Beginners Guide to Greenhouses

A Beginner’s Guide to Greenhouses

There comes a time in every plant parent’s life when we start to get curious and excited about having a dedicated space for all of our plants. If you’re an outdoor gardener, the promise of a greenhouse for seed starts and overwintering plants is even more exciting!

If you feel like you’re ready to take the leap of installing a greenhouse – whether it’s a small kit, or a large structure in your backyard – consider this blog a beginner’s guide to building the greenhouse of your dreams!

This blog is inspired by Episode 151 of Bloom and Grow Radio Podcast, where host Maria Failla interviewed Patrick Grubbs, founder of Greenhouse Info

Do Greenhouses Need Permits? 

Before you even begin shopping for greenhouses, you need to consider licensing and permitting. In the US, we have two authorities you should keep in mind when you’re building a greenhouse: zoning regulations and building codes. Almost always, you can simply contact your local government office and they’ll be able to tell you all of the required permits for an accessory building with a permanent foundation. 

The one exception? If you’re getting a small greenhouse (or a cold frame) where you don’t need to set up a foundation, those generally aren’t regulated since they aren’t really considered permanent structures. Usually, these are cheaper greenhouse kits that cost about $500 or less. 

What’s the Best Greenhouse Construction Material?

Here are the pros and cons to each type of greenhouse material to help you choose the best option for your space. 

Glass is a classic greenhouse material. 

  • Pros: it lasts forever and is easy to maintain. It’s a great long-term option for permanent greenhouses.
  • Cons: it’s expensive, fragile, and not a great insulator in general. Insulation is really important for greenhouses, especially if you’re in a Northern climate. 

Polycarbonate is one of the most common greenhouse materials. 

  • Pros: it’s strong, durable, and much lighter than glass. 
  • Cons: it starts to yellow and degrade after about 10 years, reducing the amount of light to your plant. Opt for the UV resistant choice to help it last longer. 

Acrylic is another common greenhouse material (brand names like plexiglass). 

  • Pros: strong and durable
  • Cons: fairly expensive and heavy, contracts with temperature fluctuations so you may need a special mounting solution to attach it. 

Polyethylene is another plastic greenhouse material. 

  • Pros: can buy rolls of plastic to replace material
  • Cons: flimsy plastic, likely only used as a temporary material as it’s really only good for one season

Should I use a Greenhouse Kit or DIY My Own Greenhouse?

For a beginner greenhouse hobbyist, a kit is a great option. It’s more affordable, has instructions, and great to start with. A smaller 6’ x 8’ kit that doesn’t need a foundation is a good option and will take a few hours to put together with a group of helpers. Once you get into more of the reclaimed windows and doors for a do-it-yourself greenhouse, carpentry skills are much more of a necessity. 

If you want a permanent structure with a foundation and electricity, it might be time to look into other options outside of kits. This kind of project could require a backhoe, 6’ holes, and electrical wiring to get it up and running. 

How Much Should I Pay for a Beginner Greenhouse? 

A standard 6’ by 8’ greenhouse kit is one of the cheapest starter greenhouses you can get. These kits will probably run you about $500 to $600 for a new kit. Pro tip: check Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for used greenhouses–you’ll often find some great options for a fraction of the cost. 

When you consider the extra components you need to buy, like fans and heaters, it’ll probably end up costing you around a thousand dollars for a very entry-level greenhouse that will satisfy.

What Direction Should My Greenhouse Face? 

The point of a greenhouse is to capture the heat from the sunlight and maximize the exposure your plants get. The best way to do that in the Northern hemisphere is to align the roof of your greenhouse going East to West. That will ensure you get the maximum amount of sun in both Winter and Summer. Keep in mind that this is the reverse if you’re in the Southern hemisphere.

 

What Kind of Floor Should My Greenhouse Have? 

The primary consideration for your greenhouse flooring is drainage. If you have a big greenhouse, you might have a foundation underneath like a concrete slab. And in this case, you need to be sure that any water you pour in your greenhouse can get out.

If you don’t have a foundation, you still have the same consideration regarding drainage, it’s just much easier to handle. It can be as simple as concrete pavers with gravel in between. That provides a flat surface, it’s easy to clean and walk on, and it’s stable. Since there’s space in between the pavers, there’s room for water to drain into the ground.

Greenhouse Ventilation Requirements

Greenhouses are super effective at their jobs. They can raise the temperature anywhere from five to 30 degrees Fahrenheit greater than the ambient temperature. You could very easily cook your plants if you don’t have proper ventilation. 

The first thing you need to do for all of your greenhouse air conditioning needs is to calculate the total volume of your greenhouse. Multiply the length times the width times 1.5 of the height, which accounts for the volume that isn’t really there at the top. This number will tell you the cubic feet of air in your greenhouse. 

You’re going to reference this number whenever you’re looking at ventilation or heating options. You want to try to cycle all of the air in your greenhouse in one minute. If you have a 10’ by 10’ by 10’ greenhouse, that equals 1,000 cubic feet of air. You then need to find an exhaust fan that is rated to push 1,000 cubic feet of air per minute. 

Greenhouse Fans

There are a couple types of fans for greenhouses. First is a shop fan or a desk fan, which works for pushing air around, but it’s not the most effective way to cool a greenhouse. 

And second is an exhaust fan that’s set into the walls of your greenhouse and moves air from inside to outside and vice versa. Usually these fans come in pairs so you can put one on each side of the greenhouse to circulate air efficiently. 

Greenhouse Vents

There are many different kinds of greenhouse vents, but the best options are solar vents. They have wax inside of them that expands and contracts when it gets warm, which automatically opens and closes the vents with no electricity. Most greenhouse kits you buy probably won’t have any ventilation built in, so make sure to factor that into the cost of building a greenhouse. 

Ventilation is a necessity for a greenhouse in order to control the humidity, temperature, and air flow. Plan to incorporate fans and vents for proper greenhouse ventilation. 

Managing Humidity and Mold in Your Greenhouse

Ventilation is your number one defense against humidity. A trick to dealing with root rot or mold is to have airflow underneath your pots.

Many greenhouses have plant benches and the bottom of the bench is actually a grate so air and water can freely flow through. This is important because it means the air accesses the plant roots, which is where plants take in most of their oxygen. Having that additional airflow dries out the potting media faster, which will help prevent mold and rot. 

What’s the Ideal Greenhouse Temperature and Humidity?

A good greenhouse temperature is around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, but it all depends on what you’re growing. Opt for low humidity, especially in Summer, so temperatures are more bearable. 

To really control the temperature in your greenhouse, try a remote thermometer. It makes monitoring the temperature much easier, especially when dealing with snow and freezing outdoor temperatures. You can also plug all of your appliances into a smart plug bar. The bar allows you to connect to Bluetooth using an app, which helps you control temperature, light, and humidity from your phone. 

3 Beginner Greenhouse Tips from Patrick

Tip 1: A greenhouse isn’t necessarily the next step for improving your gardening skills. It’s a whole different category. Unfortunately growing in a greenhouse alone won’t make your plants healthier and happier: there’s a learning curve. Make sure you dial in the right parameters to optimize growth in your greenhouse to get those happy plants. 

Tip 2: You will deal with pests in greenhouses, but you have options. Greenhouses can actually give you enough space for a dedicated quarantine section of insect-ridden plants. You can use a corner shelf with all of your remedy supplies, far away from other plants. Put a sticky note with the date you placed it on the shelf, then transition it to the rest of your plants after about a month. 

You can also implement predatory insects in your greenhouse. Some great examples are ladybugs, praying mantises, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Just make sure you’re not purchasing the invasive ladybug

Tip 3: If you’re not in a place in your life where you expect to be there for a while, then a greenhouse probably isn’t the best option. It’s a big investment in terms of money, time, and space. Many of them are at least a 10 year commitment unless you have a way to transport it. You still have options, like a cold frame or something a bit smaller like a grow tent.

To learn more about greenhouses, check out Patrick’s website Greenhouse Info.

*****

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helps people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Patrick Grubbs has a B.S. in Biology, where he fell in love with plants through his first botany class. He’s published aquatic ecology research and authored several books related to succulents and gardening pests. 

Patrick has spent a great deal of his career split between science communication and hands-on permaculture and ecology projects. His passion is teaching other people to enjoy plants and animals the same way he does.

​​Follow Patrick:

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Bonsai Care 101

Picture of Bonsai tree

Bonsai Care 101

Bonsai trees–if you’re a millennial, you probably remember them from The Karate Kid movies. Did you know it’s actually pronounced “bone-sigh”? Bonsai means “to plant in a container or a potted plant.”

This blog all about bonsai care is inspired by Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio–where host Maria Failla interviewed Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai.

Can Any Tree Be a Bonsai?

There are 3 characteristics to look for to help transform trees into the bonsai art we know and love:

  • Smaller leaves. You’re trying to create a large tree shrunk down into miniature form–so if you’re using a trunk with very large leaves, it looks quite out of proportion with the overall size of the plant.
  • Plants with bark on them. You should have to work with woody plants to achieve the true bonsai form. All of the conifers like juniper and pine are great for this!
  • Look for plants with apical dominance. Apical what?! Apical dominance means the bud at the tip of the stem stops the growth that occurs on the other buds along the stem. It does this to become the dominant stem and allow woody plants to grow taller–which is great for bonsai shaping!

Are Bonsai Grown Indoors or Outdoors?

You may be wondering, “can I grow a bonsai as a houseplant?” And the answer is yes–but with a few caveats.

You need to figure out if it’s a tropical or a temperate climate tree. Temperate climate trees have four seasons and need to go through their life cycles outdoors–think oaks and maples.

Tropical climate trees do not survive freezing temperatures and suffer in below 55 degrees F conditions, so these would be better options as indoor bonsai plants. Ficuses like the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Pot-Bellied Ficus (Ficus microcarpa) would both work great!

If you want an indoor bonsai, try sticking with the subtropical and tropical climate plants. And check out the Top 5 Bonsai Trees (Indoor and Outdoor Options) with Bjorn from Eisei-en Bonsai for more variety options!

How to Care for Bonsai Trees

Now that we know more about what to look for, let’s jump right into bonsai care. We’ll cover all the basics for soil, fertilizer, water, light, and pruning. Buckle up, ‘cause we’re on this road of planty learning for a while!

What Is the Right Soil for Bonsai?

Since your goal is total control over the growth of the bonsai, you have to use almost entirely inorganic components when you mix your soil together. To make your own, try getting your hands on these 3 basic components:

  1. Expanded Shale: great for aeration and drainage
  2. Calcined Clay: holds a lot of moisture, but also releases that moisture & fertilizer back to the plants easily
  3. Aged Forest Products: also good for aeration, drainage, and root growth.

The particle size is quite large at 3/16 inch to ensure as much drainage and aeration to the root system as possible. Don’t want to make your own soil mix? Check out our Organic Bonsai Mix.

By keeping the plants in a mostly inert soil mix, you can then decide how much fertilizer to give the tree and the type of growth that you’re going to get out of the plant.

Bonsai Potting Mix

How Do I Fertilize Bonsai? 

Fertilizer is the key to controlling your plant’s growth. To keep the soil from clogging up, Bjorn recommends distributing bonsai fertilizer by adding synthetic or organic fertilizer to a tea bag and slowly allowing the nutrients to leach into the soil. Every time you water your bonsai, water directly over your nutrient tea bag.

So how much fertilizer and what type of fertilizer should you apply? That all depends on the stage of tree development.

  • Young Trees: at this stage you want to thicken the trunk of the plant. Use a very high-nitrogen synthetic or inorganic fertilizer, which produces elongating, inner nodes and bigger leaves on your tree.
  • Older Trees: with older trees, you’re simply in maintenance mode. Here you’ll need fertilizer that has a much lower nitrogen value and well-rounded, equal amounts of nutrients.

Bonsai Fertilizers

How Do I Water Bonsai?

Since you’re using a rockier, more aerated soil, you’ll be watering more frequently than you would a regular potting mix.

A good general watering rule with bonsai plants: Bjorn suggests checking on them twice a day and water when the soil surface is slightly dry. Stick to the basic schedule of checking on your bonsai morning and evening, and all should be well in the bonsai world!

Bonsai Watering Guidelines

How Much Light Do Bonsai Need? 

In general, you want your bonsai plants to have as much light as possible. Bjorn says the more light you have, the smaller the leaf size and the softer the branch structure. In the long run it will be easier to maintain that tree’s shape.

If you plan to keep an outdoor bonsai, morning sun and afternoon shade is best during summer. Indoor bonsai plants will need supplemental light, especially during the fall and winter months. Generally speaking, 12-14 hours of direct light is best for bonsai growth.

Bonsai Light Guidelines

How to Prune Bonsai? 

You might have guessed that pruning is one of the most important factors in creating a bonsai tree. There are two main parts to pruning: roots and shoots. Let’s go over both.

What is the difference between Root Pruning and Shoot Pruning?

Root pruning should happen every 2-5 years in spring when you notice water is no longer penetrating the soil and simply pooling on the surface. Remove a lot of the old soil with a root rake or wooden chopstick. You will inevitably remove some roots through that process, but removing that old soil exposes the outer and underside of the root system. Make sure you don’t prune back more than 20-30% of the roots. Then simply replenish the space you’ve created with new potting mix. Since the mix is fresh, make sure to use your hands to pat the soil within the root system of the plant and give it a good watering to help settle the soil.

Shoot pruning is also done every 2-5 years in late spring or early summer after new growth has appeared. Your bonsai should have put out about 6-10 leaves–cut it back to two leaves with dormant buds. Essentially, you want to look for those little bitty nubs that are right at the base of the leaves. As long as you’re counting at least two, you can cut them back.

Think about pruning like you’re always trying to push the growth back and create desired directionality in one direction or another within the plant. Make sure to avoid pruning your roots and shoots in the same year–that would be far too much stress on your precious bonsai.

Bonsai Pruning Guidelines

Bonsai is a Wonderful Practice for Mindful Plant Parents!

Are you someone who likes to interact with your plants on a daily basis, control all the elements, and look towards the future? Then the bonsai is a perfect fit for you! Caring for a bonsai is one of the most engaging and interesting hobbies you can get into. It really shifts your perspective on instant gratification, which will definitely make you think differently about not only plants, but also life in general.

Ready, Set, Grow!

If you’re ready to grow your own bonsai, make sure to check out the Eisei-en Bonsai YouTube channel with Bjorn and find all the specific guidelines for each tree variety along with tons of other helpful information.

Where can one buy a bonsai tree? If you’re in Nashville, Tennessee, you absolutely have to get one of Bjorn’s bonsai plants at Eisei-En Bonsai Garden. Otherwise, check out Brussel’s Bonsai online for plants, tools, and pots!

 

About Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast

Bloom & Grow Radio Podcast helped people care for plants successfully and cultivate more joy in their lives. Host Maria Failla, a former plant killer turned happy plant lady, interviews experts on various aspects of plant care, and encourages listeners to not only care for plants, but learn to care for themselves along the way.

About Our Interviewee

Bjorn from Eisei-En Bonsai

Bjorn Bjorholm’s bonsai love started when he got a bonsai tree for his 13th birthday after watching all the Karate Kid movies. Even though his first bonsai croaked (hello plant parent initiation), Bjorn was hooked and founded the Knoxville Bonsai Society in high school with his father. After graduating from the University of Tennessee focusing on Japanese language and business, he moved to Japan and began a bonsai apprenticeship for 6 years under Master Keiichi Fujikawa at Kouka-en bonsai nursery in Osaka, Japan. His tenure as an apprentice at Kouka-en was followed by three years as artist-in-residence, making him the first foreign-born working bonsai professional in Japan. Bjorn now owns Eisei-en Bonsai in Nashville, TN, the premier bonsai garden, nursery and school of the Eastern US.

Follow Bjorn:

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References

  1. Episode 119 of Bloom and Grow Radio
  2. How Woody Plants Grow: https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/garden-scoop/2020-12-12-how-woody-plants-grow
    1. Used to describe apical dominance
  3. Temperate Deciduous Forest: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/biome/biotemperate.php
    1. Used for temperate tree examples
  4. Ficus benjamina: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-benjamina/
    1. Used for info on Ficus benjamina
  5. Ficus microcarpa: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-microcarpa-ginseng/
    1. Used for info on Ficus microcarpa
  6. A Bonsai Close-Up on Indoor Tropical Bonsai: https://prairiestatebonsai.com/a-bonsai-close-up-on-indoor-tropical-bonsai/
    1. Used for indoor bonsai light requirements

Featured Products

 

Indoor Liquid Plant foodBonsai potting mix

 

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Prepare the Perfect Hanging Baskets

Summer is here, but it’s not too late to put together the hanging basket of your dreams! If you’ve ever struggled to create a hanging basket that lasts all season long, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for five tips to achieve the perfect hanging basket that will make all your neighbors jealous.

1. Choosing the Right Basket

While this may seem like simply a stylistic choice, choosing the right size and type of basket is crucial to your hanging basket’s success. Your basket should be at least 14’’ to 16” so that your plants’ roots aren’t taking up all of the space in the pot by early summer.

It’s also important to consider the look you want to achieve. If you want to keep it simple, regular hanging pots will do the trick. If you’re feeling a bit more advanced, and want to aspire towards a “flower globe” look with plants pouring out of the basket from all directions, try a wire basket with a fiber liner.

2. Picking the Perfect Flowers

Here’s where you can really get creative! You can make a statement by committing to a single color, or you can mix it up by choosing a variety of colors and textures. It really depends on whether you want your hanging basket to be a subtle addition to your yard, or if you want it to be bolder, immediately drawing the eye. If you need some inspiration, check out Laura from Garden Answer’s 2022 arrangements.

It’s also important to consider whether your basket will hang in the sun or shade, and what type of weather conditions the plants will be exposed to. Choose blooms that will grow well where you choose to hang your basket so that it lasts all the way through the end of the summer.

3. Watering

Consistency is key! Be sure to regularly water your plants at the same time each day, as irregular watering may add unneeded stress to your basket. Since hanging baskets aren’t rooted in the soil, they are dried out much more easily by the sun and wind, and a regular watering routine is especially important.

It’s also helpful to get in the habit of watering your plants early in the morning. The water will be less likely to evaporate and your plants will be well-equipped to handle the afternoon heat.

4. Choosing the Appropriate Soil and Fertilizer

It’s important to choose a high-quality potting mix to keep your blooms bright and beautiful all summer long. Try some of our organic potting soils, like our Moisture Mix, or Potting Mix, which are both perfect for use on all container plants.

Remember, to make your baskets last long, it’s important to make sure the plants aren’t outgrown by early summer. Apply fertilizer slowly and steadily, rather than in heavy doses. Liquid fertilizers are a great way to achieve this. Check out our organic Flower-tone, which can be mixed with water and used every 2 to 4 weeks to feed your hanging plants the microbes they need to thrive.

5. Perfect Pruning

If there are dying blooms in your basket, it’s time to cut them off! Not only do they distract from the beauty of your healthy blooms, but they also use up vital resources in your soil. This is as simple as pinching where the flower meets the stem. Regularly removing dead bulbs ensures that the nutrients in your soil are going towards creating new blooms to keep your hanging plant flourishing.

With these tips, you’re sure to have a beautiful hanging basket that will last you through the summer. Happy planting!

 

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Cactus Mix

Believe in Magic – Fairy Garden Inspiration.

 

Fairy gardens are the perfect way to add a little magic to your garden. You can create them in a container, a window box, or just plant them straight into the ground. The beauty is they pop up almost effortlessly overnight and the possibilities are endless!

Fairy gardens are miniature gardens, they are adapted from Japanese bonsai gardens. Fairy gardens took the idea of shaping and caring for a miniature tree for relaxation and created a new way of gardening. Because they are miniature, the idea is to welcome fairies and small creatures to enjoy them, just as you enjoy your garden.

It’s easy to start. Use Espoma’s Potting Mix or Cactus Mix as the base for your fairy garden, add miniature plants or succulents and finish with some whimsical touches.

Need more ideas on where to start or what to do next? Check out our list to get that inspiration coming!

  1. Enchanting Gardens to Build with Your Kids: Grab your kids and start your fairy garden! Add these little ideas in to make your fairy garden really come together.
  2. Recycle Materials: Use broken pots, logs, or teacups to recycle materials you no longer need into something that will bring joy to your garden.
  3. Teacups Galore: Grab a teacup and get started! There are options for every shape and size teacup to build your fairy garden.
  4. Succulent Rooftops: Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates what to use to make your fairy garden’s house styled right!
  5. Ideas Overload: Explore these 50 ideas to boost your backyard. This will definitely spark some creativity!
  6. DIY Toadstools: Have the garden, but need décor? Try making these toadstools to make fairies and magical creatures feel right at home.
  7. Fall Fairy Garden: Fall is almost here. Create a cute fall fairy garden to get you in the fall mood!
  8. Details, Details: These pictures capture the most detailed parts of a fairy garden. See what they can inspire you to create.
  9. Vintage Kitchen: Repurpose pieces from your kitchen to create a quirky fairy garden that’s one of a kind.
  10. Mini Gnome Garden: Gnome’s need a place to stay, too. Learn how to make your own.

Once you’ve planted, don’t forget to use Espoma’s indoor liquid plant foods to get your best fairy garden yet!