Greenhouse Growing- Introduction

Plant fanatics can't grow enough. We like nurturing unusual plants and experiencing new flowers and vegetables. Once the results of our horticulture adventures are thriving, we are highly motivated to keep them alive for a long time. There's a garden accessory that can help with all this. Have you thought about adding a greenhouse to your property?

A greenhouse allows you to keep tender and tropical plants happy during winter, save on interior lighting by starting seedlings in natural light, and the added space of greenhouse benches gives you plenty of room to grow a wide variety of flowers and vegetables.

"The best reason to have a greenhouse is personal pleasure," said Jay Stanton, Past-President of the Central Pennsylvania Hobby Greenhouse Association and life-long greenhouse grower, " I don't have a growing season, it's with me all year long."

Growing under cover is a little different than traditional outdoor gardening. A good first step to successful home greenhouse growing is determining exactly how you want to use the greenhouse said Stanton. Next, there are location and heating decisions to be made.

An good way to start growing in a greenhouse is use it primarily for overwintering plants that are not hardy in your area and to take advantage of the natural light for seed starting in mid-winter. This approach requires minimal extra heat and no extra lighting.

As you set up your greenhouse, you need to create indoor growing conditions that mimic outdoor growing conditions in more temperate climates. This includes providing air circulation and ensuring that your plants get the nutrients they need.

Stanton says to begin by carefully selecting the location for your greenhouse. "Watch the sun and shade through the course of a year," he said. Find or create a level site that doesn't get any shade from trees or buildings. It's helpful to orient your greenhouse east to west with a clear southern exposure so sun can light the house all day and make the most of winter sun. A brick, stone, or concrete floor will absorb heat from the sun during the day and release it during the night. Also, check local ordinances to see if you need a permit of any kind to add a greenhouse.

Another consideration for site selection is access to water and electricity. It's helpful to have the greenhouse close to your home for easy entry during the winter and for ease of running electric and water to your greenhouse. If there is a location that is sheltered from high winds - but not shaded - this is also a benefit.

After you find a good location, decide how to heat your greenhouse. Both propane and electric heaters are available for small greenhouses. Stanton recommends either a ventless propane or an electric heater for most small greenhouses. For ease and low start-up cost, look for a freestanding electric heater. Depending on the model, you may also need a thermostat that will regulate the greenhouse temperature. Propane is beneficial if you live in an area with frequent power outages. A gentle fan is needed to circulate heat and air.

Stanton said tropical plants do perfectly well in a lukewarm greenhouse with lower winter light levels. He keeps the thermostat on his heater set at 50 degrees year round. Among the plants he stores in his greenhouse are cactus, plumeria, elephant ear and hibiscus. During the winter, due to the cool temperatures and softer light, his plants don't need as much water or care. He goes out to the greenhouse to simply enjoy the sun and plants.

For seed starting, natural light levels happily begin to increase about the same time you can begin to start your seeds. Use heat mats underneath germination trays for seeds you might start in late January or early February. Germination requires a little more heat said Stanton. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are among those vegetables that may be started in winter in the greenhouse. Annual and perennial flowers can also be started in the greenhouse in mid-winter.

In some northern climates, a greenhouse makes a huge difference in the amount of produce you can grow by stretching your vegetable gardening season. But perhaps the best benefit of all, is the solace nurturing, seeding and transplanting provides the gardener's heart in the gray of winter. With a greenhouse, all seasons are growing seasons.

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