if always cleaned.
Disadvantages of glass greenhouses
Glass is more expensive than Polycarbonate and other glazings. It can be broken by hailstorms or baseballs. There are tendencies that you might have to replace them from time to time. If you chose to install glass, it is better to choose the tempered or safety glass to prevent further accidents and damages. Installing glass is labor intensive because of its weight.
Advantages of Polycarbonate greenhouses
Polycarbonate greenhouses have earned its popularity recently. It might outrun glass as the chief material. The most important features of Polycarbonate is that it gives excellent insulation qualities than a conventional glass greenhouse. The characteristics of Polycarbonate makes it long lasting.
Polycarbonate doesn't break like glasses. It prevents breakage from unfavorable circumstances. It is lightweight and can be installed easily. You can simply customize the size depending on your greenhouse.
An extended growing season is possible using Polycarbonate. The sunlight will spread evenly in the entire greenhouse. It is UV protected so your plants won't be exposed to harmful rays.
Polycarbonate greenhouses were expensive in the past. With the technology that we have now, it makes it more affordable to gardeners. You can get a lot more benefits without spending too much.
Disadvantages of Polycarbonate greenhouses
Polycarbonate panels are not perfect. They also have a few disadvantages when compared to glass. They are not that immune to scratching. Denting is also likely to happen if not taken cared of.
You have to be vigilant about cleaning them with benzene or other solvents. They are so sensitive to abrasive cleansers. It might ruin the surfaces.
Algae growth is inevitable if you will not clean the surfaces regularly. It can permanently taint your Polycarbonate panels in time. Algae can also grow if moisture is trapped between the layers. This will reduce the light transmission and later on affect your plants' growth.