11 Tips for Organizing Your Greenhouse
Does your greenhouse feel like a chaotic mess? Are you starting a new greenhouse from a blank slate? An organizational strategy can help you create the most efficient and beautiful indoor growing space possible. Former organic farmer and greenhouse grower Logan Hailey offers 11 incredible tips for planning and organizing your greenhouse.
Whether you’re a seasoned grower or a beginner gardener, your greenhouse is where the magic begins. But most greenhouses are glass or plastic shells without infrastructure for storing seeds, pots, soil, hoses, and plants. A well-organized greenhouse is essential for propagation success. If you can’t find your pots, sanitize your tools, or properly fill containers, your seeding process can feel like a complete mess.
After nearly six years of growing vegetables on over 15 different organic farms, I can assure you I have seen the full range of greenhouses: From a tattered chaotic propagation tunnel to the most pristine glass houses worthy of Pinterest fame, I’ve learned a thing or two about organizing a greenhouse for maximum productivity, plant health, and enjoyment.
No matter what your greenhouse looks like, I’m here to help you build and arrange a more streamlined growing space. Use these 11 tips to organize your greenhouse for a flourishing and efficient gardening experience.
How to Keep Your Greenhouse Organized
Autumn and winter are the perfect seasons to deep-clean and reorganize your propagation space. If you don’t know where to start, here is a quick guide to organizing your greenhouse into tip-top shape before next spring. We’ll start with the overall layout and strategy, then move to quick organizational tips!
Once everything has a “home,” it’s way easier to maintain organization over the long haul. Better organization also means your greenhouse stays more sanitary, preventing pest and disease problems.
Imagine Your Workflow
How will you move through your greenhouse for optimal flow? The first step to organizing is reimagining your daily activities in the space. For example, I like to work clockwise, beginning with storage at the front of the greenhouse and a workflow that moves along the side edges, spiraling into a central growing zone.
To begin laying out your zones, imagine the workflow of a regular seeding day:
- First, you need a cell tray or pot.
- Then, you fill it with soil mix.
- You need your seeds in close reach to make sowing quick.
- You need easy access to your popsicle sticks and Sharpies to label each pot.
- Finally, you’ll transplant the containers to the grow space.
- Of course, you want your hose in close reach to water everything in.
Depending on what plants you’re growing, you may have special considerations like the amount of light or the need for a germination heating mat (which means you need a plug nearby). If you’re growing tropical perennials, you’ll need to consider their height, soil needs, and sunlight exposure. With so many considerations, you can see why planning is essential!
Divide Your Greenhouse Into Zones
Planning is crucial before you begin arranging plants and equipment. Each workflow activity described above can fit into its own “zone” or category. Dividing the nursery into functional zones allows you to optimize space and manage different species’ requirements more effectively.
Consider allocating a separate area for seed-starting, mature plants, and hardening off. If you keep succulents or perennial tropical plants in the greenhouse, they’ll also need a designated area.
If your greenhouse is extra small, you may need to combine multiple zones in one or move your storage to a nearby shed. However, no matter the size, every greenhouse needs the following areas:
- Storage Zone: Vertical shelving is essential for storing seed trays, pots, fertilizers, amendments, and seed organization.
- Soil Zone: Big bags of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and pre-mixed potting blends need a place to live. If possible, put a wheelbarrow or large bucket in this zone so you can mix and moisten the planting medium.
- Seeding/Workspace Zone: Choose a table at a counter-level height so you don’t have to bend over. This is where you will sow seeds, propagate cuttings, and do the actual plant work. Your storage may be in front of you or overhead.
- Plant Growth Zone:
- Seedlings: This is the largest main zone with tables and “benches” for seedlings to grow on. Mesh or breathable benches are ideal because they let water pass through.
- Heated Seedlings: If you have electrical outlets or an extension cord running to your greenhouse, consider where you can plug in germination mats for warm-weather seedlings like tomatoes and squash.
- Hardening Off Area: This is technically outside the greenhouse but should still be built into your layout and placed nearby.
- Perennial Plants: If you grow tropical plants in the ground or in pots that stay indoors, give them the sunniest spot near the center so they aren’t exposed to cold drafts near the edges.
- Irrigation Zone: Use roll-up hose organizers and sectioned bins for hose nozzles and watering cans.
- Sanitation Zone: Always have a space to clean containers and spray them with a diluted bleach solution to prevent disease. This zone can also go outside.
- Organization Zone: If you have any extra wall space near the front of your greenhouse, make a space for a planting calendar to hang on the wall. You can easily track your seed starting, transplanting, and harvest dates.
Reorganizing an Established Greenhouse
If you already have an established greenhouse you want to reorganize, it can be useful to clear everything out and start with a blank slate. Otherwise, take a photo of the current layout and print it on a large piece of paper. Then, use markers and highlighters to rearrange the tables and shelves on the page before moving them in real life.
Trust me, looking at things from a birds-eye view saves you so much trouble (and back pain!) Best of all, it makes your greenhouse more aesthetic. Who wants to work in an ugly space?
Map Out Benches and Beds In Advance
Once you’ve visualized the zones you need (and don’t need), it’s time to map things out. Grab a tape measure and graph paper to create a simple map of the layout.
Measure the dimensions, including length, width, and height, and scale them down to fit on the paper. Label all sides of the structure so you can easily determine whether specific tables, benches, raised beds or shelving will fit in the designated area.
Propagation benches are platforms or tables where plants can grow. They are most commonly used for vegetable seedlings, cuttings, and smaller potted plants.
A proper propagation or growing bench should be:
- Well-Drained: Water can pass through the table. Slatted benches are ideal for infiltration and aeration. For a DIY option, try securing a cattle panel, chain-link fence, plastic slat fencing, or metal mesh stretched over a wood or metal base.
- Accessible: You can reach the center of the bench from both sides for plant maintenance. Placing and lifting plants from a taller surface is easy without hurting your back. Standard benches are 32-36” tall and 42-48” wide. If only accessible from one side (i.e., the bench is along the wall of the greenhouse), stick to 30-36” wide.
- Convenient: Benches should be close to a water and electricity source. The hose should be easy to maneuver around the benches without knocking over plants.
- Solar Oriented: The proper amount of sunlight can reach the plants on the table. Most greenhouses are oriented east-to-west, meaning the long edge of the greenhouse faces south. Tables near the northern wall of the structure should be designed specifically for plants that prefer less intense light.
- Aerated: Air should easily circulate around the entire table to prevent damping off, root rot, and other plant pathogens. Again, a slatted or wire design is preferred over a solid surface like wood.
- Rot-Resistant: Benches receive a lot of moisture over their lifespan, so you want to be sure the material won’t decay or become infested with fungi and insects. Avoid wood if you can because treated wood may expose your plants to chemicals over time. Galvanized metal and aluminum are ideal.
- Durable and Safe: If growing heavy plants like container perennials or potted trees, be sure the bench can support the weight of all the soil, water, and plant material. Firmly anchor your beds in place and ensure there aren’t any sharp edges or protruding objects that could pose a safety hazard.
You’ll also need beds to use your greenhouse to extend your tomato season or grow tropical perennial plants through the winter. Raised bed greenhouses are particularly popular because you get all the benefits of a protected growing space combined with the drainage, warmth, aesthetics, and soil quality of a raised bed.
Here are some considerations for your garden beds in a covered space:
If you have a round-topped or arched high tunnel, you need to consider the lower ceiling space near the walls so plants don’t hit plastic (or glass) as they reach toward the sun. It helps to orient in-ground or low raised beds along the edges, with taller raised beds and benches in the center.
Every square inch of indoor growing space counts, so you don’t want to waste a corner by installing a rounded raised bed rather than a triangular one. Beds can be custom-built or ordered to match the contour of the structure.
Elevated vs. In-Ground
Most gardeners prefer raised beds to maximize their indoor growing productivity. However, if your native soil is well-amended or the greenhouse is installed over an existing garden, you can use stones or bricks to line out in-ground beds along the margins and center.
If you want drip irrigation or overhead sprinklers inside the greenhouse, remember to find a place where the water source will enter or exit the structure. You can bury the main lines underground or run a hose from outside under the plastic.
After you’ve measured and decided on the types of benches and beds you want to build or buy, it’s time to consider their arrangement. I recommend making a few copies of your map to compare several different layout strategies. Benches and beds are technically movable, but it’s a lot easier to put them in the right place the first time.
To choose your arrangement, consider:
- Sunlight: This is the most important factor affecting your benches. Taller plants should be placed near the north end, while shorter plants (like vegetable starts) and tropical species should be on the southernmost exposure. Note how sunlight enters your greenhouse and how it may change over the seasons. Ensure that tall benches or overhead shelves don’t cast a shadow over your plants.
- Time in the Greenhouse: Your cuttings and vegetable seedlings only spend a few weeks to months on a propagation table, but heat-loving crops like tomatoes or in-ground perennials like hibiscus will remain in the greenhouse for the entirety of their lifespan. Consider placing short-term propagation benches in one section closer to the door and permanent beds near the back.
- Group Together Similar Plants: Sun-loving plants should intuitively be grouped together on the southernmost side. Ultra frost-tender plants should be closer to the center so they aren’t exposed to chilly drafts through the walls. You may need to move some plants around to experiment with ideal placement.
Consider Your Aisles
An organized greenhouse must have proper pathways that are clear of debris or materials. You need plenty of space to maneuver and access your plants. The mapping and planning phase is a crucial time to determine how you will move through the greenhouse and what you will walk on.
When sizing your walkways, create wide, clearly outlined aisles between benches or beds where you can easily maneuver around while carrying plants. I like to use the width of my wheelbarrow as a gauge for aisle width.
As you organize or reorganize your growing space, consider upgrading the material beneath your feet:
- Dirt: Do you want a soil or wood-chipped floor where you may grow plants in the future? This gives you more versatility for greenhouse use but could lead to muddy boots and weed problems.
- Gravel: Pea gravel is an aesthetically-pleasing, well-drained, and affordable flooring option, but it may require an underlayment of landscape fabric to prevent weeds from poking through.
- Concrete: Concrete is great for adding thermal mass to the greenhouse, so it heats up more quickly and holds onto warmth. It also helps for a cleaner environment with less weed pressure. However, it’s the most expensive. Don’t forget to install a drain and ask contractors to slightly slope the slab downward so water can flow out.
Once you’ve mastered the orientation and layout for maximum efficiency, here are the quick and practical organization tips to keep the space clean:
Invest in Shelving
Where will you keep your planting supplies, fertilizers, pots, trays, and other supplies? If these are currently stacked or scattered around your greenhouse, a simple shelf upgrade will change the game!
Here is my core tenant for any organizational effort: Everything needs a “home” or a labeled place where it permanently lives whenever it’s not in use. This means you can always find it and always return it to that spot. If an object doesn’t have a designated space, it will inevitably end up on the ground or tossed about, creating an unorganized environment.
Labeled shelves are my favorite way to give all my greenhouse supplies a home. The best shelving options include:
- Wire Shelving: Adjustable and lightweight, wire shelf units are popular for their durability and moisture resistance. Great for storing soil bags and stacked propagation trays on the lower shelves.
- Hanging Shelves: To save space in a super small greenhouse, you can purchase hanging shelves that suspend from the ceiling rafters and hold lightweight planters, pots, or supplies.
- Plastic Shelves: Lightweight shelving can be great for organizing small supplies on top of your work table. However, they are not as sturdy as metal options.
- Aluminum Shelving: You can easily find adjustable aluminum shelves at a hardware store and customize the shelf heights to fit different supplies.
- DIY Wood Shelving: For a more natural or aesthetic look, build wood shelves that are custom-designed for your exact storage needs. These will be less waterproof, so keep them dry or preserve them with a non-toxic paint.
If you don’t have a concrete or level solid floor in the greenhouse, use bricks or a large stone slab to create a foundation for your shelf. You don’t want it to tip over if the soil below it gets wet or settles unevenly.
Remember, your shelves should always be placed where they won’t cast a shadow or shade your plants! Generally, the best place for a shelf is on the front or back wall near the northernmost side of the house.
Repurpose Materials for Seed Storage
How the heck do you keep track of all your seed packets? Proper seed organization starts with a cool, dry, dark area. You never want to leave your seeds out in the open. But you still need your seeds to be accessible and easy to access every spring.
My favorite option is a repurposed binder with plastic sheet protectors that allow me to group and label seeds based on plant type, year purchased, and variety. You can add labeled tabs (organized alphabetically or by plant family) to easily flip through the binder and find the needed seed packets.
Other cool seed organization ideas include:
- Shoe boxes
- Photo albums
- Labeled pill box
- Jewelry box organizer
- Mason jars
- Seed binder
- Filing cabinet
- Old CD case (remember all those plastic-front square slots for discs?)
No matter how you organize your seeds, keep them away from sunlight, water, and pests. I like to put the organizer in a plastic tote for added protection.
Roll up your hoses
Simple wall-mounted hose storage or a hose reel cart can dramatically improve organization. Rather than leaving hoses sprawled on the floor, these solutions keep your irrigation tidy. I prefer the reel carts because they are easy to maneuver, and you have a handle to easily roll the hose on its spool.
There are also ceiling-mounted hose systems that hang your irrigation hoses from the top. The Hi-Hose watering system is especially popular. This setup allows you to pull your hose around the greenhouse benches without worrying about it getting caught in the aisles.
Best of all, properly stored hoses won’t kink!
Create a Sanitation Station
An organized sanitation area makes disease prevention so much easier. You can use a coat hook hanger to hang a few spray bottles of pre-prepared sanitation solutions, such as a 2% bleach spray, a hydrogen peroxide blend, and an all-purpose cleaning spray for wiping down your workspace countertop.
These cleaning materials will be easy to access when you need to clean trays or pots in between plantings. It’s also helpful to store diluted neem solution or other pest-control sprays you may use.
Store Soil Mixes in Totes Under Benches
The space under your planting benches is difficult to use because it receives so much water. All the moisture from irrigating seed trays and pots drains downward under the bench. But if you invest in quality sealable plastic totes, you can still use this area.
I like to keep soil mix bags like coco coir, perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss sealed in the totes until I need to use them. This also prevents bags from spilling over or getting infested by rodents or bugs.
Remember that you may have to regularly tip the totes to prevent water from pooling up on top of them. You don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Fortunately, it only takes a minute or two, about once per week.
Buy Office Organizers for Your Work Table
Office supplies have surprisingly good uses in a greenhouse. We mentioned binders and file cabinets for seed storage, but you may also want some organization on your main work table. This is where you’ll do most of your seeding, cutting, potting, and pruning, so you want to be sure it is well stocked.
These office supplies work great for storing garden tools and supplies:
- Pencil/pen organizers for popsicle sticks, sharpies, scissors, or pencils
- Coathangers to hang trowels and hand shovels
- Business card holder to store handheld seeders or seed packets
- An office light to illuminate your workspace for tedious seeding
- Stacked file holder compartments for heated germination mats or small pieces of row fabric
- A knife magnet to hold small pruners and snips (technically a kitchen supply, but you get the idea)
Remember, everything needs a “home” to go back to! Many cosmetic storage containers can also be repurposed for greenhouse supplies. Get creative, but always prioritize waterproof and cleanable materials like plastic or non-corrosive metal.
Use a Solid Labeling System
Last but certainly not least, do not skimp on your labeling system! Every seed tray, cutting, and plant in your greenhouse should have a readable label with its variety name and date of planting. Quick-drying permanent ink markers will ensure the text doesn’t smudge away over time.
Labels are also useful for your shelves and organizers. If anyone else comes into your greenhouse, they can easily find where things should be returned. A quality label maker creates waterproof printed adhesive labels for every tote, shelf space, and binder.
Greenhouse organization doesn’t have to be super expensive, but it should be well-thought-out. Consider all the supplies you have on hand (and the ones you need to get), then build the organizers based on what needs to be stored. Repurpose organizational materials from kitchen, office, or cosmetic uses to keep track of smaller items. Most importantly, plan your greenhouse layout in advance so it’s easy to maneuver and move through the space.