If you're thinking of building a greenhouse, you may already have a spot in mind or you might not be sure where it should go. I live on a small city lot that’s about 50’ x 150’ and it’s partially shaded with trees. I really only had one good place to put mine and thankfully that spot has worked out well. However, I did consider other spots and I thought through the factors below, because I wanted to make sure I picked the best possible spot.
In this post I’ll cover proximity to your house and privacy, proximity to water and electricity, proximity to your garden and to trees, compass direction, windbreaks, and ground level.
These aren’t in any order of importance, as what will be important to one person may be less important to another.
Proximity to your house
Okay, this one is important :) If you dream of using your greenhouse as an extension of your house and wandering out there multiple times a day to smell the flowers, drink your tea, and so on, (I do) you probably want it close to your back door. If you dream of a greenhouse filled with strawberries and lavender and salad greens so you can snack and pick your lunch, you probably want it close to your house.
If you dream of a secluded escape where your family and neighbors can’t see you; where you’re free to tend to your orchid garden in privacy, you might want it at the back of your property, maybe even behind a garage or barn.
And if you are thinking that you want both, well maybe you need two greenhouses. Seriously, I would have two if I had the room.
Proximity to Water
Your plants will need water. I know that’s obvious, but they will need it frequently. I can tell you that it gets old filling and carrying watering cans back and forth to the greenhouse. Now you don’t have to be right next to the spigot, but think about where it is, and how easily you can get a hose to the location. After a year of hauling watering cans, I installed a garden hose stand right outside my greenhouse door. It has a spigot and a two hose connections. One hose runs from the stand to the spigot on my house which is about 20’ away. The second hose connected to the stand reaches inside my greenhouse and also reaches beyond the greenhouse to my raised beds.
Proximity to Your Garden
If you plan to use your greenhouse for seedlings, or to use it a potting shed, you may want your greenhouse close to your garden. It’s also pretty fun to design your greenhouse as part of your garden, with paths leading to it and around it.
Proximity to Electricity
You may or may not use electric in your greenhouse. But if you can, I would highly recommend having access to electricity for two reasons. First, you will want/need a fan. It helps to lower the temperature on hot days, and it keeps the air circulating and helps with ventilation. You can read more about fans and ventilation in my post 3 Ways to Lower the Temperature in Your Greenhouse. Second, there’s a good chance you’ll want lights. I absolutely love having lights in the greenhouse, especially in Fall when the daylight is shorter. There is also the possibility that you may want to heat your greenhouse using electricity. The best location for my greenhouse is right next to my garage which has electricity. I run an outdoor-rated extension cord to my greenhouse from there. And who knows what else you might need electricity for? Charging your laptop while you take a meeting in the greenhouse? Making a green smoothie with all of your just-picked veggies?
Proximity to Trees
If your greenhouse is near trees, a few hours a day of shade can provide a cool relief. You’ll want to observe the path of the sun to see how much shade is cast and for how long. It will be different in April vs August. On the other hand, if you plan to grow tomatoes, peppers, and other plants that require full sun, you’ll want to be careful how much tree shade it’s under. (You’ll still need shade cloth and you can read more about that in How to Choose the Right Shade Cloth for Your Greenhouse.) My greenhouse gets sun in the front, but gets significant shade in the back. So I adjusted my plants to fit the environment. I grow a lot of ferns, heuchera, and coleus which love shade. I also have a 3’ maple tree, a lovely string of pearls, and lots of petunias. On the sunny side of the greenhouse I have mandevilla, bougainvillea, banana plant, and sweet potato vine. I have lots of other plants scattered about and I’m always trying new ones.
Being close to trees can also mean falling sticks and small branches. In my case, the back half is under very tall oak and maple trees which are constantly dropping small sticks. A few times a year, one will puncture the greenhouse plastic. I knew and accepted that this would be an issue when I built my greenhouse. So far, the holes have always been small and I use clear, all-weather tape to patch it up. Even if a big branch falls one day and wreaks some havoc, I’d rather fix it and still have a greenhouse, rather than have no greenhouse at all.
Compass Direction: North, South, East, or West
If you have the option to face your greenhouse in any direction, consider that you want the sun to shine on the long side of your greenhouse for as long as possible. So if your greenhouse faces east, that side will get the morning sun and then the sun will move through the sky shining on the long side of your greenhouse.
If you have the option of placing your greenhouse in your back yard or your side yard, think about the direction of the sun and the shadow that your house will cast. The south side of a structure will generally receive the most sun, unless it’s blocked by another house or trees.
My backyard is on the north side of my house and this is the one thing that I wish was different. The sun’s path across the winter sky just doesn’t shed much light on my greenhouse. But I make the best of it by adding cute, twinkly fairy lights and patiently (sort of) waiting for spring.
Consider creating a sun map, or as I like to call it, a light study. This is not necessary, but it’s fun if you like observing and recording information and it will give you lots of good data. The idea here it to see what parts of your yard are in sun, shade, and part shade AND to see how it changes throughout the day. I recommend setting a timer and going out to take a picture at different intervals throughout the day. It could be every 2-3 hours or every hour. Either way, you’ll get a good idea of how the sun changes throughout the day. Be sure to stand in the same spot each time so that your pictures are consistent.
Placing your greenhouse next to a garage, fence or other structure is not necessarily a bad idea. Those act as a great windbreak when those howling winds start to blow through.
Building on a slope will be difficult, but if that’s all you’ve got and you’re determined to have a greenhouse (I would be), then I suggest Googling “greenhouses on a slope”. You’ll find some creative solutions and instructions.
I wouldn’t recommend building on a low-lying area that collects water or floods during heavy rain. If that’s your only spot, I would build up that soil and add drainage to redirect the water to a different area. That can be tricky, as you don’t want to redirect the water towards your house or towards a neighbor’s yard. You may need to look into french drainage, drainage basins, and rain gardens.
Whew! That’s quite a list. Ultimately, you can make your greenhouse work wherever you put it. But thinking about these things beforehand might give you some clarity about what will work best for you.
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