Greenhouse Advice for the Year Round Gardener

The Climatron sits like some giant Plexiglas and steel bubble in St. Louis’ world-class botanical gardens. Going inside, you are literally transported to a tropical jungle filled with exotic tropical plants, a waterfall, and a small pond that you can walk underneath. Designed by Buckminster Fuller, the Climatron was once the world’s largest Geodesic dome. Sitting on either side of the dome are two large greenhouses. One is hot and dry, approximating the climate of the desert southwest, while the other features plants from the Temperate Zone. As kids, my friends and I would run back and forth between the three and experience different climates from all around the world in the manner of a few minutes. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your own greenhouse in your backyard so you can languish among the bright colors and greenery even in the dead of winter?

There was a time when only the very rich could afford to have their own greenhouse. Europeans originally used special glass to grow citrus fruits, and George Washington was among the first Americans to have a private greenhouse. Now, plastic and reinforced steel have made owning a greenhouse available for the rest of us. The portable, ready-made greenhouses can allow you to grow flowers, tropical plants, and fresh vegetables year round or just get a head start on the summer garden. By having your own greenhouse, you can also save enough money on bedding plants that it can pay for itself in no time. You can even build one yourself.

One of the easiest ways to build your own is to attach it as a lean-to which abuts your house or some other already existing structure. The foundation of your greenhouse can be permanent, as in concrete with built-in drains or simply a thick layer of crushed gravel. The greenhouse walls don’t have to be made out of glass, thick sheets of plastic will do. Or, you can get special panels made out of Plexiglas with a corrugated insulating layer in-between. After you have built the basic structure, you will need potting benches, shelving, and extra areas for storage. Greenhouses need ventilation fans and heat and humidity controls too. Be sure to have a qualified electrician install ground fault interrupt outlets to accommodate these. You may also want to check with your local authority to see if a building permit is required.

If you are considering a ready-made greenhouse, one inexpensive one to consider is the DomHaus. The DomHaus is 6′ wide, 10′ long, and 8′ high. It features a powder-coated, all-steel frame, steel doors, and Soloron, a woven polyethylene material that allows 80 percent of the light to come through. The walls are treated to keep condensation from forming and there are four screened vents to promote air flow. If you want something a little more elaborate, the Sunshine GardenHouse is framed in a nice redwood with roof and wall panels made of polycarbonate. The GardenHouse features two roof vents and Dutch doors.

When placing your greenhouse, make sure to put it in a nice level area where it will get at least six hours of sunshine per day. Remember, southern exposure is best. Now you’ll be able to garden all year long!

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