The 3 Basic Routines of Greenhouse Gardening
1) Maintaining the Cleanliness of your Greenhouse
In my opinion there is nothing mystic about the quality of being ‘greenfingered.’ Where greenhouse gardening is concerned, it is an approach to working that embraces clean and tidy habits, attention to detail, and application of common sense.
To remember the motto “do it now” also helps—procrastination can lead to unnecessary work, waste of time, and often disappointment. Attention is drawn to the importance of sterilization of the greenhouse structure, clean water, clean pots and utensils, and sterilized composts.
I strongly advise you to bear the advice given always in mind. It is wise to make a routine inspection of the greenhouse each day if possible, looking for any signs indicating that plants may not be happy.
Any problem found should be dealt with immediately. As a daily routine any faded flowers or foliage should be removed from plants or from the staging or floor if fallen. Such plant material must not be left to decay.
Sickly plants are best cleared from the greenhouse if the cause of their ill health is not immediately obvious. Keep the interior clean generally and do not let weeds accumulate in, or around, the greenhouse.
Never use the greenhouse to store garden tools, junk, or oddments, and particularly dirty pots and seed trays.
Clean pots and equipment necessary for the day-to-day running of the greenhouse can be kept inside with advantage, provided this is done in moderation.
A clutter will provide excellent hiding places for pests and diseases and make routine cleanliness and tidiness more difficult. Many pests can transfer diseases from weeds and unhealthy plants; hence the importance of prompt disposal of both sources of trouble.
2) Choosing Plants, Buying, and Stocking the Greenhouse
It is always wise to grow your own plants if possible, and much useful information on this subject will be found here. Seed is now an especially good source of plants. As well as all the favorites, the leading seedsmen offer novelties each year.
There are also specialist seedsmen that make available an exciting range of rare and unusual plant seed imported from countries all over the world. Seed is also the cheapest way to acquire plants.
When buying plants, best quality is extremely important. Always look out for a specialist nursery if there is one, for example, for subjects like alpines, chrysanthemums, orchids, carnations, bulbs and other storage organs, nerines, achimenes, tropical plants, fruit or vines, and the like.
Most nurseries send out their plants as rooted cuttings where appropriate. This is really the best way to buy.
Young plants usually soon acclimatize to the conditions of your greenhouse—mature plants may not react well to sudden change, and they are usually more expensive to buy and transport anyway.
In recent years many seedsmen have been supplying seedlings of popular favorites in special pre-sown growing kits in the case of some of the seeds more difficult to germinate, or as chitted seed, which is seed already in the process of germination and especially prepared by the supplier.
Such services may be of interest to the absolute beginner, and to those who want to take short cuts. In the case of storage organs and bulbs, it is particularly desirable to buy carefully.
It is not unusual for the names and identity of these to get mixed up, when they are purchased from garden shops, chain stores and the like. Never buy anything spongy or soft—it may well be rotting—or affected by molds or mildews.
The choice of plants for your greenhouse must be made with common sense. It will have to depend on its minimum winter temperature and light conditions, and of course what kind of greenhouse you want.
A very common mistake made by complete beginners is to fill the greenhouse with anything that comes along or takes their fancy.
Such a varied collection may last well enough for a few months—perhaps during the spring to summer—but with the approach of more adverse temperatures and the lapse of time, many of the plants begin to look sickly.
It is important to make sure the plants you choose all like similar environmental conditions, and that these are the conditions you can provide.
You cannot expect a mixture of plants like shade lovers, sun lovers, cacti, alpines, plants from tropical rain forests, semi-aquatics, and dry region subjects, to get on together in the same greenhouse.
Yet, if you look at the collection that some beginners start with, it contains just such a mixture.
3) Planning and Organization
The importance of deciding exactly what you want your greenhouse to do, and how you propose to use it, has already been covered.
However, if a little care and thought is taken over the positions in the greenhouse you choose for plants, moderate variations in their environmental individual preferences can be provided to some extent.
For example, under the staging or under climbers or tall growing shrubby plants is an ideal place for many shade lovers.
A part of the greenhouse can perhaps be shaded especially for them if necessary, plants liking lots of light being put where it is unshaded.
Plants sensitive to chill or draught, should be sited at the rear of the greenhouse and away from doors or vents. Those preferring plenty of air, and liable to mildews where the air is stagnant, can be found places where air is frequently entering.
Many plants like a localized humid atmosphere and this can be often provided as a ‘micro-climate’ by grouping plants of the same or similar type, or by standing them in moist peat, shingle, or capillary matting.
A single greenhouse can be used for practically year round growing of a wide variety of subjects if the plants are properly chosen and the routine is planned; even some of the ‘specialist’ plants can be often fitted in the schedule.
Typical examples are chrysanthemums and cymbidium orchids which have environmental requirements much the same as many other popular subjects.
To illustrate a plan to make the most of an ordinary, relatively small home greenhouse the following is a typical example.
Assuming it can be kept frost free, some useful winter salads can be grown, and many plants that may be dormant or just ‘ticking over’ stored safely for restarting into growth in early spring.
Early in the year climbing French beans can make a rewarding crop. These will yield early and can be cleared away for tomato planting to give fruit from summer to autumn and perhaps even into winter if the weather is favorable.
From about late winter to early spring, you can start raising bedding plants and plants for later display in the greenhouse. Melons, cucumbers, sweet peppers, and eggplants, can be started from seed too.
All will grow quite happily together in the same greenhouse if suitably placed and trained as described under the individual headings in this book. Nearly all the popular flowering and foliage pot plants will do well in company with the fruit and vegetables suggested.
The ornamentals usually like a position on or under staging run opposite the vegetables and tomatoes which should be set along the south side of an east-west orientated greenhouse if possible.
If a minimum of about 5-7°C (40-45 F) can be maintained in winter, cymbidiums should give an impressive display from late winter to spring. In autumn, late chrysanthemums, grown outside in summer, can be moved into the greenhouse to give another wonderful display of color, or yield cut blooms, until well into winter.
There are many large shrubby plants like citrus, neriums, and callistemons that can be put outside the greenhouse in summer to make more room inside. They can be returned for winter protection well before the first frosts are expected.
Frames can also be used to take over many greenhouse propagation jobs not requiring much height—they can play a very useful role in organizing and planning. For notes on displaying ornamental plants, see this article.
Ways to Display Plants in a Greenhouse
There are many attractive ways to display plants according to their habit, and a professional ‘look’ will be obtained if these are fully exploited.
(1) On staging
(2) On shelves
(3) On inverted pots, for trailers
(4) On floor level
(5) Under staging for shade lovers
(6) In hanging container pots
(7) In hanging container baskets
(8) Along wires—climbers
(9) In sunken troughs with pots plunged in peat to give border effect