A Guide to the Best Greenhouse Plants
How Do Greenhouses Work to Help Container Gardens Thrive?
After years of putting our gardens in the ground, we decided to build our own greenhouse and pick out the best greenhouse plants for extending our growing season. Our three large outdoor gardens this year were dedicated to potatoes, onions, and sunflowers. Because we used some clever low-cost construction techniques, we decided to splurge on seedlings from a local nursery. We stocked it full of the best greenhouse plants we could think of – tomatoes, leafy greens, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, string beans, and herbs.
Growing our vegetables and herbs in containers was a little bit of a challenge, but with some creative organizing, we managed to squeeze a couple of outdoor gardens’ worth of plants into a small space. Once we figured out how to make a cheap greenhouse, our next task was to figure out the best greenhouse plants to grow out there so we could fill it up.
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Best Greenhouse Plants: Leafy Greens and Lettuce
Our first foray into container gardening had been the year we decided to save room in the gardens for things like tomatoes and squash and cucumbers. We started by growing lettuce in containers, and from there started growing things like kale and spinach in window boxes that we kept on our sunny back porch. The best part of growing our greens in containers was that we had relatively few problems with pests and bugs, and we actually ate more of our greens than the deer did that year. We definitely count greens among the best greenhouse plants for growing in containers, and next year we plan to do more spinach and kale to help us fill the freezer for the long Adirondack winter.
Best Greenhouse Plants: Tomatoes
Tomato plants at our house had always been huge and lush and produced so much fruit that we had enough canned tomatoes to last us through the winter. Then a blight hit, and no matter what we did, every tomato plant that we put into the ground died before it could start producing fruit. My husband decided to make his own upside down tomato planters, and the following year, we had a healthy crop of fresh cherry tomatoes.
But I still longed for those beautiful shelves full of canned tomatoes. When we figured out how to make a cheap greenhouse, we used the money we saved to buy all sorts of tomato plants this year – five different varieties! Tomatoes are definitely among the best greenhouse plants you can grow because with a little care, they do just as well in pots as they do in the ground.
We used large pots for our tomato plants this year, with wire cages to provide support for the larger tomato plants. When we bought our young tomato plants from the local nursery, we were surprised to see so many of them planted in hanging containers. When we got our young tomato plants home, we decided to give it a try for ourselves and transplanted half of the tomatoes into hanging pots. The hanging tomato pots free up lots of space on the floor and tables in our tiny greenhouse.
Best Greenhouse Plants: Beans and Cucumbers
No garden of ours would be complete without a healthy crop of string beans and cucumbers – my husband’s homemade pickles are well-known throughout the area. Most people were surprised to hear that we were growing beans and cucumbers in containers this year, but so far, our plants have been happy and growing well.
We planted the cucumbers and beans in a couple of pallet wood planters that my husband made using leftover pallets from his job. We filled the planters with recycled soil from a local garden club and placed them on raised tables.
The beans needed a trellis for support, so my husband fashioned one out of an old wheelbarrow handle and some twine. He sliced the wheelbarrow handle in half lengthwise, then drilled holes evenly spaced up each piece. Twine strung between each hole created the trellis, and then we simply placed the trellis behind the pallet wood planter box containing the beans. It was perfect for giving our beans the support they needed as they grew!
Best Greenhouse Plants: Eggplants and Peppers
Aside from the very first year that we planted eggplants outside, our eggplants have never done well in an outdoor garden. This year, we put our eggplants in the greenhouse and they are thriving. We won’t likely see any actual fruit on the eggplants until later in the summer, but the plants themselves look beautiful: big, healthy green leaves and strong stems.
When the greenhouse got too hot (yes, sometimes a greenhouse can be too hot for your plants), we lined up the eggplants and peppers along the outside wall. At night, we moved them back inside the greenhouse to protect them from cooler temperatures. The big healthy plants are making me optimistic that we’ll actually get a decent crop this year.
Best Greenhouse Plants: Herbs
Herbs grow wonderfully in pots and are among some of the best greenhouse plants that we grow. We have some of our herbs in hanging pots to save space on the floor and the tables, and I love the convenience of being able to nip out to the greenhouse and pinch off a few fresh leaves of sage, thyme, and cilantro to use in my cooking.
When we planted the cucumbers, we also planted dill in the same pallet wood planters as a complementary herb. Later this summer, we’ll harvest both of them and use them to make pickles.
Best Greenhouse Plants: Squash
My father in law has planted his squash in large containers for years, so our squash went into containers this year, too. Instead of planting the large winter squash like butternut and sugar pumpkins, we stuck with smaller varieties of zucchini and crookneck squash.
Starting squash from seed in pots and planters was easy to do, and the plants so far look healthy and robust. If we succeed with these plants this year, we’ll most likely get larger containers for next year.
Now that we’ve switched over to growing vegetables in pots, I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll go back to planting in the ground anytime soon. With a little bit of creative organization in our greenhouse, we’ll be doing a lot more container gardening from here on out.
What are your favorite vegetables to grow in a greenhouse? Share your thoughts with me by leaving a comment below.