As winter approaches, many gardeners might be worried about maintaining the warmth of their greenhouses. Greenhouses provide a controlled environment for plants to grow even in suboptimal conditions. However, keeping the temperature consistent during the cold winter months can be a challenge.
Ensuring the greenhouse remains adequately warm becomes essential not only for the protection of delicate plants but also to maximize their potential growth and productivity.
In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about how to keep your greenhouse warm in the winter, as well as answering your most frequently asked questions.
One thing to consider for winter is how well your greenhouse is insulated. With the temperature dropping, you may need to add some extra materials to your greenhouse to ensure your plants stay nice and cozy.
Bubble Wrap and Horticultural Fleece
Bubble wrap is an excellent and affordable insulation material for greenhouses. It can be easily applied to the interior walls and ceiling to create a double-glazing effect, sealing off air gaps and reducing heat loss. When using bubble wrap, ensure that it’s greenhouse-specific, as it allows more light to pass through and can last up to a few seasons.
Horticultural fleece is another effective insulating material that can be draped over individual plants to protect them from frost and extreme cold. It allows light and moisture to pass through while creating a microclimate for the plants, helping to maintain the temperature and humidity. Both bubble wrap and horticultural fleece are easy to install and remove, making them suitable for temporary insulation during winter months.
Polycarbonate sheeting is a popular alternative to traditional glass for greenhouses, particularly because of its insulating properties. Polycarbonate sheets have better heat retention capabilities than glass, which results in more stable temperatures within the greenhouse. They are lightweight, durable, and virtually unbreakable, making them a practical option for greenhouse owners.
Polycarbonate sheets come in different thicknesses, with thicker sheets offering better insulation. They can be installed on both the walls and roofs of greenhouses, replacing or supplementing existing glass panels. Additionally, polycarbonate sheets can be easily cut and bent to accommodate curved or custom greenhouse designs.
Effective insulation techniques for greenhouses during winter include utilizing bubble wrap and horticultural fleece, as well as upgrading to polycarbonate sheeting. These solutions can help protect plants from cold temperatures and create a suitable environment for their growth. Keep in mind that regular maintenance is necessary to ensure maximum benefits from these insulation methods.
Another thing to consider in determining how to keep your greenhouse warm during the winter is installing a heating system.
Electric heaters are an efficient and user-friendly option for heating a greenhouse during those cold winter months. They are particularly useful for small to medium-sized greenhouses. Many types of electric heaters are available in the market, such as fan heaters, which are excellent at circulating heat throughout the structure. To regulate temperature and save electricity, connect the electric heaters to a thermostat.
Gas and Oil Heaters
Gas and oil heaters are alternative means to heat a greenhouse. These are ideal for gardeners with a larger greenhouse or limited access to electricity. These systems require proper ventilation, as they release carbon dioxide when burned. To ensure the temperature within the greenhouse remains consistent, connect these heaters to a thermostat.
Harnessing the sun’s power is an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to heat a greenhouse during winter. Solar heaters collect heat from the sun during the day and release it into the greenhouse at night. Some solar heating options include passive solar systems, which rely on proper greenhouse orientation and placement, and active solar systems with solar panels and heat collectors.
Heat Pumps and Exchangers
Heat pumps and exchangers can provide efficient heating for greenhouses. Geothermal heating is an example of a heat pump, wherein the system uses the stable temperature of the earth several feet below the surface to heat the greenhouse. Heat exchangers, on the other hand, can transfer heat from a warm space to a cooler one within the greenhouse, ensuring even heat distribution.
Each of these heating options has its advantages and challenges. Carefully consider your greenhouse’s size, requirements, and available resources before deciding which heating system best suits your needs.
Thermal Mass and Passive Solar Heating
Thermal mass plays a crucial role in maintaining a warm greenhouse during winter. It involves using materials with high heat capacity to store energy from the sun during the day and slowly release it at night. Common materials used for thermal mass include water, moist soil, and concrete.
Passive solar heating is a technique that utilizes the sun’s energy without requiring mechanical equipment like pumps or fans. By strategically incorporating thermal mass within the greenhouse, passive solar heating can significantly contribute to maintaining a stable temperature throughout the day and night.
One practical way to include thermal mass in a greenhouse is by using water containers. When sunlight enters the greenhouse, water containers absorb the heat and store it. As the temperature drops during nighttime, the containers release the heat, helping to maintain a consistent warmth within the greenhouse.
Another approach is to use a wet sand floor. The wet sand absorbs, and stores heat energy from the sun, much like water containers. Additionally, the humidity from the sand helps to create a more comfortable environment for plants.
Solar panels can also be used as a supplementary heat source. Although not directly related to thermal mass, solar panels can be installed on the greenhouse to power electric heaters or water heating systems. This method offers a renewable energy option to keep the greenhouse warm.
It is essential to remember that while thermal mass and passive solar heating are effective means of maintaining a comfortable temperature in a greenhouse, they may not provide enough warmth in extremely cold climates. In such cases, additional heat sources like electric fan heaters or backup heating systems may be necessary to ensure an optimal environment for plants during winter.
Composting is an effective and environmentally friendly way to keep a greenhouse warm. By decomposing organic matter, compost generates heat that helps maintain a cozy environment for your plants.
One widely known technique to utilize compost for heating purposes is creating a hotbed inside the greenhouse. A hotbed consists of a deep, layered pile of organic materials such as brown material (newspaper, paper bags, dried leaves) and green material (lawn clippings, food scraps, farm waste). Water is added to kickstart the decomposition process, which in turn produces heat. Position hotbeds strategically in your greenhouse to maximize their warming effect.
If there is enough space, having a compost pile in an underutilized corner of the greenhouse can provide both heat and a rich source of nutrients for your plants. Layer the compost ingredients and keep it moist to promote decomposition. Regular turning of the pile will ensure uniform decomposition and improve heat production.
Another variation of the composting technique involves using compost bins or containers. Place these containers strategically throughout the greenhouse to provide gentle and even heat distribution. If you have a small greenhouse, using compost containers will save space and make it easier to manage.
When selecting organic matter to be included in your compost, remember that the key is diversity. Include a mixture of different materials to promote a balanced decomposition and a successful hotbed or compost pile. Some materials, like manure, have a high nitrogen content and can generate more heat, making them particularly useful for keeping the greenhouse warm.
Effective composting techniques can not only warm a greenhouse during winter but also enrich the soil with essential nutrients. The heat generated by decomposing organic matter will create a comfortable environment for your plants, improving their overall health and growth.
Ventilation and Humidity
In the winter, maintaining proper ventilation and humidity levels is crucial for the overall health of plants in a greenhouse. A well-ventilated greenhouse allows for solar heat gain, provides carbon dioxide for plant growth, and helps reduce humidity without losing too much heat energy. Typically, a greenhouse requires 20 to 30 percent of the summer ventilation requirement during winter months.
One of the most straightforward methods for controlling humidity and ensuring proper ventilation in a winter greenhouse involves the use of fans. Fans can be used to circulate and mix the air inside the greenhouse, preventing cold drafts and promoting uniform temperature distribution. Additionally, exhaust fans can assist in drawing out moist air and replacing it with heated outside air to lower humidity levels.
It’s essential to monitor the climate inside the greenhouse to achieve the right balance of ventilation and humidity. There are several tools and devices available for measuring temperature, humidity, and airflow in a greenhouse, such as hygrometers, thermometers, and anemometers. By keeping track of these parameters, greenhouse growers can make adjustments as needed to maintain an ideal environment for their plants.
It’s also important to manage drafts in a greenhouse during winter months as cold air entering the structure can have a significant impact on the overall temperature and humidity levels. Sealing any gaps and using weatherstripping around doors and windows can minimize drafts. Another option is to use insulating materials such as bubble wrap or insulated curtains on windows and walls during nighttime hours to further reduce drafts and heat loss.
Protecting Individual Plants
Winter can be a challenging time for greenhouse gardening, especially when it comes to protecting individual plants. Tender plants, seedlings, and plants in the germination stage may require extra care and attention to maintain their health and growth in colder conditions. This section will guide you through various techniques for ensuring the well-being of your greenhouse plants during the winter months.
Cloches and Row Covers
Cloches and row covers are both effective methods for providing extra insulation and protection for individual plants or rows of plants. A cloche is a transparent, often bell-shaped cover placed over a single plant to protect it from frost or cold weather. Seedlings and tender plants, in particular, can benefit from the use of a cloche.
Row covers, on the other hand, are sheets of lightweight horticultural fleece, plastic, or other materials that are placed directly over rows of plants. These covers help to trap warmth and protect plants from frost without inhibiting light penetration, making them ideal for keeping germinating seeds and young plants warm in winter.
Some advantages of using cloches and row covers include:
- Direct protection for individual plants or rows
- Retaining warmth and moisture while allowing light to penetrate
- Easy to install, remove, and reuse season after season
Mini greenhouses, also known as cold frames, are smaller, enclosed structures that provide additional protection and insulation for plants during colder months. They can be particularly useful for overwintering tender plants, extending the growing season, or providing a space for seedlings to start growing before planting them outside in spring.
To make a mini greenhouse, you will need a frame that provides support, a transparent cover to allow light in, and some form of insulation or heating if necessary. Materials for creating a basic mini greenhouse can be as simple as a wooden frame and a sheet of plastic or glass.
When using a mini greenhouse, keep the following recommendations in mind:
- Ensure proper ventilation to prevent the buildup of humidity and reduce the risk of diseases
- Monitor temperature and adjust insulation or heating as needed
- Gradually acclimate plants to outdoor conditions by opening the mini greenhouse during warmer days
Raised beds can help improve soil temperature and drainage, which in turn can benefit plant growth during colder months. By elevating the soil, raised beds allow for better heat retention, ensuring that plants’ root zones remain warmer in winter.
Incorporating organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, into the soil of your raised bed can also improve its heat retention and provide nutrients for plants. Additionally, consider positioning raised beds in areas of your greenhouse with optimal sunlight exposure to maximize warmth.
Monitoring and Maintenance
Keeping a greenhouse warm during winter months requires regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure optimal conditions for plant growth. Having a reliable thermometer in place allows tracking of the greenhouse temperature and making adjustments when necessary. Installing thermostats can be beneficial, as these devices maintain temperatures within a specific range by controlling heating systems automatically.
It’s essential to frequently inspect the soil conditions in the greenhouse, as the soil temperature can significantly impact plant health. For instance, excessively cold or damp soil may cause root rot or other diseases. If chilling persists despite heating measures, gardeners should consider using additional tools like UV lights to help maintain soil warmth and promote healthy growth.
With the greenhouse air temperature and soil conditions monitored closely, it’s also crucial to pay attention to insulation. Insulating the greenhouse will help retain heat and decrease the need for heating devices. Gardeners can utilize items like plastic bottles filled with water and placed around the greenhouse to absorb and redistribute heat.
A crucial aspect of maintaining proper greenhouse conditions is ensuring sufficient CO2 levels for photosynthesis. In colder months, greenhouses may require additional CO2 sources to maintain a productive environment. Incorporating compost or more plants can help raise the CO2 levels within the space.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best insulation methods for a winter greenhouse?
Bubble wrap is an affordable and effective insulation method for winter greenhouses. It traps air pockets that provide insulation while still allowing light to enter the greenhouse. Another option is rigid foam insulation, which offers better heat retention and can be used to insulate the greenhouse’s foundation and walls.
How can I use thermal mass to maintain warmth in my greenhouse?
To use thermal mass in your greenhouse, add large containers of water or other materials like bricks and stones that can absorb and store heat during the day. Position them where they receive sunlight, allowing them to absorb warmth and slowly release it throughout the night, maintaining a stable temperature inside the greenhouse.
Which heating systems are most efficient for greenhouses in cold seasons?
Electric fan heaters, solar-powered heaters, and greenhouse heating cables are efficient heating options for greenhouses in cold seasons. Electric fan heaters circulate the heat evenly, while solar-powered heaters harness sunlight to generate warmth. Greenhouse heating cables provide targeted heating at the root level, promoting plant growth despite cold weather.
How can I minimize heat loss through greenhouse glazing?
To minimize heat loss through greenhouse glazing, consider using double-pane glass, polycarbonate, or acrylic materials that provide better insulation compared to single-pane glass. Adding weatherstripping or caulking around the glazing can also help to reduce air leaks and drafts, further mitigating heat loss.
What are the ideal temperature ranges for different plants in winter?
The ideal temperature ranges for different plants in winter vary, but generally, cool-season vegetables like lettuce and spinach can tolerate temperatures around 45-50°F (7-10°C), while warm-season vegetables like tomatoes and peppers require temperatures around 60-80°F (15-27°C). Be sure to research the specific temperature requirements for the plants you’re growing in your winter greenhouse.
How can I maintain proper humidity and circulation to keep the greenhouse warm in winter?
To maintain proper humidity and circulation in your winter greenhouse, regularly monitor the humidity levels and adjust accordingly. Installing vents, fans, or humidifiers can help manage the indoor climate. Circulating air with fans can distribute the heat evenly and prevent cold spots. Consider adding a dehumidifier or increasing ventilation to avoid excessive moisture that can lead to mold and plant diseases
Wrapping Up How to Keep Your Greenhouse Warm in Winter
Numerous methods can be employed to maintain warmth in a greenhouse during winter. By leveraging various insulation techniques, heating systems, and passive heating methods, gardeners can create a cozy environment for their plants to thrive.
Implementing methods such as composting, thermal mass, and proper humidity control can further help bolster the greenhouse’s thermal capabilities. Monitoring and maintaining the temperature and humidity levels will also play a crucial role in successful winter gardening.
We hope this guide has been useful in helping you prepare your greenhouse for wintertime! With a little work, you and your plants will stay nice and toasty through the cold weather.
For more information on building or maintaining a greenhouse, check out our greenhouse hub!
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Matt Cunningham, co-founder of Minneopa Orchards alongside his brother Ryan, is a steward of the land with roots deeply embedded in the farming life. Raised on a farm with both parents imparting their love for agriculture—his father a farmer and his mother a gardener. Matt’s orchard and vineyard journey has blossomed into Minneopa Orchards – dedicated to sharing the joy of growing food with a community of like-minded enthusiasts.