Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Greenhouse Lessons and Advice

From In the Garden
I wanted to share some fun I've been having in my small 6' x 8' greenhouse but before I do let me share 'The Birds'. We have been inundated with what seems like millions of birds. I'm sure it is more like thousands-tens of thousands because it is a LOT of birds we've been seeing here lately. This time of the year is the time for birds to begin thinking about spring and large flocks of blackbirds are common during migrations. But have you ever just sat and watched them? They are really quite a sight. I wish my camera was better at capturing them but here I show you just a few of the birds here in Woodlawn. Some folks are concerned and even alarmed at the sightings of the all the birds but I think it is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. Just watch your bird feeders because they will quickly wipe you out! Now on to the greenhouse and some busy seed starting and plant propagation fun.
From In the Garden
It was almost like a wondrous Christmas when I read in the most recent issue of The Tennessee Gardener that you can start impatiens from cuttings. I had no idea! I've started many impatiens from seeds over the years and of course impatiens self seed in my garden yearly but to be able to start them from cuttings was literally Christmas for me! Since I winter over a few mother plants in my greenhouse I figured I'd try the cuttings with impatiens. So I cut small 3-4" sections of plants from my mother plants, dipped the sections in rooting hormone and plopped them in a seedling tray with a good well draining seed mix for potting soil. Within two days the cuttings had roots! They look a little yellow and weak but it has only been one week since I took the cuttings and they will fill in soon. I was able to get about 40 cuttings from just three mother plants and haven't stopped yet. It will be so nice not to have to buy impatiens flats and to just bring out my flats and plant them. Impatiens are workhorses in my garden since I have a rather shady garden. These little annuals can't be beat for all season long color.
From In the Garden
Emboldened by my success with the impatiens I've been trying all sorts of plants as cuttings in the greenhouse and have begun some seedlings. So far I've sown only cold weather plantings of things like chard, kale, and lettuce. I'll soon be sowing seeds of spinach in the greenhouse and will begin hardening off the seedlings later this month so they are ready for planting in the vegetable garden within the next few weeks. I am very excited about my vegetable garden and will be talking about it in next week's post. The success with the vegetable seedling only adds to my excitement. 

This is my first year with the greenhouse and while my little greenhouse is only 6' x 8' feet it is an excellent size for all of my plants. I keep telling my husband it keeps me honest in that I am limited by the number of plants I can store in it so I am not tempted to overdo tropicals and tenders. They are just too much work even though I do enjoy them all. One fault of the greenhouse is that even though my plants fit in it comfortably, I am stretching for space for the new seedling and cutting trays. Additionally, there is not much room in it for me when I need to water by the time you factor in the space the rain barrel, shelving, a huge tree houseplant, and the heater takes up in the greenhouse-quarters are cramped. You can probably tell from the pictures above. 

Heating the greenhouse has been a very simple matter. The small 1500 watt radiant heater I have placed in the greenhouse works like a charm. I have it set to keep the greenhouse temperature above 50 degrees. During sunny days the greenhouse temperature can easily reach 80+ degrees! It is an awesome place to hang out on sunny days. No matter how hard and frigid the wind is blowing outside it is always toasty in the greenhouse on sunny days. The problem this winter is that we've had more cloudy days than sunny days and the heater has been running more than I'd like it to. Our electric bill has felt the pain as well. I'm not sure how much it costs to heat the greenhouse but I estimate between $30-$60 a month. The small size of the greenhouse makes it economical to heat but it also means the plants can go through some extreme temperatures (80 degrees during the day and down to 50 at night).One very nice note is that when we lost our power three nights ago from approximately midnight to 3:00 am, the plants did not suffer so I think that either the plants are quite flexible and adaptable (a great trait!) or that my greenhouse is well insulated and has enough passive solar heating to compensate. I'll soon be switching from the heater to only seed heat mats and passive heating as the days get longer. All in all heating the little greenhouse has been easy and rewarding. 

I must mention the bubble wrap I used as additional insulation. I covered all of the inside panels of the greenhouse with 4 foot wide large bubble bubblewrap. The only area I could not cover with bubble wrap inside of the greenhouse was the greenhouse door. I had to tape the bubble wrap to the outside of the door in its case due to the way the greenhouse door was configured. The bubble wrap along with the caulking and polystyrene panels has made my little greenhouse a well insulated cocoon. I am quite pleased with this fast as I was a bit afraid the cold of the snow and outside would penetrate inside, and vice versa that the heat from inside would be felt outside. That has not been the case at all. You can find bubble wrap in the wide widths (four feet wide was the widest I could find) on the Internet. I could not find any bubble wrap wider than two feet in any stores or shipping stores like UPS-and I tried, believe me. I finally had to order my wide bubble wrap from Starboxes and found they had excellent customer service and reasonable prices. I did not use the entire roll I ordered so I have some for next year. I will probably remove all of the bubble wrap from this year and may try to salvage some of it. A good amount of it is dirty from the plants though so I am not so sure how realistic that will work for me. If you ever use bubble wrap for insulation make sure you install it before it turns cold outside or you'll have a condensation problem inside the greenhouse. Condensation will cause problems with the tape if you plan to tape on the bubble wrap like I did. I will be cognizant of this mistake come this fall and will be sure to put up the bubble wrap before it gets cold. It was not fun insulating it in the cold. The bubble wrap has made a great difference. On some of the forums gardeners with bubble wrap recommend using solar pool covers. I don't like this method because the solar pool cover bubbles are so much smaller and thinner that it doesn't seem like the layer makes much of a difference. Not only that but large solar pool covers are hard to work with in cutting them to size. I will stick with large bubble wrap for my greenhouse. You can see the bubble wrap in the pictures but in case you missed or forgot how I insulated this greenhouse you can find those posts here.  

The plants in the greenhouse have adapted and are doing well. Most of the plants have remained in full bloom this winter. My best greenhouse plants have been: lantana, 'Diamond Frost', 'Slightly Strawberry' Cape Mallow (Proven Winners), angel trumpets, and geraniums. All of these plants are blooming non-stop. I have to remember to add fertilizer to the soil as I water so that these plants don't burn themselves out. Some of my other plants have had issues and don't look so great. Mainly the pineapple sage I wintered over as cuttings is mottled and looks like it is stressed even though the plants are about one foot tall and green. Perhaps the humidity is too high for the sage I am not sure. But now that I am thinking about it the same pineapple sage looked terrible last year when I wintered it over in my unheated garage. I think that particular sage just prefers a hotter environment in general. Coleus has been a problem for me as well. I've lost several plants from what I assume to be root rot. Once I realized there was a problem I stopped watering them and am letting them dry out a bit now. The lettuce seedlings I started back in November haven't grown any so I never was able to harvest lettuce from the greenhouse. Those seedlings will be planted in the garden soon and before I know it head lettuce will be ripe for the picking. A plant doing well in the greenhouse that I did not plant is love in a mist. I harvested seedheads from my garden last year and hung them in the greenhouse to dry. Unbeknowst to me many seeds fell out of the plants onto the brick floor of the greenhouse. Those seeds have germinated and are nice and green in the greenhouse. They grow alongside one area of the brick floor; which is unreachable to me. That is where they'll stay because I can't get to them to do anything with them and they aren't bothering anything anyhow.I do hope they don't flower and go to seed in the greenhouse though as I don't particularly want flowers on my brick floor in the greenhouse. Basically I can say the plants are doing well in the greenhouse and the expense and time I took to install the greenhouse was well worth it.

Pests have not been a problem in the greenhouse but there have been a few. Due to the lovely new growth on most of the plants aphids have had a field day. The aphids especially love the angel trumpets. I keep a bottle of houseplant pest spray on hand and spray as needed. Ants are a common presence in the greenhouse but there is not much I can do about them; they are everywhere in the environment so I just leave them alone.

The rain barrel I placed in the greenhouse to use as a water source has worked better than I expected. I filled it up once when it was about half way empty. It is a 55 gallon barrel and I estimate that between the fill up and what I've used thus far this winter I have used approximately 30-50 gallons of water. That sounds like a lot of water but this greenhouse is full of large and small plants and there is barely a free spot in it! I have to fill a two gallon watering can in order to water most plants since the rain barrel outlet hose is fed by gravity. I do have a short hose on the tap but since many of the plants are up on shelves the water will not flow to them. This is not so bad but when you are watering a great deal of plants filling the water can on the floor then watering all of these pots by hand gets old in such a cramped space. I may try to rearrange a bit next year in order to make watering all of the plants a bit easier. I do heartily recommend putting a water source such as a rain barrel (fill it with the hose) in a greenhouse if you do not have a hose tap close by. Not only is water close by but the heating of the water during the day helps to maintain a reasonable temperature during the night. The mass of the water also makes less space the heater has to heat.

I guess that is about it for the greenhouse this week. Next week I will be posting on my vegetable/fruit/ornamental garden. I may just begin calling it a potager due to the variety of plants I grow in it and I think it is quite pretty and functional, albeit a bit small....

in the garden....

One more note on the greenhouse, I garden in Tennessee just south of the Kentucky border. My zone is Zone 6B or 7A depending on what reference you use. Our low temperatures sometimes get down to 10 degrees but generally run around 25 degrees on average in the winter. We also are subject to strong winds. After gardening in this greenhouse for nearly one year I can honestly say it is good little hobby greenhouse and should work for most needs a gardener could desire.

I know this post is long and I apologize. Since I've cut down posting a bit I seem to be trying to fit so much more into my posts. I may pick up posting a bit more to see how it goes. The beauty of blogging is that it is quite flexible!
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, 
In the Garden


  1. Sounds like you're having an excellent first winter in the greenhouse - amazing how much you're able to accommodate in a relatively small space. My shady border really needs a lot of impatiens every year, so I'd love to make them from cuttings rather than lugging flats home - great info!

  2. Hi Tina, when I saw the title of this post in fb (I don't have my contacts in yet) I thought it said "Lemons in the greenhouse"--lol, maybe you will head that way with your continued emboldedness. :)

  3. This is great! I too am enjoying the warmth of my greenhouse on these cold dreary days. You can also stick impatien cuttings directly in the garden in warmer temps and they root just fine. I had one break a year or so ago and couldn't throw it out. I just stuck it in the ground and said, "here's your chance to make it." and it did. You can prune the pineapple sage up until July 1st you know? After that you risk cutting fall blooms. I have a resident anole in my greenhouse that is gaining weight everyday from eating the gnats....also, the water sitting in your greenhouse adds to the high humidity, I'm sure you already know this though, :) .

  4. You have a lot going on in that little green house. That is probably good as the humidity should be nice for all the plants.
    I'm glad your impatien cuttings took off so quickly. Impatiens never self seed in my garden so I've been doing cutting. Some years are better than others in the house. I have 3 that are looking good this year.
    I wonder if there is some type of solar powered heater that would keep the green house warm overnight. I'm sure it would cost up front but after figuring out what it cost to run the space heater, it might pay itself off quickly.
    Good luck with all your plantings!

  5. I have tons of blackbirds this time of the year, too. I would love to have a greenhouse. It looks like yours is full of promising plants! Carla

  6. I've seen the birds here too!

    It sure sounds like your greenhouse is doing a great job. I can't say as I like the heating bill though! I haven't tried to heat the garden shed yet - I'll have to think on that this year.

  7. Whew! Long post even for me now that I am looking at it. Although, I tell you these posts really help me in the long run when I begin to get forgetful.

    Cyndy, finding out one can make more impatiens from cuttings was a real epiphany for me. Check Darla's comment-you can even stick them in the ground! I'll probably be doing some of that too. They are such workhorses.

    Monica, I must be honest and not get anymore plants=) That's my mantra-don't have enough room or muscle to haul it all in. That being said I'd LOVE lemon tree;)

    Darla, You give such good tips! I will be cutting and sticking impatiens all summer long now! We have a long enough season. I'm very excited to do that! I think I will have to cut the pineapple sage a lot this year. That will help in the greenhouse too.

    GSS, My not knowing about the cuttings just shows even experienced gardeners can learn new things. My problem is maybe that I don't try enough cuttings I think but I'll have to fix that. This makes two times I didn't know about cuttings. The other time my daughter clued me in and she is still giddy about teaching me something. lol I'd like solar for my house if I could do it! I may look into it for the greenhouse though. Thanks for the idea!

    Carla, Aren't the blackbirds great? I enjoy watching them all. Which reminds me-gotta go feed the birds now. More snow predicted today. Gosh we are having such a white winter!

    Everyone enjoy their day!

  8. Good morning Dave! Yes, the electric bill-grrrr. TVA and CEMC explains everyone's bill has gone up this year. Makes me wonder on my wisdom with a greenhouse for sure.

  9. Roots within two days - it's very impressive! Tina, your plants in the greenhouse look more happy than my plants in the garage!

  10. What a super record to have of the successes and the not so successes. Good you figured out about the Coleus, I think I may start some from seed this spring and then next winter....have them indoors. Great plants.

  11. That is cool what you found out about impatiens, and now you can grow even more for your yard. They are a bit too frost sensitive for me but I still try a few in pots every year because I love their color.
    Your greenhouse sounds like it brings a lot of joy to you. I don't think my husband would go for that heating bill though. We have a greenhouse but it is mostly only used in spring.

  12. Loved your post but admit that at the beginning it had a certain Hitchcock(ian) ring to it. The ominous birds in that tree you photographed gave me the creeps!

    Cracking post. I do enjoy seeing birds every now and then.:-)

    Greetings from London.

  13. I am so glad your new Garden Toy seems to be working out for you! I am thinking that in time, you will have a larger Greenhouse! The heating bill, Yikes. But you have success and save money on plants in the long run, then worth it....

  14. Sounds like the greenhouse has definitely been a success. How nice that you've already got so much started and all that space to keep them. The rain barrel is a great idea rather than having to drag out a hose every time.

  15. It's been a bit long post, but i've read the beginning. It's funny that here i cut and throw lots of that impatiens when they grow very lanky already. And they just grow whenever the stems touch the ground, but in your case you still have to use hormones for them to root. It really is true that someones trash is another's wealth. The same is true with your plants, which we really long for but find difficulty raising in our hot and dry weather. BTW, that Schefflera is growing beautifully in your nursery.

  16. OMG I was as stupid as can be!!!! When I brought in my impatiens in the fall they were so tall I prunned them back and put the cuttings in my compost bucket. I who is always sticking something in water. What a dummy!!!! I have never grown impatens before and just brought them in to try and over winter them but was not sure it would work. They have done great and been blooming all winter and are now as tall as when brought in so I think I will prune them again and this time I will stick them in dirt.

  17. Tatyana, The greenhouse seems a bit more hospitable to the plants but I like the garage too. No heating involved there which is pleasant. I may go back to my garage if it gets to be too much in the greenhouse. So far so good though.

    Janet, I used to grow coleus inside as a young housewife and it was as easy as can be. I hate it that some have died in the greenhouse and it looks like another is dying now. Grrrr. Never started them from seeds but that would be fun to pick the kinds you like.

    Rosey, Even using a greenhouse in only spring is a pleasant pleasant endeavor. I totally understand with your short seasons up there about the impatiens. Bummer but it's great you can grow them in pots.

    ACIL, The birds do remind me of the Hitchcock film so you are spot on! They are fascinating for sure.

    Skeeter, Nope, no bigger greenhouse. I gave that a lot of thought. This is it. It's enough and perfect for me-truly. It's been so much fun this winter!

    Catherine, I see a greenhouse in your future with all the seed starting you do. You inspired me to do some winter sowing. I hope they all germinate as I've not had much success.

    Andrea, Lucky you to have impatiens root like crazy! I love them here. Some years they suffer in droughts but most they are great. Glad you like my thrift store shefflera. It is a monster that demands heavy lifting each fall and spring but so worth it because it is such a big presence on my deck. Fairly easy too.

    Mom, Not stupid at all-just didn't know like me. Now we know. Yes, cut them down and stick them in dirt. I don't even think hormone is required. They root easily and so fun to grow and have bloom all winter-especially in Maine. Snow has begun on base but not here yet. Looks to be another biggie for us. No school tomorrow I'm sure. A nice break I guess.

  18. I can't even imagine spring outside a greenhouse with all the snow out there. Cool bird picture, but I doubt we'll see any migrants anytime soon.

  19. Hi Tina, so glad to hear you are having fun with your greenhouse! it looks as crowded as mine - I have to move very carefully for fear of knocking things over. As I am gearing up to growing more seedlings, both edibles and ornamentals, I have realised I need to put the pots of Cape Daisies I was attempting to over winter outside to fend for themselves. I need the room, and with the allotment will not be trying to care for tender plants any longer! Enjoy your seed sowing, look forward to reading about your potager.

  20. Hi Tina, I came here earlier and then I guess my server went down as I couldn't leave a comment. You sure have a lot growing and I'm glad to hear about the Impatients. Think I'll try some too. I wonder if that's the plant I brought inside after hearing you could have it in the house all winter. I'll have to look. Another thing I learned from a friend of mine who owned a nursery before retiring. You can't start petunias but you can start waves. Isn't that strange? It works because I had a couple of leggy ones break and I stuck them in the dirt and they took hold. I think I also started another kind of petunia too but can't remember - maybe a double or something.
    I knew you were going to love having a greenhouse. Mine's like my 'mancave' I just love spending time in it. But I don't go in much in the winter. I have electric and water but have never put a heater in it yet. I'm just happy with whatever holds over. But heat will come when I'm ready to welcome those huge heating bills - the ones we have here are bad enough without adding to it.

  21. Hi Sarah, Those birds will be a heading your way soon!

    Janet, I'm right there with you on the crowding. It is scary sometimes and even despite my best efforts I knock stuff around all the time. It'll be an experience looking for room for those seedlings for sure for both of us!

    Linda, I was wondering about the petunias. I'm not sure if I have any but may give it a try if I get some. I much rather start plants from cuttings than seeds any day. Sounds like your greenhouse comes in handy even without the heat. Hooray!

  22. Are sure those birds aren't starlings? Those pesky birds invade around here in winter!

  23. Robin, There may be starlings in there with the grackles and crows and who knows what else. I enjoy them all though as I've not had any damage or problems with these birds here. They usually don't stick around and are transient.