Heating your greenhouse protects tender plants from the worst of the winter weather, but rising energy costs and environmental concerns make it important to do the job right. Here’s how to keep your plants warm without it costing the earth.
Insulate with bubble wrap
Use horticultural rather than packaging bubble wrap to insulate your greenhouse because it’s stronger and is designed to withstand UV light. Look for big bubbles because these offer better insulation and also let in the most light. You can peg, staple or tape your bubble wrap in place, but always clean your windows first to minimise light loss.
Also use bubble insulation to wrap outdoor pots, protecting rootballs from freezing weather, and preventing your favourite pots from cracking.
Invest in a greenhouse heating system
Electric heating is safest, with the added advantage that it doesn’t release extra moisture into the air like propane and paraffin systems. Fan heaters also help to spread warmth evenly throughout your greenhouse, reducing the possibility of cold spots developing.
If you don’t have mains power in your greenhouse, propane and paraffin heaters are effective ways to heat the space, but you will need to take extra care to open windows and doors on sunny days to reduce the chances of mould attacking your overwintering plants.
Use the thermostat
Save money and energy by only heating your greenhouse when you really need to. Most electric greenhouse heaters come with a built in thermostat so you can set your heater to only come on when the temperature drops below a certain point.
Use a thermometer
If you’re not using a thermostatically controlled heater, do invest in a good thermometer with maximum and minimum readings. Check it daily and adjust your heater as necessary to maintain a constant climate and maximise fuel efficiency.
Choose the right temperature
Avoid wasting energy and money on maintaining higher temperatures than your plants really need. As a bare minimum, you can keep your heated greenhouse frost free at 3C (37F), but tender plants like pelargoniums, half hardy fuchsias and citrus trees are happier with a minimum temperature of 7C (45F), and safest at 10C (50F).
This is also a good temperature if you’re protecting young plants and plug plants while growing them on. If you’re lucky enough to have a conservatory, use it to overwinter your most delicate plants – those which can’t cope with temperatures lower than 13C (55F).
Position heaters carefully
Place your electric fan heater in an open, central spot at one end of your greenhouse, away from water. Prevent foliage being desiccated by the flow of warm air by angling the heater to direct the airflow above any nearby plants.
Only heat the area that you need to
Avoid heating your entire greenhouse for the sake of a few delicate plants by creating a greenhouse within your greenhouse. Erect a solid perspex partition or create curtains of bubble wrap insulation to divide your greenhouse so that you only need to heat the part that contains your tender plants.