Greenhouse Gardening: Small Backyard, Winterizing Tips, Food Growing Guide

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | February 19, 2024

Woman looks at a glass greenhouse and wonders about a greenhouse gardening guide that explains how to plan and build a greenhouse for growing vegetables and plants, winterizing tips, and growing food at home.

One of the best benefits of tending a home garden is growing fruits and veggies that you know are grown without chemicals or treatments, and with greenhouse gardening to augment your yield potential, you can maximize the amount of food you can grow at home.

Studies suggest that personally tending to a home garden can add years to your life and add more life to the years you experience, benefiting your health.

Engaging in regular gardening activities focuses the mind, requires constant physical activity, and exposes the human body to sunlight exposure.1 Raking, planting, and transplanting plants, digging, mowing, cleaning, and performing other chores in a garden daily can burn as many calories as regular moderate exercise.

Greenhouse gardening or tending to any type of garden regularly can be a therapeutic and physically restorative activity, but also produces nearly emissions free food for your table.

Still, it takes a lot of prep work to successfully grow a home garden.

Graphic of the 3 steps of how to start a greenhouse which include checking HOA rules, choosing the site, and building the greenhouse.

And you will need proportionally more space in one garden to grow enough crops relative to the number of people in your family. You may require anywhere between 150 to 200 square footage of space in a home garden to feed one individual for a year.2

You might need anywhere between 600 to 800 square feet of backyard garden space to feed a family of four annually, and probably with the aid of rotational harvests.

The typical American garden ranges anywhere between 96 to 600 square feet in space and most gardeners spend at least five hours weekly tending to it.3 So, while gardening can be therapeutic and great exercise, you might not be able to grow enough crops to satisfy your household food needs.

If you have a small garden or need more square footage space to grow appreciable sizes of crops for food, then you should consider investing in greenhouse gardening.4

Greenhouse Gardening Basics

A greenhouse is a structure that houses gardens and plants for the purpose of regulating temperature, and growing conditions, and strategically optimizing yield potentials.

Greenhouse gardening structures are also known as hothouses or glass houses. The term “greenhouse effect,” the runaway climate catastrophe whereupon the hyper-accumulation of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide within the atmosphere facilitates climate change, was inspired by how greenhouse gardening structures work.

The concept of the greenhouse effect and its catastrophic ability to absorb and trap heat and adversely influence global climate cycles was discovered in 1859.5

Unlike the greenhouse effect, which can reach an unrecoverable tipping point if not mitigated within the next few years or decades, greenhouse gardening techniques allow you varying degrees of control to grow garden plants on your own terms.

How To Start a Greenhouse

Before you start building a greenhouse gardening structure, you should first double-check your local building code laws and rules and strategically choose a building spot.

Here are some of the things you should keep in mind when building a greenhouse garden on your property.

1. Check Local HOA Bureaucracy Rules and Building Laws

Depending on where you live, you may be living under the jurisdiction of local homeowners association guidelines or municipal laws regarding the erection of structures on private property.

If you voluntarily joined an HOA to move into an exclusive community then you may need to get written approval to start a simple garden in your backyard, never mind a greenhouse gardening structure.

So, you may need to get written approval or even schedule a meeting with local HOA governing leaders before you can build a greenhouse.

Additionally, you might need to get a building permit before building a greenhouse, so make sure to check your municipal laws relative to building codes. This is especially true if the greenhouse will become a permanent structure on your property.

2. Choose Greenhouse Gardening Structure Site Strategically

Think strategically about where your greenhouse gardening structure will be placed before you build it.

The site on which you build a greenhouse should receive at least six to eight hours a day of unobstructed sunlight. Strategically inspect the surrounding areas around where you will build your greenhouse to make sure there will not be any unexpected sunlight obstructions occurring in the future.

You may also want to build your greenhouse close to a reliable water source or in proximity to a gutter system that collects rainwater runoff.

3. Build a Greenhouse Foundation and Interior Flooring

Building a greenhouse over your existing soil like a tent could defeat the purpose of having a greenhouse gardening structure in the first place. Disease and pests could easily infiltrate the interior of your greenhouse through the soil.

If you live in an area prone to rainstorms then your greenhouse floor could flood often.

To fully insulate your greenhouse and segregate your plants from the outside environment you should have a foundation and flooring to separate the outside soil from the interior. You could lay a thick foundation layer of gravel and install flooring and then place raised beds, troughs, or containers to grow your interior plants.

What Is a Greenhouse Gardening Structure?

A greenhouse gardening structure is a structure made of translucent glass or plastic that covers gardens and encapsulates plants.

The best way to think about a greenhouse is to consider a human-sized version of a cold frame, which is a walled-up garden enclosure with a translucent roof that can be a few feet tall and is used to strategically segregate certain tracts of limited garden space.

The first greenhouse gardening structures were initially conceptualized and built over 2,050 years ago during the reign of the Roman Empire.4

While some greenhouse gardening structures can be home-sized or industrial-sized with multiple floors, the typical greenhouse is comparable in dimension to a one-story shed with translucent walls.

Transparent small greenhouse with open door set in a lush garden with vibrant flowering plants and shrubs, with a building structure in the background.

(Image: EME26)

This is the most basic type of greenhouse gardening structure that you can build yourself, or have professionally constructed in your back garden. However, it is not the only type of greenhouse gardening structure that you can use.

You can also use an indoor greenhouse for the purposes of growing plants, but an indoor greenhouse is used for vastly different functions than a traditional greenhouse gardening structure.

How To Use a Greenhouse Gardening Structure

There are numerous ways that you can use a greenhouse gardening structure to your benefit.

Regulated Climate Control (Winter Greenhouse)

Greenhouse gardening structures are strategically used to lengthen growing seasons for specific plant species. For example, you can grow summer-weather plants in winter or cold-weather plants in the summer.

The spinach plant is an ancient plant that prefers to have its seeds germinate in cold weather.7 The seeds of a spinach plant can germinate in the soil while the ambient temperature can be anywhere between 35 degrees to almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gardening experts say that spinach seedlings can thrive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Winter Greenhouse surrounded by snow-covered trees and pathways, with distant city buildings during winter.

(Image: Åsmund Arup Seip27)

So, you could use a temperature-controlled greenhouse gardening structure to grow spinach during hot weather if you don’t want to grow heat-tolerant spinach plant variants.

Depending on how cold your local climate is, you may need to use a heater in winter in your greenhouse if you are growing hot-weather plants. Still, greenhouse gardening in winter can become extremely optimized with a greenhouse.

A well-insulated greenhouse gardening structure can warm up its interior temperature by over 30 degrees higher relative to the outdoor temperature.8

Along with providing concentration and nourishing sunlight through its translucent panes, a greenhouse gardening structure also transforms exterior sunlight into interior heat.

Pest and Disease Control

Just like a human being, plants can become afflicted by severe bacteria, fungal, or virus-based diseases or pest infestations. Owning a greenhouse gardening structure can help to securely isolate your garden crops from outside pests and diseases.

Scientists are still cataloging the number of plant diseases that currently exist because new plant species and plant diseases are being discovered all of the time. There are hundreds of plant-related diseases and counting, that already exist.9 However, there are probably a lot more plant diseases in existence than the officially cataloged diseases.

Up to 80 percent of the crops that are cultivated in industrial farms and down to the most modest of home gardens will be affected by a plant disease to some degree.10

There are four main categories of botanical pests, which are birds, bugs, rodents, and random wildlife. Some scientists believe that there are over 70,000 distinct plant pests in the world.11

The point is that no matter what you do as a gardener, the plants in your outside garden will be susceptible to disease, weed infiltration, or pest infestation because you can’t control how your garden is affected by the environment.

You can use a greenhouse gardening structure to isolate your plants and gardens from the inevitable and unavoidable contamination of diseases and pests that exist in the outside world.

Plant diseases and pests can severely reduce harvest yields, shrink plants, stress them, cause garden-wide contamination, or even kill them.

Organic Gardening Preferences

If you have ever bought fruits and veggies at your local supermarket, then it is almost certain that the produce you brought was drenched in pesticides before you bought them.

No one argues the fact that pesticides are awful, extremely toxic and not good for the environment or human physiology. However, there is a Catch-22 aspect to pesticides that is unavoidable; while they are awful, global crop supplies would dwindle without them.

Over one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed on crops on industrial American farms annually.12 Over 5.6 billion pounds of industrial-scale pesticides are sprayed on crops on a global level.

About 25 million global industrial workers who spray pesticides on crops are poisoned by the pesticides they use every year.

Pesticide-sprayed fruits and vegetables are so toxic that they must be isolated to “off-gas” or allow toxicity levels to safely dissipate for days, weeks, or even months before they can be safely sold in markets.

Depending on who you ask, over 9.3 billion tons of crops are grown on a global scale annually.13 Even though pesticides are toxic to humans and bad for the environment, over half of the crops grown on a global scale could be lost to pests and diseases without the use of pesticides.14

Again, while no one is defending the use of extremely toxic pesticides on global crop supplies, the truth of the matter is that pesticide use is an integral and inextricable part of industrial agriculture.

The best way to extricate yourself from the global dilemma of pesticide use on crops is to grow your own organic fruits and vegetables in a greenhouse gardening structure via the best organic gardening practices.

You could spend a few months creating your own organic compost or fertilizer to use in your own organic garden. You can create your own organic fertilizer from composted organic matter, well-rotted animal manure, used coffee grounds, wood-derived ashes, and more.15

Diversified Garden Portfolio

As previously mentioned, the typical American garden has less than 800 square feet of space to feed the nutrition needs of a family of four (for a full year).

When you only have a limited space to work with in a garden then you have to strategically calculate what types of plants you can grow.

A transparent greenhouse showing rows of young greenhouse plants growing on elevated platforms.

During the harvest months, your final yield potential could be limited by your available space and time needed for soil nourishment and staggered seeding periods. Additionally, since different plant species can have wildly different growing needs, you may be limited in the types of plants you grow.

You can grow different varieties of plants in containers according to their growing needs in a greenhouse gardening structure. You can also increase your overall gardening space by owning a greenhouse.

For example, you can have an unprotected outside garden and plant more disease-resistant plants outside while growing a variety of other plant types inside your greenhouse.

Greenhouse Ideas and Tips for Optimum Growing

Always use premium loamy soil for planting your seeds.17 Loamy soil is soil that comprises a particulate mix of clay, sand, and silty properties.

Clay particulates in the soil help keep the soil packed and weighed down. Sand particulates allow for adequate water drainage.

Wooden walkway inside a greenhouse, surrounded by lush aquatic plants and large lily pads floating in water.

(Image: Skitterphoto28)

Silt particulates in soil are medium-sized and help tie together the clay and sandy particulates in the soil. Strive to have a 60 or 70 percent loamy soil to a 20 or 30 percent compost or fertilizer mix for your greenhouse soil mixture with the remaining percentages being a layer of organic mulch.

Gardening for Beginners: What To Grow in a Greenhouse for Beginners

Every green thumb gardener was once a beginner. Here are a few gardening for beginners tips to consider.

Always know the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones or your gardening zones, so you understand which plants are more practical to grow in your zone. Stay apprised of local weather reports and early frost dates.

Pay attention to how the sun traverses the sky and how the sunlight shines and moves along your property so that you know the best places to plant or build a greenhouse.

Stay close to a good water source. It might be a good idea to start planting in a small greenhouse kit at first to learn from your mistakes before working in a larger greenhouse.

Additionally, strategically consider which plants you want to grow and that you and your family would love eating.

Best Plants for Greenhouse (For Beginners)

Here is a list of plants that are user-friendly to grow for gardening beginners in a greenhouse.

1. Tomato Plant

The tomato plant plant grows on a vine and is perfect for vertical gardening practices.

Some tomato plant species are ready for harvest in as fast as 55 days.18

Graphic of popular plants for greenhouse showing images of Tomato plant, Bell Pepper plant, Lettuce plant, Cucumber plant, Mint plant, Basil plant, Garlic plant, and Strawberry plant.

Although it is technically a fruit, nutritionists and most people consider the tomato as a vegetable because of its numerous nutritional benefits.

Many species of the tomato plant are also disease-resistant.

2. Bell Pepper Plant

The bell pepper plant is rich in vitamins. One pepper from a bell pepper plant could have as much as 169 percent of your daily nutritional need for vitamin C.19

The bell pepper plant is also scientifically proven to improve eye health over time and prevent the onset of blood anemia.

3. Basil Plant

You should grow the basil plant in your greenhouse because of its pest-deterrent qualities.23

The basil plant is known for repelling flies, mosquitoes, asparagus beetles, aphids, and other types of plant pests. So, it can be used as an extra security pest deterrent in a greenhouse.

4. Cucumber Plant

The cucumber plant grows on a vine and is a perfect plant to grow on a trellised wall inside of a greenhouse.

The cucumber plant does not tolerate cold but can be grown in warm and even hot weather exceeding 85 degrees.21 Additionally, cucumbers can be ready for harvest within 50 days depending on the growing conditions.

5. Mint Plant

The mint plant has numerous benefits aside from its intense fragrance.

The mint plant is nutrient-rich and scientifically proven to improve digestion problems.22 Eating mint can also enhance regular digestion, and cognitive functions in the brain, and even alleviate breastfeeding pain after topical application.

6. Lettuce Plant

The lettuce plant is great for growing in a greenhouse because it can grow horizontally or vertically in almost any type of soil as long as it is well-draining.

Lush green lettuce plants flourishing under the roof of a greenhouse.

The lettuce plant is notorious for growing rapidly. Some lettuce varieties can be ready for harvest within a month after planting.20

7. Garlic Plant

Even though the garlic plant is treated as an herb, the garlic plant is technically a vegetable.24 And it is very easy to grow the garlic plant vertically in a greenhouse.

Garlic is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, and cholesterol, and reduce the formation of blood clots. The garlic plant is also a known deterrent to garden pests.

8. Strawberry Plant

The strawberry plant is a great plant investment to make because it is a perennial that self-propagates annually. Each strawberry harvest will reproduce more plants every year for at least five years.25

If you grow at least 100 strawberry plant crops and rotate harvests every season you should be able to grow enough strawberries for a family of four for several years.

While it won’t be easy and require constant maintenance, investing in a greenhouse is worth all of the extra work involved.

Greenhouse Gardening Supplies

The gardening supplies that you need to build a greenhouse gardening structure depend on the size and scale of the structure that you want.

It could cost you anywhere between $2,500 to $25,000, or even more, to build a greenhouse gardening structure that suits your gardening needs.16 You could even pay upwards of $35,000 to build a luxury greenhouse on your property.

However, the typical gardener pays about $15,000 for their greenhouse gardening structure.

Spacious agricultural area featuring a clear greenhouse with young plants inside, next to another dome-shaped greenhouse structure, with a blue sky background.

Your greenhouse gardening structure could be as simple as a frame with gardening shade covered over it or be built as a freestanding structure with a foundation and flooring.

Here is a listing of some of the greenhouse gardening structure supplies you may need to build your greenhouse.

Required Gardening Tools and Gardening Supplies

To form a foundation you could install a layer of gravel, lay down concrete, or bricks, get wood-paneled flooring, or a metal floor. The sturdier your foundation the more segregated your greenhouse exterior will be against the elements.

You may need space heaters, venting equipment, fans, and gardening fabrics to help modulate interior climate control as needed.

The framing of the greenhouse could be made of PVC, wood, or metal. The panels of your greenhouse could be made of glass or sturdy translucent plastic like acrylic, polycarbonate, or fiberglass.

You should invest in buying premium soil instead of transplanting soil from your outside garden soil. Your garden soil might contain pests or diseases that could infect your greenhouse plants which defeats the purpose of having one.

You can use the traditional type of gardening tools that you use in an outside garden like a trowel, garden hoses, flower pots, troughs, containers, shears and pruners, and watering wands. Just remember to never use outside backyard garden tools in your greenhouse to prevent contamination.

Heating methods for overwintering plants can also be installed, since the greenhouse will need additional warmth in most areas of the country during winter.

Raised Garden Bed Structures for Greenhouse Plants

A raised garden bed is an enclosed level of flooring that could encompass a foot or more of soil that is separated from an outside garden. Raised garden beds used in traditional outside gardens segregate plants from the rest of the garden.

If you put a translucent roof made of glass or plastic on top of the raised garden bed then you now have a cold frame that insulates specific plants from severe weather.

You can use raised garden beds to simulate how you would traditionally garden while inside an insulated greenhouse.

What Is Vertical Gardening and Which Greenhouse Vegetables Are Ideal for It?

Vertical gardening, which is also sometimes called living wall gardening, is the practice of growing plants on a trellis or horizontally on wall supports.

If you only grow plants on raised garden beds on the floor then you are not optimizing the amount of growing space you can use in a greenhouse gardening structure.

You can grow fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, garlic, carrots, beans, Swiss chard, spinach, cucumbers, pumpkins, and kale vertically. You can also grow vine-based plants like Malabar and New Zealand spinach, which are spinach substitutes, vertically on a trellis.

What Is Container Gardening?

Container gardening is the practice of isolating one or two plants to grow separately in a container.

Orange gardening trowel resting inside an orange bucket filled with fresh soil, set next to seedling pots on a table, with pink containers and a wooden fence in the background.

(Image: intherightmeasure29)

You could also use container gardening, or troughs, to germinate and grow seedlings for a few weeks or months before transplanting them to a raised garden bed to optimize your greenhouse growing.

What Is a Garden Watering System?

A garden watering system is a personal irrigation system that you can use to water the plants inside your greenhouse gardening structure.

You could use a garden hose or a lawn sprinkler connected to a timer to intermittently water your greenhouse plants on a prearranged schedule. You could also create a greenhouse roof gutter system, or connect it to an existing one on your house, to collect rainwater for your garden watering system.

Are Self-Watering Garden Planters Reliable?

Self-watering garden planters are essentially water-filled receptacles that are designed to drip leak water in tiny, incremental amounts to keep plant soil moist and plants consistently watered without the worry of over-watering.

Self-watering garden planters are reliable to use in a greenhouse gardening structure, but you can make your own cheaper alternative to the device.

Take a water bottle and carefully poke a hole in the plastic cap about the diameter of a Q-tip. Carefully poke a Q-tip halfway through the cap and make sure that there is enough space in the hole for water to slowly seep through.

Now, tape a 12-inch to 18-inch long stick to the water bottle. Carefully insert the stick into the soil so that the water bottle is upside down and the Q-tip slowly leaks a drop of water onto the soil every few seconds.

Use this technique to keep your backyard vegetable garden soil constantly moist to optimize your gardening maintenance routine and focus on other tasks.

Is It Practical To Install a Small Greenhouse as a Small Backyard Greenhouse?

You can buy a small greenhouse gardening structure kit online for a few hundred dollars or in the low four-figure range. Your greenhouse could be as large as a small cabin or as small as a tall mini-tent according to your home garden preferences and budget.

However, as previously mentioned, a family of four is lucky to have at least 800 square feet of space for a home garden. The smaller your greenhouse gardening structure is in size and scale, the smaller your overall yields will be at harvest time.

Do Greenhouse Gardeners Ever Have To Worry About Exterior Temperatures?

As a greenhouse owner, you have to constantly monitor exterior temperatures so that you will always know how to compensate for interior temperatures to protect your plants.

If outside temperatures become too high then the interior temperature of the greenhouse can rise too quickly. The solution can be in the form of air conditioning or strategic venting ports assisted by an exhaust fan.

If the outside weather becomes too cold, then you can place plant covering fabric or even plastic over the plants to keep them warm.

You should also know which of the gardening zones you reside in. Always be aware of which USDA Plant Hardiness Zone you reside in to know which plants are optimal to grow in your area and stay apprised of local weather reports.

What Types of Precautions and Pre-Planning Tips Must Be Taken To Maintain a Greenhouse?

Always separate the clothing and tools that you use for an exterior garden and greenhouse.

Work on an exterior garden at different times than when working inside your greenhouse.

Interior of a greenhouse with rows of growing plants, seedling trays in the ground.

(Image: MariaGodfrida30)

Think of your greenhouse as a sanitized clean room at NASA that must be segregated from contamination from the outside world.

For example, you could unwittingly transfer pests or plant disease microbes clinging to your garden tools, gloves, or clothes in your greenhouse that initially became contaminated from work in an outside garden.

Always separate the outside garden and greenhouse tools and clothing you use and never exchange the two when working.

What Is a Major Drawback to Greenhouse Gardening?

You may have to maintain daily vigilance on greenhouse plants since they are segregated from the elements.

When it comes to a traditional outside garden that is exposed to the elements it is easy to take for granted that weather and environment do a lot of the work for you. You could skip watering day if there is a downfall and your plants will receive plenty of air circulation if you spaced them apart.

You will need to constantly monitor air venting equipment, heaters, climate control systems, watering systems, sunlight levels, and more in a greenhouse. You won’t be able to slack off on greenhouse maintenance duties in the same way you could with an outside garden for a few days.

Can Gifted Plants Be Introduced Into a Greenhouse?

It is extremely important that you keep your greenhouse sterilized and segregated from the exterior environment which also includes gifted plants.

A plant or seedling gifted from a friend could be infected with microbial-sized diseases or small pests. Once you introduce outside plants into your greenhouse any diseases or pests introduced would be virtually impossible to extricate.

Germinate your own seeds or seedlings from a trusted nursery and never allow gifted plants into your greenhouse.

Could a Greenhouse Detract From Garden or Landscape Aesthetics?

A greenhouse can be a lot of things, but one of them is not aesthetically pleasing relative to a landscape or next to a visually appealing home. (It’s one of the reasons why some HOAs don’t like greenhouses being built o the properties of its members.)

You have to make a choice to either sacrifice some landscape aesthetics to grow extra food or lose out on growing your own food on your terms for the sake of landscape aesthetics.

A good compromise to this dilemma is to build your greenhouse in a backyard with a fence or privacy screen hedge high enough to preserve some aesthetics.

What Is an Indoor Greenhouse?

The indoor greenhouse, which is also known as a conservatory, is a room or structure that has translucent walls that are attached to a residential home, larger structure, or facility.6 An indoor greenhouse is used mainly for aesthetic purposes rather than for specifically housing and strategically growing plants.

A conservatory is basically a room with see-through walls. You can put plants in them for aesthetic purposes, but the main purpose of an indoor greenhouse is to allow the owner to live in an aesthetically refined room.

Businesses and exhibition halls that act as conservatories use them to showcase exotic or rare plants to the public and keep such vegetation alive during the process.

So, you might bring in plants from your greenhouse gardening structure to an indoor greenhouse for aesthetics while you sip tea or coffee in it. An indoor greenhouse is not primarily used for augmenting or assisting the growth of plants, plants can be placed in an indoor greenhouse for ornamental effect.

You can grow fruits and vegetables with the extra protection of segregation and insulation from the plant diseases and pests that inhabit the environments of traditional gardens.

Additionally, building a greenhouse gardening structure will allow you complete climate control to grow crops on your own terms.


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