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A Hobby Greenhouse May be for You

by Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Guzmania ĎAmaranthí Bromeliad, G123 Photo

So youíve finally decided to get that hobby greenhouse you always wanted. Even though winter weather in Louisiana is relatively mild, gardeners still may find that a greenhouse offers a variety of advantages. If you have a large collection of containerized tropical plants, a greenhouse provides the ideal location to overwinter them without moving them inside and outside as temperatures fluctuate. For gardeners who like to propagate their own plants, greenhouses can make starting plants from seeds or cuttings much more successful.

The main purpose of a greenhouse is to allow gardeners to adjust and manipulate the environmental conditions inside to fit the preferences of the plants that are being grown. Light, temperature, air circulation and humidity can all be controlled to an extent not possible inside a home or outdoors. Greenhouses are especially popular with gardeners who have collections of particular plants such as orchids, bromeliads or cacti and succulents precisely because they can grow these plants more successfully with the climate control a greenhouse provides.

The first thing you have to do is make some of decisions: How much money do you want to spend? How large must it be (or budget will allow)? How automated do you want it? A hobby greenhouse can range from a simple, inexpensive polyethylene-covered framework you can put together in an afternoon to a fully automated glass conservatory.

No matter which greenhouse you choose, consider how you want to use it and how much time youíll spend in it after itís built. Donít be overly enthusiastic; some new greenhouse owners find they donít have as much time for gardening as they thought.

On the other hand, there is a misconception that greenhouses require constant attention. By providing automatic controls, maintenance can be kept low. Automatic controls are ideal for providing proper temperature, artificial light, watering, humidity and ventilation. On the other hand, you can save money by not using automatic controls and doing the work by hand.

You can get the most greenhouse for your money by doing some of the construction work yourself. How much work you do depends on how handy you are with tools. Be honest with yourself; donít take on a job thatís too big for you to handle. If you are good with tools, you can put up any plastic covered greenhouse and almost any prefabricated glass greenhouse. You will likely have to hire a qualified electrician and plumber to run needed electrical and water lines. Donít forget to check with your local government-building department to check on any construction permits you might need.

The two basic types of greenhouses are attached and freestanding. An attached greenhouse may be even-span (symmetrical roof) or lean-to. These types of construction provide the opportunity to make the greenhouse a real part of the main house Ė almost like an extra room. A freestanding greenhouse is usually even span. Different types of greenhouses require different foundations Ė from simply anchoring it to the bare ground to pouring a concrete slab. Be sure you know what youíll need.

After you decide on the kind of greenhouse you want, you need to determine where to put it. The first choice for a greenhouse site should be on the south or southeast side of the house in a sunny location. The east side is the second-best location. Thatís where it will capture the most November-to-February sunlight. The next best locations are the southwest and west, and the north side is typically the least desirable location because it receives the least amount of light.

Youíll limit the types of plants you can grow if you donít put your greenhouse in the best possible location. Remember, you can always reduce the light in a greenhouse in a sunny location by covering it with shade cloth to grow plants that like lower light conditions, but it is difficult to provide additional light to sun-loving plants if you put your greenhouse in the shade. You can place your greenhouse where it will be partly shaded during the summer to help reduce heat buildup. Be sure to take into account the possibility of falling limbs or pine cones that can damage the greenhouse.

A variety of accessories must be considered. You must be able to provide adequate ventilation in summer. A fan is critical for this. Also, heat will be needed in winter. Various types of heating systems and units are available. Check with the greenhouse manufacturer for recommendations, and keep an eye toward safety.

Greenhouses arenít for everyone, but if youíve always dreamed of having one, I say Ė go for it. They can open up a whole new world of gardening.

Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or


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