Here are four of my best greenhouse gardening tips hard-earned over 23 years in the specialty plant greenhouse/nursery business.
Now some of you may want to do other things (and that’s fine with me) but simply understand the cost of heating a greenhouse year-round can become a pricey adventure. As I say later on, it’s a great hobby but you won’t save money. See the reasons below for this.
#1 How To Use Your Backyard Greenhouse
There are several different ways.
Year round gardening – you’re going to overwinter tender plants inside. The advantage of this is that you have year-round plants and stock plants for propagation in the spring.
The disadvantage is the cost of heating it versus the cost of simply purchasing the plants in the spring. From an economic point of view, it is very difficult to justify the heating costs of a small greenhouse in the north where heating costs far exceed the values of the plants produced. If you do it as a hobby – the economics are not critical.
Season extenders- means you’re going to use this greenhouse (heated or unheated) to extend the gardening season. To start a few seeds earlier than outside conditions will allow and keep plants producing a few weeks or months after the outdoor garden is whacked by frost.
Cold frame As a walk-in cold frame without heat, seeds can be started earlier than in the garden by a few weeks and potted plants can be protected from the winter. It’s also a great place to store garden tools, pots etc.
Combination of the above – i.e. starting seeds but not using it in the fall etc.
#2 Get the ventilation right.
Too high a heat, too low a heat and/or too high a humidity are going to wreck your plants faster than you can believe. Too high or too low heat levels you likely understand with no experience. Equally serious but not as visible is the higher incidence of disease and lack of plant growth when the greenhouse isn’t properly ventilated and there’s too much moisture in the air. Ventilation is one of the other topics many folks ignore but I cover here.
#3 Understand Light Levels and Crops
If you want to grow a low-light crop such as spinach or lettuce in your home hobby greenhouse than you’re going to require less light than if you want to grow tomatoes. It’s basic plant physiology that some crops require less light than others and understanding this makes it easier to decide how you want to use your backyard greenhouse.
This is something not understood by many home gardeners; there simply isn’t enough light in a northeast winter to keep plants such as tomatoes producing fruit year round. You can keep them alive to ripen fruit set in the fall but the economics of doing this fail when the plants don’t set fruit during low light months.
#4 Study Container Gardening
Another greenhouse gardening tip is to read, reread and reread again everything you can on container gardening. Get that soil right, the watering and feeding right because it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive structure to protect the plants and then you don’t grow them properly.
Container gardening – flowers or vegetables – does indeed depend on soils, watering, feeding and light levels. This isn’t an article on container gardening (you can those articles here) but understanding these techniques will make your hobby greenhouse enjoyable and successful.