GAINESVILLE, FLA.—No matter what the weather, home gardeners can make sure their precious plants thrive year-round with the addition of a greenhouse that provides ideal growing conditions.
“Freezes may come and go, but your favorite plants will be protected from extreme weather, including summer temperatures that exceed optimum growing conditions,” said Bob Black, an urban horticulturalist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“A well-designed greenhouse not only adds value to your property, but increases enjoyment of your own home environment,” he said. “Too much or too little rain? No problem. Freezing weather? That’s okay — you’ve got a subtropical or tropical ‘micro-climate’ right in your own backyard.”
Once considering a luxury item, greenhouses are available for every budget and special need. Today’s greenhouses enable anyone to grow orchids, germinate seeds or raise home-grown tomatoes during the winter season. Designs run the gamut from ready-made kits to homemade versions, from free-standing units to structures attached directly to the house.
“Most communities allow greenhouses, providing they meet local building codes, but some homeowner associations won’t allow them,” said Judy Kirkendall of CP Enterprises, a commercial greenhouse firm in Apopka, Fla.
She said the wide variety of designs and the easy-to-assemble kits can make a greenhouse a temptation few can resist. But there are a few points to keep in mind before you select a greenhouse.
“Greenhouses that are freestanding offer more space and better control of growing conditions, because you can build the greenhouse where the sunlight is the best,” Black said. “Those that are attached to the house may not have ideal lighting, but they tend to cost less to heat because they share one side of the house.”
Black said there are two factors to consider when you select a greenhouse design. First, there is the upfront cost of installation. Then there are ongoing maintenance costs. “Installation costs vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but that’s a one-time expense,” he said. “Operating costs reflect not only the materials used in the construction of the house, but how many days per year the greenhouse must be heated or cooled. ”
How the greenhouse is used also will be a factor in maintenance costs. A greenhouse used for year-round growing of flowers and vegetables needs to be more heat and energy efficient than a greenhouse used to start seedlings or for over wintering plants.
Black said the size of the greenhouse needs to be carefully evaluated during the design phase. He said most people find that their greenhouse is so useful — once they build it — that they end up enlarging it. It’s cheaper to increase the size of a greenhouse while you’re building it than to add on later. Another advantage of a larger greenhouse is easier temperature control; the larger air mass inside responds more slowly to temperature fluctuations.
Most kits use a metal frame covered by one or two layers of sheet plastic. The materials are lightweight, and the house is easy for an individual to assemble. Using more permanent materials adds to the initial expense of the house, and kits that use glass and metal are harder to put together, if only from a weight standpoint, than the plastic pipe and sheeting styles.
“Kits, which can be purchased locally or online, contain everything needed for a greenhouse,” Black said. “You won’t need to stop partway through to go out and by another dozen screws or another 2×4.”
Check the yellow pages in the telephone book, ads in gardening magazines, the Web or contact the Hobby Greenhouse Association in Bedford, Maine.
Put together a list of manufacturers, compare what they have to offer and talk to manufacturer’s representatives about your top choices.
“If you’re not a handy person when it comes to putting something together, you may want to hire a contractor” Black said. “Whether you make a greenhouse a do-it-yourself project or get a little help along the way, once the greenhouse is up, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to build it.”