How Do Greenhouses Function?

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Lawn & Garden

Greenhouse Varieties

The Eden Project, an extensive environmental complex, is situated in an abandoned quarry near St. Austell.
David Goddard/British Geographical/Getty Images

Greenhouses rely on solar energy to create a warm atmosphere for plants. However, when the temperature decreases, the amount of heat generated by the sun in the greenhouse decreases as well. For plants that require more warmth than what the greenhouse can provide naturally, heating systems become necessary to compensate for the shortfall. Greenhouses are classified into different categories based on the amount of additional heat they require to maintain a specific temperature for plants.

Cold Houses and Cold Frames: These structures shield plants from the elements, but their interior temperatures may fall below freezing during winter since they lack a supplementary heat source. Cold houses can help start crops in spring a few weeks earlier and prolong the growing season in fall, but they are restricted by the weather.

Cool Houses: These structures are warmer than cold houses, keeping plants above freezing temperatures and within a temperature range of 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (7 to 10 degrees Celsius) [source: Britannica Online Encyclopedia]. Maintaining the temperature above freezing protects frost-sensitive plants like hibiscus and geraniums, which cannot survive year-round in regions with freezing temperatures.

Warm Houses: These structures allow for a wider range of plants, but require slightly higher temperatures of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). Although the temperature range does not support many tropical plants, some orchids and fern varieties can survive winter in a warm house environment.

Hot Houses: These greenhouses are intended for tropical plants such as caladium, dieffenbachia, and gardenia, which require temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) or higher. They need the most additional heat and insulation and can be costly to maintain.

Conservatories: Conservatories are designed to showcase plants, not just maintain and propagate them. They often have finished floors, elaborate window treatments, and furniture space. Window greenhouses and small tabletop greenhouses are also classified as conservatories because they are primarily used for display.

In the following section, we’ll explore some intriguing greenhouse styles to see if any are suitable for your home.

Largest Greenhouse in the World: Eden Project

The Eden Project, located in a repurposed clay quarry near St. Austell, England, houses collections of plants from all over the world in a series of futuristic domes. The vast quantity of water required for this large facility is almost entirely sourced from recycled, filtered rainwater.


1. What is a greenhouse?

A greenhouse is a structure made of glass or plastic that is designed to trap heat from the sun and create a warm environment for growing plants. The walls and roof of a greenhouse allow sunlight to enter, which heats the air and soil inside. This creates a warmer environment than the outside temperature and allows plants to grow in conditions that may not be ideal in the surrounding area.

2. How do greenhouses trap heat?

Greenhouses trap heat through the greenhouse effect. Sunlight enters the greenhouse and heats the air and soil inside. The warm air is then trapped by the walls and roof of the greenhouse, which are made of materials that allow sunlight to pass through but prevent heat from escaping. This creates a warm environment inside the greenhouse that is ideal for growing plants.

3. What are the benefits of using a greenhouse?

Using a greenhouse has several benefits. First, it allows you to grow plants in a controlled environment, which means you can grow plants that wouldn’t normally survive in your area. Second, it can extend the growing season, allowing you to start plants earlier in the spring and keep them growing later into the fall. Finally, it can protect your plants from pests and harsh weather conditions.

4. What types of plants can be grown in a greenhouse?

Almost any type of plant can be grown in a greenhouse, but some plants are better suited to the warm, humid environment than others. Some popular greenhouse plants include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, and flowers. In addition, many plants can be started from seed in a greenhouse and then transplanted outside once the weather is warm enough.

5. What are the different types of greenhouses?

There are several different types of greenhouses, including lean-to greenhouses, freestanding greenhouses, and hoop houses. Lean-to greenhouses are attached to an existing building, such as a house or garage. Freestanding greenhouses are standalone structures that can be placed anywhere on your property. Hoop houses are a type of greenhouse made from PVC pipe and plastic sheeting that is stretched over the frame.

6. How do you maintain a greenhouse?

To maintain a greenhouse, you need to monitor the temperature and humidity levels, water your plants regularly, and provide adequate ventilation. You may also need to fertilize your plants and control pests. In addition, you should clean your greenhouse regularly to prevent the buildup of algae and other contaminants.

7. How can you make your greenhouse more energy efficient?

There are several ways to make your greenhouse more energy efficient, such as using double-paned glass or insulated plastic sheeting, installing thermal curtains or shades, and using a solar-powered ventilation system. You can also use a water barrel to collect rainwater for watering your plants and install a composting system to provide nutrient-rich soil for your plants.

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