Even with online shopping available, there’s something dreamy about settling in with a seed catalog at the end of winter — the only challenge is knowing it will be months before you see the results of whatever seeds you select.However, there is a way you can shorten that time frame: Install a backyard greenhouse. Because these structures are warmer than the outdoors and large windows let in sunlight, they can give you a significant jump on starting seedlings for your garden. Also, depending on where you live or if you’re willing to keep it heated in the winter, you can grow some plants in the colder months, too.
Here are some factors to keep in mind if you’re considering adding a greenhouse to your gardening efforts:
- Location: The ideal spot will be one that gets the most light possible, since you’ll mainly be relying on sunshine to heat the interior space. At the same time, having it be in a completely open space might subject the structure to harsh, chilly wind. That means having it protected on at least one side by trees or shrubs can be useful.
- Water: A greenhouse doesn’t necessarily need to be right next to a water source, like an outdoor faucet, but it helps. You also can set up a rainwater collection barrel or cistern close by, but keep in mind that if you’re relying on the greenhouse in the spring and depending on where you live, this cache may not be thawed enough when you’re planting your first seedlings.
- Construction: If you’re handy, building your own greenhouse can be a weekend project, depending on its scope. There are plenty of resources online; just search “DIY greenhouse plans” for endless inspiration, how-to directions and video tutorials. Kits present another option and have become much more affordable in the last 10 years, ranging in price from $800 to more than $5,000. In some cases, a kit might be more affordable than building from scratch.
- Power: The most efficient greenhouse power tactic is running separate electrical lines to the structure. Although this may be an investment upfront (ideally, it’s best to get an electrician to run those lines for you, so they can be buried), it’s better than relying completely on sunshine for light and warmth. For example, in especially cold climates, having electricity will give you the option of installing a heater into the structure to extend the season even further.
- Ventilation: Another major bonus for having power in your greenhouse is the ability to run fans. Although every greenhouse — DIY or kit — should have some windows that can open, as well as a front and back door for a cross-breeze, fans make sure the seedling aren’t overheating. Proper airflow also cuts the risk of plant diseases, mold and pests, making your crops all the more viable and your efforts more rewarding.
- Plants: If you’re using a greenhouse to get a jump on the growing season, you’ll likely move the plants outside when the ground is warmer. Good options for this scenario include tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and zucchini. You also can grow cool-weather vegetables that won’t be transplanted but will be eaten instead, such as lettuce, kale, spinach, microgreens and herbs.