Tips for the be­gin­ning green­house gar­dener

The Progress-Index Weekend - - COMMUNITY - By Lori Deprisco, Prince Ge­orge Mas­ter Gar­dener

The ben­e­fit of hav­ing a green­house is that you can ex­tend your grow­ing sea­son and grow veg­eta­bles and flow­ers all year long. The first de­ci­sion you must make that will guide all of your other de­ci­sions is what do you want to grow? It is im­por­tant to be re­al­is­tic and con­sider your level of ex­pe­ri­ence and the time that you have avail­able for gar­den­ing. Hav­ing and main­tain­ing a green­house is much like hav­ing a pet that re­quires daily at­ten­tion.

What do you want to grow? Do you want to grow cool sea­son or warm sea­son veg­eta­bles? Do you want to use the green­house for seed start­ing or plant prop­a­ga­tion? Or grow spe­cialty plants such as or­chids or bromeli­ads? The tem­per­a­ture re­quire­ments, as well as light­ing needs, will be based on what you want to grow.

In gen­eral, an un­heated green­house will al­low you to grow plants that are rated for 1 Cli­mate Zone warmer than yours or about 5-8 de­grees Fahren­heit. This can add 2 to 3 weeks on each end of the grow­ing sea­son. If you in­tend to pro­vide sup­ple­men­tal heat and light, you can grow any plant you de­sire at the cost of elec­tric­ity or gas.

Green­houses are typ­i­cally di­vided into four types based on the plant’s tem­per­a­ture re­quire­ments:

• The cool (un­heated) green­house (also known as a high tun­nel),

•The tem­per­ate green­house (40-50 de­grees),

• The warm green­house (55-60 de­grees), and

• The trop­i­cal green­house (60-70 de­grees).

Once you have de­cided what you want to grow, it is nec­es­sary to cre­ate the proper en­vi­ron­ment. If you have cho­sen to heat the green­house, you will need to re­search the meth­ods of heat­ing. Typ­i­cally for a begin­ner with a small green­house, elec­tric heat is recommended due to the ease of use, but it can be­come costly. Other meth­ods in­clude propane, oil, nat­u­ral gas, wood, ra­di­ant heaters, and in­ground wa­ter heaters. Th­ese re­quire a greater ini­tial in­vest­ment and con­sid­er­a­tion of proper ven­ti­la­tion to the out­side to pre­vent the buildup of car­bon monox­ide and eth­yl­ene gas.

Dur­ing the sum­mer it may be dif­fi­cult to main­tain a con­sis­tent tem­per­a­ture. Since the green­house is de­signed to trap and main­tain heat, cool­ing one down can be dif­fi­cult. A cou­ple of op­tions in­clude shade cloth and evap­o­ra­tive air cool­ers. It is nec­es­sary that you mon­i­tor the tem­per­a­ture in the green­house. You can ac­com­plish this with a ther­mome­ter and a jour­nal to log the tem­per­a­tures. You can also in­vest in a mon­i­tor­ing de­vice.

Ven­ti­la­tion for the green­house varies with the sea­son. Dur­ing the sum­mer, use an ex­haust ven­ti­la­tion fan along with roof or wall vents. This will al­low cooler air in and hot air out. Dur­ing the win­ter an os­cil­lat­ing fan can be used for air cir­cu­la­tion to main­tain a uni­form tem­per­a­ture and to keep leaf sur­faces dry.

Dur­ing late spring and sum­mer, your green­house should get enough nat­u­ral light­ing. If you want to grow in the fall and win­ter, sup­ple­men­tal light­ing will be re­quired for strong, healthy plants. LED grow lights and high out­put flu­o­res­cent lamp strips are pop­u­lar be­cause they out­put full spec­trum light, are en­ergy ef­fi­cient and can cover larger ar­eas. If you have a small green house, a nor­mal flu­o­res­cent strip hung 3-7 inches above the plants will do.

One mis­take that be­gin­ners make is over­stock­ing the green­house. Young plants need less space than they will need when they get just a few weeks older. The num­ber of plants that you can grow de­pends on the space needed when they reach maturity. Over­crowd­ing can lead to stressed plants that are more sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­ease and in­sect dam­age. Start con­ser­va­tively; you can add more plants later. Also it is best for the begin­ner to limit the di­ver­sity of the plants.

The first and best pest man­age­ment strategy is to keep pests out of the green­house from the be­gin­ning. In­stalling in­sect screen­ing on air in­takes will re­duce the like­li­hood of in­sects and mites get­ting into the green­house. Out­side plants and shrubs should be kept away from the green­house since they can har­bor un­wanted pests. If you have an out­side gar­den, the green­house

work should al­ways be done be­fore go­ing into the gar­den. If you in­tend to move out­door plants into the green­house, be sure to check for pests and spray be­fore­hand. Start­ing with seeds in the green­house is prefer­able to us­ing cut­ting or seedlings ob­tained from some­where else. This process makes it less likely to in­tro­duce in­sects, mites, or dis­ease.

There is a lot of in­for­ma­tion avail­able to sup­port the hobby green­house grower. You might want to con­sider join­ing a gar­den­ing club or join­ing the Hobby Green­house As­so­ci­a­tion. You can

ob­tain in­for­ma­tion on­line at www.hob­by­green­ or the Vir­ginia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion at

Lori Deprisco is a Mas­ter Gar­dener with the Vir­ginia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion Prince Ge­orge County Of­fice. Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­den­ers are vol­un­teer ed­u­ca­tors who work within their com­mu­ni­ties to en­cour­age and pro­mote en­vi­ron­men­tally sound hor­ti­cul­ture prac­tices through sus­tain­able land­scape man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Vir­ginia Mas­ter Gar­den­ers bring the re­sources of Vir­ginia’s land-uni­ver­si­ties, Vir­ginia Tech and Vir­ginia State Univer­sity to the peo­ple of the com­mon­wealth.

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