Updated: July 24, 2019
You’ve got some big gardening plans now that your greenhouse is built. The whole time you were putting all the nuts and bolts together, you couldn’t stop thinking about the winter tomatoes, perennial cuttings and tropical plants you would grow—but did you think about where you’re going to put your bounty?
Greenhouse staging is arguably the most important component of your greenhouse, right after the structure itself. Without somewhere to put your plants, you might as well not bother. Sure, you could sit them on the ground, but this practice makes it harder to control diseases, pests and the soil temperature—besides, it’s a huge waste of space. Let’s talk shelving!
Greenhouse staging basics
When you’re looking at shelving for a greenhouse, you have a lot of choices to make. Materials, finishes and even shelving heights can have a huge impact on what you can grow and how much maintenance you’ll have to do. You also have the option of building your staging from scratch, using a greenhouse shelving kit or a series of offset potting benches. Many greenhouse growers don’t give much thought to their staging until the growing season has started, which tends to lead to a very cobbled-together system.
Before you plant your first seed, take some time to think about your greenhouse and what you’ll put in it. You’ll have an easier task choosing the shelving that best meets your needs if you ask yourself these questions:
How big are the plants I’ll be growing? If you’re planning on growing lots of tall plants, they’ll need a lot more headroom than if you’re growing groundcover or short flowering numbers. You can buy or design a modular shelving system that allows you to change the heights of your shelves, but you’ll still be better off to have some idea of how much space to allot for each plant.
What type of exposure will my plants need? Tall shelving systems are very bad for full-sun plants because the plants on the upper levels tend to shade the ones below. Unless you’re growing lots of shade plants or intend to hang artificial lights at each level, balance the exposed surface area with the shaded areas to maximize your usable staging space.
Are my plants disease-prone? Some plants are naturally hardier than others. Those that are prone to fungal and bacterial disease need better ventilation from below to be able to more easily shrug off their attackers. Better ventilation means better drainage, dryer roots and healthier plants.
Shelving materials matter
I mentioned that you can buy shelving in almost any type of material, but if you were to divide greenhouse staging into three main groups, they’d be: powder-coated metal, wood and plastic. Each of these materials is serviceable and I’ve personally used a mish mash of all three at some point in my greenhousing life. No one material is superior all around, but here’s a quick run-down of their pros and cons:
Plastic – Plastics are easy to clean, can be designed with excellent drainage qualities, but sometimes don’t stand up to the heat in a greenhouse especially well. Look for extra heavy duty plastics if you’d like to go this route.
Powder-coated metal – In my opinion, you can’t beat powder coated metal shelving, provided that the powder coating is on all the metal surfaces. These systems often have mesh-like shelves that allow for lots of airflow and drainage. They’re easy to maintain, resist warping, but can be very expensive.
Wood – My first home-built greenhouse had unfinished wooden shelves and boy, that was a mistake. Wood has a tendency to warp and rot in the greenhouse, but they’re extremely affordable. If you want to give them a try, choose rot-resistant woods or paint every surface with a glossy paint to protect your shelves from moisture. Installing them on a slight angle will increase drainage, which is extremely poor with solid wooden shelving.
There’s a lot you can do with the right staging units in your greenhouse, but you’ll have to carefully consider what sort of plants you’re growing and how much maintenance you’re willing to do. If you’re a hands-off kinda person, steer clear of wood because it’s labor-intensive and instead opt for rigid plastics or powder-coated metal.