Greenhouse Modifications for Hot Climates

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Introduction: Greenhouse Modifications for Hot Climates

About: I am a former Geologist who has moved back to Arizona. I live with two pugs (Romper & Murphy) and my boyfriend/husband-critter.

In the late summer of 2015 I was given a 10 x 12' (3 x 3.7 m) greenhouse as an early holiday present. It was on sale so my family decided it was a good time to purchase one.

Currently, I am living in Bullhead City, Arizona. The summer temperatures compete with Death Valley and in the winter it can get below freezing. The temperature extremes along with the strong winds in Bullhead City each create their own set of challenges that required modification to the greenhouse.

With the right modifications the greenhouse became the perfect climate for growing rare tropical plants, starting seedlings, and keep my plants alive all year. This instructable is not a step-by-step of each sub project, but rather an overview to give you guidance if you are unsure where to start.

Also, I'm working on a website about the rest of my gardening trials and errors called pugsinthegarden.com and hopefully the site should be ready in a few months.

Enjoy!

Step 1: Build Greenhouse +/- Foundation

Obviously, there are many creative people that can build their own greenhouse from scratch. I am not one of those people.

In the pictures you can see that I have laid the base of the greenhouse over gravel. Later, I realized that this was a bad idea. If you can, the better option is to place about 1.5 feet (~ 46 cm) deep foundation with about 4'' (~10 cm) sitting above ground level. Why is this? To keep it from blowing away? No! The problem with keeping your foundation at ground level is when you water your plants the water will flow out rather than down. I can't tell you enough how much I deeply regret not making an underground foundation. Alternatively, if you are dead set against this or you have no idea how to make a cement foundation you can make a small garden around the perimeter of your greenhouse. This way when the water flows outwards it also waters the plants outside the greenhouse. Also, if you are going to have a tree next to you greenhouse (preferably on the north side so that it doesn't block light) allowing the water to flow outward would allow you to water the tree and the greenhouse simultaneously.

The point is, you want to decide whether or not you want a foundation based on how best to use your water. If you decide to simultaneously water your tree or a surrounding garden then the water isn't wasted.

Step 2: Cooling System

If you have a greenhouse without a cooling system, it's just going to get hotter inside the greenhouse. Evaporation coolers are pretty much the way to go in terms of energy usage and maintenance. Also remember that your plants are not going to necessarily be comfortable at temperatures you're happy in. Really, most of you plants are probably going to be happiest at about 90 F (~ 32 C).

In the picture you can see I've constructed a wooden structure to hold up my evaporative cooler. I also wanted a small table or bench, so made it chair shaped on the inside of the greenhouse.

The evaporative cooler I purchased can be used as both an evaporation cooler or just a fan. This is good for the fall season when you don't want excessive moisture in the greenhouse, but it gets a little too warm during the days.

One thing to note is that if you have very hard water you will likely end up buying a new pump every year ($14-35 ea). You can find an assay of your ground water online or from your water company. A 2009 assay showed that we have 51-204 ppm calcium (very hard), sodium 98-180 ppm (hard), and sulfate 101.6-430.6 ppm (very hard). These are all naturally occurring the from erosion of volcanic rocks around our basin (fun facts!).

Lastly, during the first summer I believed that I should leave the roof panels open to let the hot air escape. After sealing the windows, I can tell you that there is still enough holes to let hot air escape. A sealed greenhouse is better.

Step 3: Sealing Cracks

With my greenhouse I was never able to keep the panels from blowing off in wind storms no matter how many clips I placed on them (and I bought extra!). Every time a panel blew off it might get bent and scratched up (bad!). Retrospectively, I also realize that a lot of air was escaping prior to sealing the greenhouse. To solve this problem I sealed each panel with silicone. Sure, this will be more of a pain to deal with if I need to replaced a panel, but so far it has worked out great! This also keeps the entire structure from shifting in strong winds.

Step 4: Shade Cloth

During the first summer when the plants were just getting started I needed shade cloth. There was no ecosystem or microclimate. Just a big plastic house full of dirt and tiny tiny plants under a blazing hot sun. So, I put a large shade cloth over the entire greenhouse. Given the very high temperatures I decided to go with Aluminum shade cloth. This way most of the light/heat is reflected rather than absorbed. If you would like one that is more easy to acquire and readily available I would recommend tan or green shade cloth. A black shade cloth should absorb more heat/light and that is what you are trying to avoid. Why does it matter if it's only covering the top of the greenhouse? If the shade cloth is sitting on top of the greenhouse some heat will be transferred to the greenhouse. In 120 F (~ 49 C) would you rather wear a black shirt or white shirt? If you don't know the answer to this you might not live in the desert (hint: white shirt).

Now that I have a canopy layer in the summer I am less concerned with shade cloth. This is because (1) the canopy provides dappled sunlight to the lower level plants and (2) the increased vegetation in an established ecosystem will be shedding more moisture and helping to keep the greenhouse cool (my theory).

Step 5: Planning Walkway and Laying Dirt

You can have no walkway, but eventually you'll end up stomping on plants. Also, if you let your pets in the greenhouse they will also end up trampling plants. I separated the growing area from the walkway with hollow bricks so that I could grow herbs in the bricks. Mix your native soil with good quality soil followed by a layer of composted mulch. Fill your walkway with gravel to just below the top of the brick to hold the bricks in place and to allow good drainage from the walkway. If you spill dirt the gravel filled walkway will allow the dirt to seep downward when you hose off the path.

Also, if you see mushrooms growing in your garden - don't be alarmed! Mushrooms can break down wood and are breaking down the wood in your mulch. This means they are giving you more soil! You can add more mulch from time to time when the soil level has sunk to continuously create a supply of good organic material.

Lastly, add worms! The easiest way to get them is to buy them from a fishing store. I like red worms because they are so prolific and compost quickly, but you can get normal earthworms too!

Step 6: Creating an Ecosystem

Thinks of your greenhouse like a forest. A ground cover will keep moisture in, a canopy will shade more light-sensitive plants. Will you use pesticides and kill beneficial bugs? What about predatory nematodes? What about other pest predators?

Ground Cover: This is a very important step because water loss in the desert is a big issue, but in the winter plants will still have issue with fungus such as powdery mildew. My philosophy is to plant several vigorous ground cover herbs and let them fight it out - survival of the fittest and most productive! Alternatively, if you are okay with waiting a little longer you can cultivate less aggressive, but worthwhile plants. For example, I planted sweet mint, spearmint, spicy oregano, banana mint, apple mint, pineapple mint, and several other varieties of mint. The sweet mint and oregano out compete everything, but now I'm realizing that I really like the banana and pineapple mint. I'm constantly having to fight the oregano and sweet mint for space for the banana and pineapple mint to grow. Think it over carefully. Also, one thing to note is that all the mints appear to have a much more pleasant taste in the cooler seasons and a slightly, uh, tarry (?) smell in the summer. Not everyone notices this, but it really bothers me. This might also have to do with water quality.

Low Height Plants: This is any plant that doesn't get very tall, but still holds itself above the ground cover. If you grow these make sure they aren't being completely shaded by a taller plant. These are usually small herbs (sage, electric daisy, summer savory, etc.). Strawberries also might fall into this category.

Moderate Height Plants (Light Blockers): This is anything below the canopy that still towers above the rest of the plants. Although basil doesn't get more than 2-3 feet tall I would consider this a "moderate height" plant because it also grows densely and will create a lot of shade. This is especially true for a varieties of basil such as box basil and spicy globe - they are even shorter, but very dense and block out most of the light. A vigorous pepper plant might fall into this category. Staked Geraniums can be grown upwards towards the canopy and trimming the lower leaves might make it easier for the low height plants beneath to flourish. Only place lemongrass on the north side of your greenhouse because it will grow VERY dense and tall and block out most of the light.

Canopy: These plants will provide dappled sunlight throughout the hottest part of the year. The two plants I've used successfully are vining/indeterminate tomatoes (variety: "Sweet 100") and a wild north american passionfruit (Passiflora foetida). Next year I might try a larger variety of passionfruit along with my tomatoes. In the future, when my banana trees and plumeria tree are large enough, they should create a sufficient canopy and I might not grow the tomatoes or passion fruit anymore.

Step 7: Pests

Pesticides: I don't use them. I had a lot of problems with white flies at one point in the winter, but I took out my cucumbers and grew them outside - now I have few white flies! I used to have problems with fungus gnats and since placing predatory nematodes in the greenhouse I haven't seen a single gnat. This doesn't solve all my problems though. Admittedly, I will have to spend 30 min in the summer every 1-2 days removing inchworms and caterpillars from my plants. Without pesticides I simply cannot grow (in the greenhouse) lettuce, bok choy, squash, or spinach. Despite this, there was only one day I decided to use pesticides. Earlier in the week I had become very excited about finding a praying mantis in my garden because they are ravenous predators. A plant adjacent to where the praying mantis was huddled was covered in white flies. I decided to spray the white fly infested plant very carefully to avoid any beneficial insect deaths. Unfortunately, I found my praying mantis dead the next day :( never sprayed pesticides in there again. As the greenhouse has progressed I have removed common plants with common insect problems and added rare fruit producing plants without many pest issues (ie: bananas!). This keeps my garden interesting and helps in maintaining a low pest population. And hey, if you're going to have a greenhouse why fill it with mundane stuff like lettuce when you could grow lemongrass and vanilla orchids? Also, do you want to expose your pets to that stuff?

Bees: Also note, if you spray pesticides they will likely kill bees. These little critters regularly visit my greenhouse and I love to watch them buzzing around my basil flowers. On a particularly quiet day I can hear a pleasant hum. My family, including my loving husband, used to be terrified of bees until they watched them buzzing around my greenhouse without attacking me for months (none of us have bee allergies). Sometimes they will be within inches of my face. I actually trim my different basil plants at different times so that there will hopefully always be some flowers available to them. You might say 'but what about the Africanized bees'? I have no idea how to answer that question. The University of Arizona has reported that most bees in Arizona have been Africanized already (based on genetics testing). Don't go up to a hive of bees and stick your face in it. If you have bees in your garden though, just be respectful of them and appreciate them for the valuable service they perform.

Step 8: Last Note

A greenhouse in Arizona can create a very special climate and allows you to grow plants in a greenhouse that growers in other states cannot. Be creative!

I hope that someone finds this helpful.

Good luck!

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    22 Discussions

    0
    patrickseansr
    patrickseansr

    Question 1 day ago

    hi my name is Patrick and I am looking for a good greenhouse. What brand was you greenhouse? I live in central California and the summers are hot here also. But our winters drop to 32-45. What do you use to heat your greenhouse? I grow Orchids all year long. Thank you your your post. Patrick

    0
    conglomerate.kat
    conglomerate.kat

    8 weeks ago on Step 8

    Another Arizonan here! I've been using a spare room for a "green house" because it's so hot in the Summer; the room happens to be green, which is a nice perk :D Anyway, I've been realizing that if I want to have a decently sized food-producing garden, I'll need to find a way to build an outdoor greenhouse, and find a way to keep cool. I'm so glad I found this! I haven't built it yet, but it was so good to find this here, so I wanted to say THANKS!

    0
    james.tomberlin.jr
    james.tomberlin.jr

    Question 4 months ago

    Like a couple of others here I am also in AZ, Gilbert to be exact, and am trying to figure out if an evap. cooler will do enough to keep a greenhouse cool during our 110+ degree summers. What has your experience been? You mentioned 95 degrees, was this as low as you could manage the heat? I am really looking for ideal environments and may need an air conditioner, but would love to save costs with an evap. cooler. Hope to hear back from you about your experience and actual temps you have managed.

    0
    pgass70
    pgass70

    Answer 2 months ago

    Hi James, I hope your greenhouse experience is going well. I have been in the nursery industry in Phoenix all of my life and have built several commercial greenhouses in varying complexities. The commonality to these is that evaporative coolers work very well in greenhouses in our climate maintaining temperatures, the key is figuring out the CFM of the units in relation to the space in order to make them work properly. We have always used either air movement alone or a wet wall on one end and then draw the air through the house with fans on the other, this prevents dead spaces where air stagnates and has very little movement. Without getting too in depth this is the type of system I would recommend, just getting an evaporative cooler and forcing the air through the greenhouse may work but depending on the size and shape it may leave you wishing you had spent your time and money elsewhere.
    In regards to an air conditioner for a greenhouse, ac is made to remove moisture from air and it may or may not have the desired effect you are looking for. It would seem that the value gained from an ac unit would be minimized by the lack of insulation quality found in greenhouse materials. We have found evaporative cooling to be very effective even in the high heat of our summer, as stated in the description above it is beneficial to use shade cloth to reduce the solar heat gains; you can always remove it in the winter should you find that it doesn't allow for the heat gain you are looking for at that time. Your microclimate is going to change and it will be in your best interest to adapt whatever you can to meet the needs you are trying to achieve. Best of luck.

    0
    Moonglow40
    Moonglow40

    3 months ago

    We are just getting ideas to start a greenhouse and this has some great ideas. Thank you! Live in southern Nevada and it gets blistering hot and below freezing... our two temperatures.... LOL Thank you again for your helpful tips!

    0
    Caulerpa
    Caulerpa

    Reply 3 months ago

    No problem! You're going to be able to grow a ton! :) good luck!

    0
    kathy goller
    kathy goller

    4 months ago

    I live in Apache Junction Arizona and am starting to setup my greenhouse you have some great ideas and
    I just wanted to say thanks.

    0
    james.tomberlin.jr
    james.tomberlin.jr

    Reply 3 months ago

    Hi Kathy,

    I am looking for others using greenhouses in Arizona to hear about their experiences. In setting up your greenhouse, how are you cooling it given our scorching summer temps?

    Jim

    0
    Desert Princess
    Desert Princess

    6 months ago

    Wow very nice. I wanted to comment on the pest issue have you tried using neem oil? It works great on pest and it doesn't bother your plants or animals.

    0
    egp903
    egp903

    Question 7 months ago

    Thanks for sharing all of this information! I live in Arizona too and I’ve always wanted a greenhouse. Where in your yard did you place yours? We have a shed we might convert into a greenhouse, but it’s right next to a southern wall in our yard (and between two trees!).

    0
    EmmanuellV
    EmmanuellV

    1 year ago

    Wow that was the best explanation I have never seen thanks for taking the time to write step by step -amazin I did not know ones can grow dogs in a greenhouse they are so lovely--I do have a greenhouse a little larger than yours (4000 sf) to grow veggies for my poor community here in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and looking for information a person from the U.K. Send me your link .can not be happier -the weather here is very hot 36C during day and 25C at night with a constant 80-95 % humidity ... I want to plant some cactus and suculentas and some kind their plants like tomatoes indeterminate cucumbers plus a new variety of lettuce romaine for super hot summer --we do not have winter here like in the rest of the normal world temperatures here all year round stay in the upper 85 and lower 95 even winter ( winter means only more rain no cooler days ( in my area ) --so I need to ask you a question ?
    How hot does your glasshouse gets on summer ????? How do you do to cool it down ? .we try here a mix of high quality plastic and mesh plus a couple fans trying to keep a 85 constant temp during day we still dealing with humidity -we try to use a minimal amount of electricity due to the fact here in my country is twice expensive than in USA . Maybe in the future we can go with solar panels if we get a good return in owner investment.....I do really congratulate you for your effort and good will we should have a lot more good people like you- this world will be a lot better .

    0
    Caulerpa
    Caulerpa

    Reply 9 months ago

    I'm not sure how hot the greenhouse became in the summer, but the outside temperature could get to about 125 F in the summers. I used Aluminet OVER THE TOP of the greenhouse to prevent if from getting hot, but the evaporative cooler also brought down the temperature significantly. The aluminet reflected a lot of the light instead of just absorbing it and producing shade. It was not cheap, but 100% worth it if you need to bring the temperature down. I hope that helps!

    0
    fraticelliwanda
    fraticelliwanda

    9 months ago on Step 8

    You are Amazing!!!
    Thank you so much for your dedication, passion and hard work you have invested here in your greenhouse and for sharing the world.. I have found it very helpful...
    Just what I was looking....so well explained. Thanks in million ways!!!!🌞🌱👍

    0
    Caulerpa
    Caulerpa

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thank you! I hope you also get to grow lots of fun green things! :)

    0
    Omar Ameen
    Omar Ameen

    Question 2 years ago on Step 2

    Hi
    My country climate is dry and so hot reaches to 45 Celsius in summer, and we have cold snowy,rainny winter.the question is,what material should I choose to cover the green house that I attend to build?
    Best regards

    0
    Rozencranz
    Rozencranz

    2 years ago

    Thanks for the great overview, I'm looking at putting a greenhouse against the North side of my houser in Melbourne Australia and you have given some good tips to start it.

    0
    OlgaP36
    OlgaP36

    2 years ago

    I will move to the driest side of Spain (South East). I have no experience living in such dry places but it is an appealing challenge and his article about the small greenhouse is very useful. I am already looking what trees and other vegetables will be the best in the outside but a greenhouse open many more choices. Thank you for sharing.

    0
    victorvector
    victorvector

    3 years ago

    This was very informative and interesting. I live in Southern Australia , and the conditions here are similar to yours , perhaps slightly less heat in summer , but only marginally.

    Excellent !

    0
    Caulerpa
    Caulerpa

    3 years ago

    Thank you! :)

    0
    hien408
    hien408

    3 years ago

    Gorgeous greenhouse!