Like many people, I initially thought that a greenhouse was way out of my budget. When I looked up prices, I realized that there are many different kinds of greenhouses out there, and that almost any amateur gardener can find one that works for them. Here are some of the features that stand out as particularly helpful for backyard gardeners. Use them to help inform your decision as you begin to shop.

Size

small greenhouses

The size of the greenhouse that you're looking for is the first and most important feature. For people working with a small balcony or patio, a shelf-sized greenhouse may be best. These units cannot be walked into, as they are essentially large shelving units with a plastic zippered shell that keeps out rain, wind, and hail. The plastic also helps keep in heat, since sunshine can pass right through its clear exterior. Greenhouses of this size are ideal for small-scale gardeners who are specifically looking to start seeds earlier outside or grow a few small plants during the late fall or early spring, since greenhouses this small are very rarely heated.

Here's a small, patio-sized greenhouse that is perfect for apartment balconies and decks.

This little walk-in greenhouse is the next step up and works well for larger patios or small yards.

Once you move on from shelf-sized greenhouses and small four-foot by four-foot planter-sized greenhouses, you start getting into the sizes that constitute walk-in greenhouses. The smallest of these tend to be around six feet by eight feet, while the largest fall somewhere around eight feet by 12 feet. Bigger options are available but rare for the average backyard gardener. Greenhouses of this size may also be big enough to serve multiple purposes. For instance, you might use one part of it entirely as a tool shed. This can be especially helpful in areas that permit only one "accessory structure" per backyard. Always check your local zoning rules before deciding on a greenhouse.

Ready to step up to something more permanent? This one is a year-round structure, ready for your yard.

Shape

Greenhouses can come in all sorts of shapes. One common shape for small greenhouses is the lean-to, which specifically relies on one side of the greenhouse being put up against another structure. If that structure is heated, it can actually help plants inside the greenhouse during the winter months. Stand-alone greenhouses can be purchased with either straight or curved walls. In areas with harsh winters, curved walls may make it a little easier to get snow to slide off without caving in the actual greenhouse. Of course, much of the decision between curved and straight walls just comes down to what you think looks best. Another shape, the hoop house style, is something like a half cylinder, consisting of curved pieces of pipe with plastic stretched over them. All of these shapes will keep heat in, but some will match the style of your neighborhood better than others.

This lean-to unit takes advantage of the heat stored in the wall of your home.

Ventilation and Rain Options

greenhouse ventilation fans

For any standalone greenhouse, you'll need some way to ventilate it on hot days. One of the most common ways to do this is to install hinged window in the ceiling. When open, it should allow the temperature inside the greenhouse and the temperature outside to equalize. On some of the nicer models, this window actually opens automatically. or others, it must be manually opened and closed.

Another good feature to keep an eye out for is the option of a guttering system. This may not be a full rain gutter, but it is a well-thought-out way for rain to channel down the roof and away from the building. And while not technically a feature related to ventilation, this is also good time to also consider the greenhouse's doors. A lockable hinged door is usually better than a sliding door, but you'll find it best to compare the benefits versus the price increase for the specific models you are considering.

Do you just want to winter-sow a few seeds or grow greens all winter? Why not a cold frame?

Materials

The most common materials used in residential backyard greenhouses are polycarbonate for the windows and stainless steel or aluminum for the frame. While glass is a wonderful and very pretty material, it is rare simply because its weight requires a very sturdy and supportive frame, which can drive up costs significantly. Cedar is a wood that works well for cold frames and very nice greenhouses. These models may be pricier, but they also look extremely sophisticated and blend in with a wide variety of homes.

Once you've thought through all the different styles and structures, it's pretty easy to find a greenhouse with the best combination of your desired features. Compare prices at your local home improvement store with prices online. Remember that online orders will also require some steep postage, whereas most store-bought greenhouse kits can easily be transported in a personal vehicle (even relatively large ones).

Once you've gotten your hands on the perfect model, you'll finally be able to create a backyard greenhouse that will extend your summer season and ensure that you have all the delicious fruits and vegetables you want all year long. There's something very satisfying about growing beautiful flowers in the dead of winter, and that satisfaction can be yours with the right greenhouse features.

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