If you recently purchased a greenhouse, likely the first question on your mind – besides what you are going to grow, of course! – is where to place it.
The best place to position your greenhouse is typically one that gets lots of sunlight (with southern exposure), very little wind, is slightly elevated, and not located in a hollow. It should also be placed where it will be convenient for you to access it!
I know, but there are several variables you will need to consider when it comes to the best spot for your greenhouse.
Types of Greenhouse
There are generally three types of greenhouses – lean-to, ridge and furrow, or detached. In most cases, lean-to greenhouses are not used in commercial production because they are so limited in size.
This style is quite popular for hobby growers, though.
Detached greenhouses stand independently from each other, while ridge and furrow greenhouses are connected to each other at the eave by a common gutter.
There is usually no internal wall below the gutters, which improves the efficiency of the greenhouse.
Detached greenhouses can be either gothic or Quonset style. Usually, Quonset styles are used in commercial productions as they have arched rafters, solid end walls, and extensive support.
Although the phrases “greenhouse,” “hoop house,” and “high tunnel” are often used interchangeably, there are a few differences.
Greenhouses usually refer to glass-framed structures (though not always). These tend to be more permanent, meaning your location selection even more important.
Hoop houses are usually equipped with rigid plastic instead of glass. They have curved purlins with plastic stretched over the top and do not require permanent foundations. They can be large or small, with the larger option usually referred to as a high tunnel.
You can purchase any of these three types of greenhouses, or you can build your own, depending on your skill level.
The type of greenhouse you have will play a big role in where it needs to go, as some structures are easier to move than others, while others are more vulnerable to certain conditions.
For example, structures with roll-up sides, like most hoop houses and high tunnels, can handle hot temperatures much better than those with permanent sides because they offer better ventilation in hot, humid weather.
Garden Conditions & Micro-Climate
Every garden is different, so it’s important to assess your own unique garden conditions and microclimate before you pick a spot.
Make sure you choose a location that gets plenty of sunshine and is protected from frost pockets and harsh winds.
Remember that cold air sinks and hot air rises, so if you live in a hollow, it’s going to remain frosty longer than slightly higher ground (not areas of high elevation, of course – that’s a different dilemma).
You will want to avoid low-lying areas if you have issues with water. These often drain poorly and remain sodden too long into the planting season.
Level ground and good soil are also important, but the latter of these is probably the least important factor. After all, you can always add amendments like compost or plant in raised beds, pots, or grow bags.
When you’re considering your microclimate, it’s important that you realize that your ideal greenhouse placement might not be the same as your neighbor’s next door.
This is because there are all kinds of miniature features that can play a huge role in how warm your greenhouse is.
For example, small structures like trees can cast shadows that drastically cool the temperature. Environmental conditions like fos and clouds can gather in certain pockets of land and reduce both photosynthesis and sunlight, too.
A flat, level surface is ideal. However, if you need to place your greenhouse in a location that is not level, you can do a bit of digging and add some fill to improve the conditions.
Aim to find a flat spot when you can, though. If it’s not flat, you will need to build up the area to level off your greenhouse. This can require additional building materials and may be a real pain when it comes to assembling and erecting your new greenhouse.
Elevation can affect both high summer temperatures and low winter temperatures and will impact the heating and cooling costs associated with your greenhouse. Think about the type of plants you are going to grow in relation to your elevation.
If you live at a higher altitude, there are several tips you can follow to control your temperature. First, consider placing plastic water jugs around the plants when the temperatures drop. This will serve as a sort of “heat sink” and can keep your plants warmer.
You can also put a temperature alarm in the greenhouse that will notify you when a temperature drops to a certain level. Then you’ll know when it’s time to turn on a heater inside the greenhouse.
You can use automatic vent openers to control the heat in the winter, and you can use an automatic watering system in the summer.
Choose a location that is far away from other agricultural areas, if possible. If you can’t do this, create a buffer zone of protective plants to keep pests from becoming a problem for your crops.
Ideally, your greenhouse should be positioned in a spot where it will get at least six hours of sunlight each day. This number is especially important during the winter months.
In addition, the longest side of your greenhouse should be facing the south so it gets the most sunlight during the day regardless of its location.
The exception is if you’re planting tender plants that are vulnerable to being overheated. For example, broccoli and cauliflower. These plants do well when grown in full sun during the spring and winter, but not so much during the hot days of summer.
When you are considering the sunlight, remember that in the winter, the sun sets and rises at a narrower angle than in the summer.
So if you figure that a greenhouse located westward will get sun most of the day in the summer but will get very little in the winter.
If you aren’t sure how the sun will hit, check the location with a compass. As little as 15% rotation makes a huge difference in light loss. Southern exposure is almost always best, but east, west, or other locations can work, too.
There are some other factors involved in the positioning of the sun, too. The east sun is best at warming your greenhouse in the morning, while the west sun will extend the day and help keep greenhouse temperatures warmer in the summer or winter.
When we set up our greenhouse, the biggest consideration we had to make was how to protect it from the trees. This war is especially important with our style of greenhouse.
Since a hoop house doesn’t have a firm, glass covering but instead a thick plastic one, even small branches falling on the roof could cause expensive tears and punctures.
In any case, it’s never a good idea to position your greenhouse under tall trees. Not only will the trees reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches your plants, but the glass or plastic will also become dirty more quickly as they are sullied with sap, pollen, and bird droppings.
And the worst case scenario, of course, is that branches (or even entire trees) can break off and fall in high, gusty winds and smash your greenhouse to bits.
That being said, as long as you measure the trees so that they are far enough away from your greenhouse, there’s no reason to clear-cut your entire property.
Trees, along with other structures like tall hedges and high walls, can actually be helpful windbreaks.
Wind chill is known to dramatically reduce the interior temperature of the greenhouse, so creating a barrier of trees spaced a safe distance away can be quite helpful.
You will also want to leave plenty of space around your greenhouse for maintenance. Don’t erect one of these buildings too close to another structure, that is.
Not only will you need room to work in case you need to replace glass or plastic exteriors, but you may find that you need to clean the glass or plastic from time to time, too.
Greenhouses tend to build up dirt and even algae over time. You will need to remove these if you want to keep your plants growing strong and healthy inside, and this will be difficult to do if you don’t have at least one meter of space around the greenhouse.
Don’t forget to leave room for falling snow and so that you can shovel pathways, too.
This one should be pretty obvious, but make sure you measure the dimensions of your greenhouse before installing it – and be sure that the dimensions of your available space can accommodate this new structure.
The types of plants you are growing in your greenhouse should also dictate its location. If you are only growing a few plants for yourself, you can get by with a smaller greenhouse and won’t need as much space. If you plan on growing commercially, a larger greenhouse will be needed.
The greenhouse should be within close walking distance to your home or the other main structure on your property (if you have some kind of business). There are several reasons for this.
First, you’re going to be transporting all kinds of heavy equipment and materials to your greenhouse, including heavy plant trays, bags of soil, tools, and containers. The closer the greenhouse is to where you are plugging these from, the better.
You will also want an accessible walking path that is easy to get to. Remember, you’ll be responsible for snow removal during the winter, so the shorter the main path is, the better.
Plus, you’ll need things like electricity and water. While this isn’t always a dealbreaker – you can get by without electricity and you can collect rainwater to keep your plants well-watered – it can be frustrating if you originally planned on including these features when growing your plants.
If you plan on having visitors to your home, you may want to position the greenhouse where nobody can get into trouble. This is especially true if you will be welcoming children, who seem to have an affinity for throwing glass-breaking balls!
Just make sure the greenhouse is fitted with shatterproof materials and isn’t near areas where you will frequently be entertaining visitors.
When you’re thinking about visitors, don’t forget about those four-legged ones, either. When you’re growing plants, you are creating a prime habitat for all kinds of animals who like to eat them.
Consider whether your greenhouse will have accommodations in place to keep pests out, and again, make sure the greenhouse isn’t too close to your home so you don’t end up with these critters a bit too close for comfort!
Potential Alternative Uses
A final thing to keep in mind is if you plan on using your greenhouse for anything besides just growing plants. If you want to store equipment or even vehicles in your greenhouse during the off-season, make sure it’s accessible and is potentially equipped with road access.
If you will be housing animals in your hoop house or greenhouse – even if this is just done during part of the year – consider how easy it will be to get to. Can you get in to feed your animals? What about providing them with water? Do you need to bring in bales of hay with a tractor or skid steer?
Regardless of how you plan to use your greenhouse, make sure you consider its alternative uses – even if you aren’t sure whether you will definitely take advantage of them – before selecting a final placement.
Choose Right the First Time to Prevent Headaches
Building and maintaining a greenhouse is definitely not a quick, hassle-free affair. You need to dedicate some time to finding the perfect location and setting for your greenhouse.
Otherwise, you’ll have a ton of stress later on down the road when you realize that your original site is less than ideal.
While smaller hoop houses can be easily moved if you decide the spot is not perfect, large or permanent structures will not be so flexible.
Make sure you sit down and map out all the features, benefits, and disadvantages of your chosen location before we start digging and assembling – you’ll thank yourself later on!
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).