Keeping Your Plants Healthy and Warm: 10 Essential Components of a Greenhouse

The construction of greenhouses for private use has been on the rise as more and more people turn to self-sustainability as their food source. When you set your greenhouse up right, you can use it all year ‘round, saving you money and growing beautiful and/or delicious plants right on your own property.

No matter what your skill level or what color your thumb is, you can successfully operate a greenhouse as long as you include these ten essential components. With them, even the blackest thumb can grow luscious green plants throughout every growing season.

The 10 Essentials Needed to Create Your Own Greenhouse

The most popular crops cultivated for private and public use in greenhouses are tomatoes, herbs, and cucumbers. These three plants make up almost $700 million in sales annually for those people who sell their produce. And one of the reasons why their industry is so successful is that they are, in general, some of the easiest plants to grow.

When you are trying to design your greenhouse, you, too, need to predict where you may be going with your building. Are you keeping it small and simple, with the basics like tomatoes and herbs, or are you going to branch out into bigger, more difficult, and more area-consuming plants?

As you read these essentials, visualize them with your ultimate greenhouse in mind and begin to work towards that end goal.

1. Think about the end results first

Regardless of how excellent your building plans are for your structure, remember that it needs to last for years powered mostly by the sun. Before you start creating your greenhouse, consider where you are going to place it and try to stand it in a direction where it gets as much natural sun as possible. If you don’t have much sun, or you would like more sunlight capability, you may want to look into a horticultural reflector.

In addition to the sunlight, think about your climate, too. Not all greenhouses will work in every climate. Each climate will mandate an individual level of protection for your plants from the elements outside, so you will need to consider a foundation that will hold up throughout the year and find a design that allows you to control the inside of your greenhouse to the conditions necessary for your crops.

2. All greenhouses need a solid foundation

You can build your foundation out of concrete, wooden posts, sand, or small gravel, but regardless, it must be anchored to the ground to outlast strong winds. You also have to ensure that there is a way for water to drain out of your greenhouse properly to avoid the buildup up algae and disease.

Also, think about how you are going to keep weeds and grass from growing in your greenhouse through the floor since you are going to have openings for drainage. These openings will be the perfect environment for weeds and will attract bugs, too.

Because of this, you will need to invest in a good pest control system. You can use some of the regular pesticides, but there are also eco-friendly versions that won’t harm your plants or the environment. In addition to the pesticides, you should install mesh along any openings to keep out your basic small bugs.

Even in the warmest of climates, it can get cold sometimes. Even one night of cold can cause irreparable damage to your plants. If your greenhouse is glass-covered and at least 12 x 16 feet, you should install cement footers that go well below the frost line. This will help shield your plants from the potentially devastating effects of frost.

3. Size matters with your greenhouse

You can choose to make it freestanding or attached, but a successful greenhouse should be at least 12 x 30 feet, especially if it is freestanding. Both types of greenhouses have their own pros and cons, so ultimately it is up to you which type to use.

Generally, a freestanding greenhouse allows you a lot of flexibility in your design, but it can be very expensive because you will need to provide a strong structural wall and backup heat. An attached greenhouse shares the heating already in your home doesn’t require a separate infrastructure and is cheaper. However, attached rooms may bring humidity and bugs into your home and have to be designed around your current structure.

Don’t forget about your lighting units, too. Freestanding greenhouses will need more in-depth installation of these than an attached greenhouse would. Your lighting units will need to be waterproof and have a safety trip-switch in the event of bad weather, excess water, or other events in which electricity would be dangerous.

4. Your dimensions matter

The 12 x 30 feet suggestion is a minimum because greenhouses need to be big enough to be utilized well. However, the length and width need to be proportional as well, and there is basic science behind this suggestion.

Your greenhouse should be wide enough to absorb the sun as much as possible throughout the day, so it’s width should be longer than the length. The wider it is, the more sunlight it will absorb. Shoot for a 1 to 3 ratio, where your width is as close to three times your length as possible.

5. The right roof slope is essential to the health of your greenhouse

Depending on the amount of rain and other precipitation that you get that may build up on your roof. Your slope should easily shed at least that amount.

While you are determining where you are going to put your growing racks, don’t forget to take into consideration the slope of your roof. Growing racks are excellent to use to maximize your space and keep plants from accidentally being knocked over.

6. The right framing materials are crucial

The material you use can make or break your greenhouse. Most greenhouses are made out of wood or metal. Wood is used for a lot of smaller greenhouses because it’s less expensive and easy to construct from without special training.

Metal, usually galvanized steel, makes up most commercial greenhouses. This is because metal has a longer shelf life than wood and requires less upkeep.

7. Keep those plants at the right temperature with insulation

If you have used a glaze on any walls, those walls don’t need much insulation. However, insulation is a must on both your north and west walls.

You can line your greenhouse with a simple inner layer of plastic. This creates a double glaze effect and closes off gaps that would have otherwise let in air. Consider using bubble wrap with big bubbles. You can purchase this kind of bubble wrap specifically for horticulture.

8. You and your plants will need room to move and breathe

You will need to create paths wide enough to get through, but they don’t need to be much bigger than that. Small paths leave you more room to grow your plants. While in the building stage it’s important to make sure you have space to transfer materials, once the actual construction is done, that path doesn’t need to be very wide at all.

9. You’ll need a way to manage all of the microclimates in your greenhouse

Yes, there will be an overall climate that you will be controlling with your specific set of temperatures and other controls, but each area and plant community will have its own microclimate.

Certain areas in your greenhouse will attract more humidity or retain more water than others. Some areas, like the ground, will naturally be colder. The area that receives the most direct sunlight will be the hottest, and the opposite area will be the coldest. Think about these microclimates when you are planting your crops and plants, since some need more or less sunlight, and some need warmer or cooler areas.

10. Greenhouse ventilation is essential

To keep your greenhouse environment maintained and moderated, you will need to invest in a good ventilation system. While this is going to be a decent-sized investment, it is required in order for your plants to grow well and for you to be able to sustain a long-term greenhouse. Without a good ventilation system, you will end up with too much humidity and moisture and you will have a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Ventilation systems come in two kinds: manual or automatic. Manual greenhouses simply rely on a person to open them and are good for a basic, small, private greenhouse. Automatic ventilation systems are set up on timers. The timer tells the vent system when a predetermined temperature is reached. Once that temperature is hit, the timer opens up the vents of the greenhouse.

Your Plants Need Care, Too

As a general rule, plants do not grow without sunlight, nutrients and warmth. To keep your plants healthy and warm, you need to plan your greenhouse carefully. Be sure you utilize all ten of the essential components of a successful greenhouse and you will have a flourishing bed of plants year after year!

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