The word ‘greenhouse’ has come to mean something negative lately—whenever you hear the word on television or read it online or in the paper it is invariably connected in some way to global warming. The ‘greenhouse effect’ is a term used to describe the process by which the gases we have released into the atmosphere—through manufacturing, driving cars, using aerosol cans and so on—are trapping the solar energy that is believed to be causing global warming.

There is another type of greenhouse effect, however—one that is positive and beneficial to life. It is the effect that allows you to taste the first strawberry or tomato of the season, to smell beautiful flowers that you grew yourself in the middle of winter when you are surrounded by snow or to create a tropical paradise that is all your own. There are numerous benefits to building a greenhouse, apart from the sheer joy it can bring—from conserving energy to being able to grow year-round. Greenhouse gardening is a great way to be active, mentally and physically, while doing something productive and staying in touch with nature.

Extend your growing season with a greenhouse

One great benefit of gardening with a greenhouse is the ability to extend your growing season. Solar heated greenhouses allow light to pass through the glass while trapping the heat within, so gardeners can start propagating outdoor plants inside the greenhouse early—giving them a head start on the growing season by allowing them to plant flourishing plantlets right after the last spring frost.

Greenhouses also allow gardeners in short-season regions to extend their growing seasons by utilizing their greenhouses’ ability to protect plants from cold and frost and to trap solar heat. Many gardeners will actually grow in their greenhouses all year-round, although if your region is exceptionally cold some supplementary heat might be required.

Using a thermostat-controlled heater can help keep your tropical paradise warm throughout the coldest of winters. If you don’t want to use a heater you can run traditional Christmas lights around the greenhouse to add a little extra heat—if you use green or red lights you won’t disturb the darkness cycle of your plants’ photoperiod. Another solution is just to grow plants that thrive in cooler temperatures during the winter months.

Save energy

Another important benefit of gardening in a greenhouse is saving energy. When you garden indoors you will have to provide everything necessary for plant growth—including light. This usually means that to raise fast-growing plants such as tomatoes, you must provide a high-intensity discharge (HID) lamp to give the plant enough light to thrive. A 1,000 watt high-pressure sodium bulb and ballast can only effectively light a 10 foot by 10 foot space, so the larger the garden the more light you will need to use.

This can become quite costly as you need a ballast for each light. You’ll also have to buy bulbs (metal halide for the vegetative stage and high-pressure sodium for flowering) and those bulbs will need replacing every eight to 12 months, depending on use—and of course you’ll have to pay for the electricity to run those lights 12 to 18 hours a day.

Greenhouses are designed to efficiently capture the free solar energy provided by the sun, thus eliminating the need for costly lights—although you might need to supplement the light during the shorter winter months to increase its intensity or to extend the daylight photoperiod in order to keep vegetative plants from blooming before they are mature enough.

Create a tropical paradise

One of the most exciting aspects of gardening in a greenhouse is the ability it provides you to create a tropical microclimate. If you were to try to create a tropical environment indoors it would be very difficult—you would need a lot of light and humidity and that would expend a large amount of electricity.

The humidity could be damaging to a home as well, possibly causing mold and fungus to penetrate walls and rot wood. Pests might also become a big problem. Greenhouses that aren’t made with wood won’t rot, however—and they are designed to hold in heat and humidity. Greenhouses are perfect for raising those tropical flowers and orchids that you’ve always wanted.

Diversify your garden

One great feature of gardening in a greenhouse is how versatile your garden can become. When gardening indoors you usually have to stick to either plants that love intense light or plants that prefer medium to low levels of light. When gardening in a greenhouse, though, you don’t have to choose—you can do both.

There are many ways that you can grow plants that love intense light right alongside those that prefer less. One way is to install a shelving system in your greenhouse. The plants that need intense levels of light—such as vegetables and many flowers—should be positioned on the top shelves. This places them closer to the ceiling, which is where direct intense sunlight enters the greenhouse. Keeping the medium- to low-light loving plants on the lower shelves will ensure that they receive their light at an angle, making it less intense.

There are also other options to help you diversify the kinds of plants you can grow in your greenhouse garden. For instance, you could apply different materials to diffuse the light coming into your greenhouse—like using translucent white plastic along the windows and ceiling of the area you wish to allow less light through.

A fine mesh is also suitable for diffusing light coming into your greenhouse. These materials are easy to apply and easy to take down if more or less light is required, which can make propagating seedlings and clones in the same space as mature plants a simple matter.

There are huge benefits to having a garden with many different plants growing in it—not only is it a joy to have such a variety of plants, it can actually make your garden healthier. It is well known that monocultures—where only one type of plant is grown—can be very risky. In the event of a pest or disease outbreak, a monoculture can be wiped out very quickly, while gardens containing a variety of different plants are more likely to survive a pest or disease outbreak.

Live healthy

Gardening in greenhouses isn’t just fun and rewarding—it can improve your health as well. Greenhouses give you the opportunity to grow healthy, organic fruit and vegetables all year long. Gardening also keeps us healthy by keeping us active—the few hours we spend tending to our beloved plants each day is a mild cardiovascular activity, keeping our hearts healthy and strong. Gardening helps you to relax and lowers your blood pressure and a greenhouse can also help prevent and treat SAD or seasonal affective disorder.

There is more to greenhouses than meets the eye—they can provide us with healthy food and visually pleasing ornamentals, they give us a way to extend our growing seasons, they can improve our mental and physical health and they can even provide a tropical getaway right in our backyards. Greenhouses improve and enrich our lives and—most importantly—they allow us to enjoy gardening all year long.