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Before You Buy: Questions To Ask When Shopping For The Best Greenhouse

Let’s dive into the specific questions you will want to ask yourself to help you to choose the best greenhouse for your space and budget.

Benefits Of Using A Greenhouse

Season Extension

Cold season growers can extend their growing season by at least a month or more by using a greenhouse. How long of a season extension you get will be dependent on your growing zone and whether you want to use supplemental heat. I typically gain 4-6 weeks in my greenhouse but I do require a heater running at night to keep everything happy and also from freezing.

Expanded Growing Space

If you’re like me and your indoor growing space is limited then a greenhouse is a great addition. Typically when your starter plants have been moved up a pot size and really start to take up room in your house you can often move them outside into your greenhouse.

No Grow Lights Required

One of the downsides to growing indoors is that supplement lighting is required in order to have strong and healthy enough plants to thrive after being transplanted. The sun is considerably more intense than most grow lights and often when plants are moved into the greenhouse and get the natural sun they perk up considerably. 

More Controlled Climate

If you grow in a colder, shorter growing zone then using a greenhouse to grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, watermelon and many other heat loving plants can give a great boost to your production. Greenhouses reduce the impact of cold winds and can be a great place to grow certain plants all season long.

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How To Decide On The Best Greenhouse For You

How much space do you have?

Are you growing on a balcony or have a large lot? There is a wide range of sizes of greenhouses to suit. Are you a hobby gardener or are you looking into starting your own market garden or providing your family with food all year long?

Do you have a good spot for it?

Choosing somewhere that gets both consistent sun for the majority of the day and also is potentially also protected from wind can be a challenge. Do you want to give up that sunny path of lawn or take down trees to make it happen? Deciding where your greenhouse will go and how easy it is to prepare that space can be a large portion of construction of the greenhouse.

Do you want it to be temporary or permanent?

Asking yourself if you really need a greenhouse all year round is a good place to start. Are you looking to grow in the winter, just for a few months at the beginning of the season or grow inside it in the summer as well? Growing all year long is going to require a greenhouse with a  permanent, sturdy structure that can withstand potential snow loads and all manner of weather.

Temporary greenhouses that are used for just a few months of the year have the advantage of being stored out of the way when they are not needed, freeing up a lot of space. This can be very helpful for smaller gardens.

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How much money do you want to invest right now?

Temporary greenhouses are often pretty low on the investment scale and easy for beginner gardeners to experiment with before committing to a permanent greenhouse. Greenhouse prices typically start around $80 and go up to $200 or so for a temporary one. A permanent all season greenhouse will likely not be found for less than $500 but often $1000 – $2000 +. 

Longevity of the materials ie. the cover?

There are two major considerations when purchasing a greenhouse. How will it stand up to the wind and sun? Wind can quite literally toss it over or potentially flatten it. The sun combined with the wind will deteriorate the cheaper plastic covers within just 3-5 years in a lot of cases. Purchasing greenhouse plastic for a greenhouse can extend the lifespan to 5-10 years but also increase the investment. Using reclaimed windows or purchasing hard plastic sheeting for the exterior of the greenhouse will give you a lot more years but also potentially increase the investment.

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Growing inside a greenhouse has its own unique challenges to consider.

How will you heat it at night if you choose to?

Using a basic space heater to heat your greenhouse is a good cost effect option. I prefer a small infrared heater such as this one. Ideally purchasing a heat that has a thermometer built in that you can set to a max temp and have it hold it there. I find this advantageous in the early part of the day when the sun comes up. As soon as the sun hits the greenhouse and warms it the heater will quit. This can reduce the chances of cooking your plant babies considerably.

Another great way to help heat your greenhouse is by adding in buckets of water or concrete blocks to increase thermal mass which will absorb heat during the day and then radiate it back at night.

Ventilation During The Day

Nobody wants to cook their starter plants by accident but it can happen fast. When the sun hits the greenhouse the temperature inside will rise considerably and quickly. You will need to watch closely and open the door to ventilate it. How much you open the door and at what time of the day is always dependent on the weather which requires your close attention. The advantage to having a permanent greenhouse is that you can install window vents on the roof of the greenhouse that have an automated bracket that will open and close based on the temperature inside the greenhouse. This means a lot less attention has to be paid to the temperature inside. 

How will you secure your greenhouse?

In particular if you are using a smaller temporary greenhouse. It would be a real shame for the greenhouse to get flipped by the wind with all of your seedlings inside it. I have heard from a few too many gardens that this happened to them so when you are considering how to secure it, more is definitely better. Over the years I have either weighted down the bottom with patio pavers or secured it with tie downs to heavy wooden beams like 4’x4’ or railway ties. I also use my nearby fence to add additional ties to the greenhouse cover. 

So is a greenhouse right for you?

I recommend getting yourself a journal and jotting down the above questions and your answers to them. This will help you to narrow down quite quickly which kind of greenhouse is best for you this year and for a couple seasons in the future. Remember there is nothing wrong with starting with a temporary one to get the feel for it before making the big investment into a permanent one. There are some nuances to growing in a greenhouse that I find take a season or two to get the hang of.

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