Greenhouse Plastic – How To Make Maximum Use Of It

Abhishek Agarwal asked:

Plastic in all its many forms has largely replaced glass in the garden. Not only is it safer, an important consideration when there are children about, but it has better thermal properties and often transmits more light.

What you are trying to achieve by using greenhouse plastic is a microclimate suited to your plants. You are protecting them from the rigors of the outside environment. You are keeping them safe from frost, low temperatures, wind and rain.

In a windswept spot the gardener can use greenhouse plastic to protect plants from dehydration caused by the wind. In a temperate but damp climate a well ventilated greenhouse will allow alpines which prefer cold dry conditions and good light to thrive. In northern latitudes the same materials can be used for tropical and semi-tropical plants or to give hardy plants an early start.

The advantage of modern plastic materials is that the same greenhouse technology can be applied widely in the garden. There is no need to confine yourself to a traditional greenhouse structure. You may use greenhouse plastic in a temporary structure that covers part of the garden for a few months of the year. Equally you can use plastic to construct an elaborate permanent greenhouse.

The most widely used plastics are PVC, polyethylene and copolymers. Each of these types of plastic has its own properties and uses. They all be cut easily and do not shatter which used to be the problem with glass in the greenhouse. This allows them to used in innovative structures or customised to fit awkward spaces.

When choosing plastic for a greenhouse it is important to opt for a high grade material that will withstand wear and tear. Low grade plastic will deteriorate when exposed to the environment and become increasingly opaque. The plastic used in a greenhouse must transmit light well. Some plastics may need to be replaced after a year. So go for a plastic that is specifically designed for greenhouse use. It will last longer.

Plastic that is going to be used in a greenhouse needs to be resistant to degradation by ultraviolet radiation. Many plastics are weakened by ultraviolet radiation and will tear easily over time.

If you want long term use out of plastic sheeting choose a reinforced type. This is especially important if wind damage is a question. Alternatively use a rigid plastic. Twin wall polycarbonate is an ideal choice for a more permanent structure. It has the added advantage of providing insulation because air is trapped between the two walls.

When used in a conventional greenhouse twin wall polycarbonate looks like glass but will reduce your heating bills. It is a kind of instant double glazing. It has brought down the cost of greenhouse gardening and brought the genuine hot house within the reach of the hobby gardener. It is no longer prohibitively expensive to heat your greenhouse to high temperatures in the winter.

Plastic has really revolutionized greenhouse construction. No where is this more true than with flexible plastic sheeting. This material has allowed crops like strawberries to be grown all the year round even in northern latitudes. Polytunnels have become widespread in commercial horticulture.

The same commercial technology is increasingly becoming available to the hobbyist. It is possible to buy the same steel frame, plastic sheeting that the professionals use. The frames produce a free standing tunnel structure over which plastic is stretched and secured with special clips. A range of sizes are available and the smaller sizes are ideal for amateur use.

A tunnel of this type allows a large area to be covered comparatively cheaply. An entire vegetable plot can be covered in this way very economically.

Perhaps the main advantage of such a structure is its temporary nature. The whole thing can be dismantled and moved or stored away until next year.The hobbyist then has the advantage of a greenhouse without having to devote part of the plot to a structure that is only used to the full for a short part of the year.

A tunnel shaped steel frame covered in plastic is not the most beautiful object. Many people would prefer to keep it out sight of the house. But it provides enormous and still largely unexplored possibilities for ornamental subjects. A double layer of plastic will provide insulation. Temperatures can then be brought up to hot house levels and a range of tropical plants grown.

It is possible to create a naturalistic tropical environment in this way. A small water feature will raise the humidity and allow the plants to grow in a way that they never can in the dry environment of a house. Fish and other creatures can be added to complete the tropical scene.

By using modern plastic materials you can create a greenhouse environment that would once have been beyond the budget of most people.

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