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Greenhouse Gardening

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                   GardenGuides Newsletter 
                        June 27, 2006

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* Provide good air circulation, so leaves dry faster. 

* At the end of the season, remove and destroy all infected 
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Greenhouse Gardening
By Linden Staciokas 

For me, greenhouse gardening has an intensity beyond that 
found in a regular plot. The limits of size and the advant-
ages of protection from the elements both concentrate and 
expand my choices as I thumb through slick catalogs, the 
delicious anticipation of seed starting and transplanting 
begins earlier, and growth soon becomes so lush that it 
seems primordial. Even the very air develops an earthy full-
ness capable of making ordinary smells seem puny by 

Unfortunately, without the proper vigilance, the same green-
house that transforms my seedlings into green giants can 
mutate ordinary problems into cyclones of destruction, 
capable of wiping out the entire contents. It has happened 
to me more than once, so if you are new to greenhouse 
gardening, you may want to keep a keen eye on the following.

First, remember that when it comes to greenhouses, hotter is 
not always better. Each variety has its own optimum tempera-
ture preference, and sometimes these desires change with the 
stages of plant development. However, in general, the air 
temperature of a greenhouse should not rise above around 85 
degrees. After that, your tomatoes and cukes may have trouble 
with pollination.

The problem with temperature is that it can rise devastating-
ly quickly. More than once I have left for a morning's 
errands with the greenhouse a comfortable 65 or 70, only to 
return at noon to find the thermometer registering 112 or 
higher. And leaving the door propped open is insufficient 
on especially warm or sunny days, for without cross 
ventilation the air hangs heavy, still and hot.

The bottom line is that you need a way for cool air to rush 
in and hot air to be driven out. This can be done with the 
installation of passive vents, enough openings that a 
sufficient volume of air can be exchanged so that tempera-
tures are kept at a reasonable level. Automatic ventilation 
or fan systems let you conveniently preset the temperature 
at which vents will open or fans will leap to life but can 
be pricey to install.


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I have a built-in fan with a timer set for the hour when I 
know from experience the full power of the sun will be 
focused on my plants. I leave the door of the greenhouse 
ajar, and when the fan (which is positioned close to the 
apex of the roof) comes on, it sucks the hot air out and 
allows room for the cooler air to come in through the door.

Second, keep an eye on humidity, for while it will not 
disable your plants as rapidly as heat will, saturating 
dampness can be permanently damaging. According to the 
Alaska Cooperative Extension tip sheet: "Controlling the 
Greenhouse Environment," by horticulture specialist Wayne 
Vandre, "The plant transpiration rate is affected by the 
relative humidity because it determines the vapor pressure 
difference between the leaf surface and the surrounding 
air." In other words, if it is too damp the plants cannot 
pass the oxygen and water they produce back out into the 
atmosphere and growth can be stunted.

The tip sheet goes on to say, "A relative humidity between 
25 and 80 percent will not adversely affect most plant 
growth. A higher rate can restrict transpiration and it also 
may contribute to disease problems." So, the same high 
humidity that stresses your plants provides the perfect 
conditions for disease growth--two reasons for keeping it 
under control.

Watering only when absolutely necessary helps, as will 
making sure you don't leave pools of water lying around when
you drag the hose back out the door. The same venting that 
reduces temperatures will also reduce humidity.

Third, air circulation is critical, and ever more difficult 
to ensure as plants begin reaching for each other and the 
ceiling. When the air is stagnant, humidity builds up, 
diseases thrive, and plant stems don't become as strong as 
they do when air movement is more vigorous. Fans and vent-
ing will help maintain a healthy circulation (see a pattern 


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Trellising sprawling plants, or trimming some leaves will 
also encourage circulation. In severe over-crowding, create 
a few strategic holes in the jungle by cutting down a few 
plants. (Never pull, as you disturb the roots of other 
plants that have entwined themselves with the chosen
sacrifice.) And next year remember that while things look 
impossibly lonely in May, they won't in July.

Fourth, be a fanatic about pest control. I am not exaggerat-
ing when I say that on a daily basis I spot-check buds, the 
undersides of leaves and the places where stems and stalks 
intersect. At the first sign of aphids, I squash individual 
offenders or wash the entire plant. I also unleash a legion 
of ladybugs at least once mid-season. If a plant looks to 
have caught a disease, I am ruthless about culling. I first 
try cutting off just the affected parts, but if the spots, 
splotches or rot continues I decapitate at root level.

Finally, keep your plants as healthy as possible, so that 
they can survive the occasional soaring temperature or 
opportunistic pest. This means not allowing your plants to 
starve for water or nutrients, watering as close as possible 
to the soil line rather than overhead, not exposing them to 
pathogens like hands tainted with nicotine and keeping 
living conditions sanitary.

It seems like a lot of work, but the reality is that weekly 
attention will keep minor problems from turning into the 

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