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Main Content

Greenhouse Gardening

Get the most out of your greenhouse.

Contributed by The Old Farmer’s Almanac Staff

Having a greenhouse means you can keep your hands in the soil year-round, propagating seeds and cuttings and growing a variety of plants from one season to the next. To get the most out of your greenhouse, consider these helpful hints:

Maximize Your Space

No matter how big or small your greenhouse, using the space to its maximum capacity is a good idea. 

  • Include benches. Grow shade-loving plants beneath bench seats on which you’ve put sun-loving plants. Likewise, place trays of germinating seedlings beneath racks holding more mature potted plants.
  • Use floor space. Although air circulation is not optimal on the floor, disease-resistant plants can be kept there until ready for transplanting.
  • Grow vertically. An upright hydroponic system (a soilless medium for growing plants) makes use of unused vertical space.
  • Hang plants in baskets. It’s another way to turn unused space into productive space.
  • Schedule plantings wisely. Keep a regular schedule of sowing,growing, and transplanting to free up space for starting new seeds.

Save Energy

An energy-efficient greenhouse is a cost-effective greenhouse.

  • Keep doors closed. Shut the door behind you immediately upon entering and leaving. And make sure they close properly and completely. Even the smallest crack can result in significant heat loss.
  • Use curtains. By hanging curtains just inside the doorway, you minimize heat loss when the door is opened and closed.
  • Maintain your heater. Annual inspections will alert you to any needed repairs. Keeping your heating unit in good operating condition will save fuel; poorly operating systems use more energy.
  • Add seals. Just as your home benefits from having its cracks and crevices sealed, so does your greenhouse. Keep the heated air in and the cold air out.
  • Check fans. Be sure to close them for the cold months. Leaving them open or uncovered all season compromises energy efficiency.

Greenhouse Growing Tips

For success, create the best possible growing conditions.

  • Provide ample space. Plants need room to grow. Before foliage gets crowded, make room between pots and thin seedlings in trays.
  • Maintain an even temperature. Avoid extreme and sudden changes in temperature that could shock plants. Tip: Watch for sunny, clear winter days—they can drastically increase indoor temperatures. (You may need to ventilate even if outside temperatures are freezing!)
  • Create air circulation. Good ventilation is key to warding off disease—most bacteria and fungi benefit from moist conditions. Keep the air moving so plants dry off between waterings. For plants on the floor, consider setting up a fan.
  • Use high-quality soil. Try making your own potting soil mix using this basic recipe:

            1 bucket (2½ gallons) peat moss

            1 bucket (2½ gallons) vermiculite or perlite

            1/2 bucket (1¼ gallons) screened compost or composted cow manure

            2 cups fine sand

            2 cups pelleted time-release fertilizer

            ½ cup lime

Mix thoroughly in a clean, empty trash barrel or wheelbarrow. Makes enough to fill two 14-inch tubs or five 12-inch hanging baskets.

  • Fertilize wisely. If you provide a nutrient-rich growing medium such as that above, expect to fertilize less frequently. Monitor for yellowing leaves on plants; yellow foliage is an indicator of insufficient nutrients. Such plants would likely benefit from supplemental fertilizer feedings.
  • Water only when needed. Monitor plants and let them tell you when to water. Some will dry out faster than others. “Blanket”-watering the whole house can result in overwatered plants. Bear in mind that dormant plants should be kept barely moist.
  • Grow plants that have been bred for vigor, productivity, and disease resistance. Ask your local nursery grower for cultivar recommendations.
  • Clean and air out your greenhouse annually. Once the outdoor growing season is under way, completely empty your greenhouse for a few weeks. Open it up and dry it out. This will help to decrease pest and disease populations (by airing out your greenhouse, you are disturbing their habitat and forcing them out).

Easy-to-Grow Greenhouse Plants

Some plants lend themselves to greenhouse growing conditions more than others. Warm-season vegetables such as cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes, and peppers thrive in heated greenhouses, as do many ornamental annuals including . . .

  • Caladium
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Coleus
  • Gazania
  • Geranium
  • Impatiens
  • Pansy
  • Petunia
  • Salvia

Supplies to Keep on Hand

Having supplies at the ready makes your time in the greenhouse more enjoyable. Among some basic greenhouse necessities are:

  • Grow lights
  • Hose and reel
  • Space heaters
  • Shade covers
  • Potting benches
  • Pots and trays
  • Potting soil
  • Spray misters
  • Fertilizer
  • Stakes
  • Twine
  • Labels

Keep these simple tips in mind, and you are bound for greenhouse glory!