By Shelley Pierce and Mary Ellen Ellis
Every serious gardener has pondered a greenhouse purchase at one time or another, daydreaming about the ‘what ifs’ and envisioning the glorious bounties it would yield year round. After all, a greenhouse is a gardener’s delight. Of the many reasons to use a greenhouse, perhaps the most important is that it gives you the ability to control the environment so that no matter where you live, you can grow anything you want. BUT not everyone feels this way. Before you get too lost in that daydream, it’s important to do a reality check. Is getting a greenhouse really a good, or even a green idea? What are the pitfalls of using a greenhouse? Read on to learn about both sides of this debate.
Advantages of Using a Greenhouse
Mary Ellen’s viewpoint: There are so many pros of greenhouse gardening, but some people get hung up on the initial cost or the work that goes into building a greenhouse. If you can look past these, you’ll find that you never regret having a greenhouse and all the beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables you can grow in it. Among the many advantages of using a greenhouse, here are just a few:
Grow more, grow longer. The reason many gardeners turn to greenhouse gardening is to extend the growing season and to be able to grow more plants. With a greenhouse, you get to control the climate. The typical use is to create a warmer environment, so that in colder regions you can grow vegetables longer or even grow tropical plants that you otherwise could not. However, you can also cool a greenhouse to grow a greater variety of plants if you live in the tropics or sub-tropics.
Save money on produce. A greenhouse requires an initial, upfront cost, but over time you will recoup that cost and then some. Growing vegetables and fruits in a greenhouse allows you to create the right conditions to make it easier to get a greater yield of produce, including out of the season foods so you don’t have to pay high grocery store prices.
Keep out pests. The bane of every gardener’s existence is the ever-present threat of pests. For vegetable and flower gardeners, the threat of rabbits, raccoons, deer, and other critters is real and persistent. Protect your plants with a greenhouse and you don’t have to worry about pesky nature again.
Starting seeds. For the plants you begin by seeds and transplant to the garden, what better place to do it than in your very own greenhouse? With year-round warmth and protection, you can start seeds and tend to transplants whenever you want, and you won’t have to fill your basement, garage, mud room, or wherever you normally start seeds, with pots and soil and general messiness.
A cozy retreat in winter. The positive effects of greenhouse growing are not limited to the benefits for your plants. You, too, can enjoy your greenhouse. Just imagine a cold, snowy winter day and stepping into your own warm, tropical oasis filled with growing, thriving plants and flowers.
Pitfalls of Using a Greenhouse
Shelley’s viewpoint: Okay, so by now you’ve learned all about the potential positive effects of greenhouse growing, but before you get too comfortable and jump right in, consider the following cons of growing in a greenhouse:
High upfront and operating expenses. Well, it is certainly a “green idea” in that it is going to cost you some green – money, that is. Depending on the type and style of greenhouse you are considering, you could be spending several hundred or even thousands of dollars. You must ask yourself, “How long is it going to take me to see a return on this upfront investment – is it worth it?” And, it’s not only the upfront investment that should be factored in.
Temperature and air circulation are constant concerns in a greenhouse and may require additional purchases, such as fans and heaters, in order to regulate. And let’s not forget your gardening supplies either. All of this adds up. In a greenhouse, Mother Nature also isn’t directly watering your plants, so you are going to undoubtedly consume more water unless you have a rainwater collection system in place. All of these are greenhouse disadvantages and will have an impact on your utility bills which, in turn, is not such a green idea from a conservation standpoint.
Pest and disease issues. Granted, the contained environment of a greenhouse can buffer it against outside threats. However, in the same token, this contained environment can also make crops more vulnerable, yet another of many reasons against greenhouse gardening. Pests and disease, for example, can spread more rapidly in a greenhouse environment, affecting your entire greenhouse crop. It’s sort of like when a member of your household gets the flu – everyone in your house is eventually going to be affected. More vigilance and a very proactive stance is required to make sure that pests and diseases do not take hold and spread rampantly.
Pollination. In the closed environment of a greenhouse, plants that rely on pollination for fruit set may not get their pollination requirements met due to lack of bees or strong enough winds to shake pollen loose. This means intervention on your part is required to ensure pollination takes place whether it be gently shaking plants or tapping flowers or by using a paintbrush or cotton swab to transfer pollen from flower to flower.
Higher maintenance. A greenhouse builds up temperatures quickly and temperatures fluctuate throughout the day. You will need to constantly monitor the temperature in your greenhouse; otherwise, you run the risk of putting your plants under duress in extreme temperatures and this goes for both the hot and cold end of the spectrum. You will also need to constantly monitor hydration levels. Given that the interior of greenhouses tends to be warmer than outdoors, you may find that your soil tends to dry out more quickly.
Space and aesthetic considerations. While a greenhouse may be taking up a lot of space in your brain right now (because you really, really want one), take a moment to figure out what space you actually have in your yard to put one. Greenhouses can consume a lot of valuable backyard space and also may detract from its aesthetic appeal, as they can be quite imposing structures.
Do Greenhouse Disadvantages Outweigh the Pros of Greenhouse Gardening?
To enjoy produce all year, to be able to grow all year, and to enjoy the warmth of a greenhouse in the winter are all the reasons you need to get that greenhouse. You can probably come up with more reasons to use a greenhouse, but these alone are typically enough for most people. And if you have additional funds, time and space to invest towards a greenhouse, then your decision to purchase a greenhouse will be even easier. If not, however, you will want to consider gardening in a greenhouse only in your daydreams.