Greenhouse Cabinets 101: the basics
If you’re following any planty content online, you probably have seen a greenhouse cabinet. You might be wondering what it is, its purpose or how to have one yourself. If you have never seen one, take a look:
Photo by @caitlynburchak
Photo by soleilrium
Looks wonderful, doesn’t it? And in real life, it’s even better. There is usually a fan in a greenhouse cabinet, meaning that the plants are constantly dancing, their leaves swinging softly at the fan's rhythm. It is completely hypnotizing! If you love watching trees dancing in the wind, then imagine having the same thing with your plants, inside your own house. So relaxing!
But without further ado, let’s get into the core of the subject: what is a greenhouse cabinet, what is its purpose, and how can you get one yourself?
I. What’s a greenhouse cabinet?
A greenhouse cabinet is exactly what you think it might be: a greenhouse in a display cabinet. It contains everything you’d find in an indoor greenhouse: stable conditions with grow lights, one or several fans, high humidity and temperature, and of course plants. All of that is installed inside a display cabinet with see-through plastic or glass doors. The sides of the cabinet are usually transparent as well so that the content of the cabinet can be admired easily wherever you stand. Depending on how you want to configure your cabinet, you can either install glass or clear plastic shelves, or remove all shelves and place a metallic grid in the back. That way, you can attach the plants’ pots to the grid and let airflow and light spread throughout your entire cabinet.
The size and shape of the cabinet vary and depend mostly on the cabinet you bought in the first place. Some are tall and narrow, while others are rather low and wide. They can be square, rectangular, or a completely different shape: it depends on what you like. Technically speaking, you could turn pretty much anything into a greenhouse cabinet. For instance: get a clear box with a door, install a grow light, add your plants, and you’ll have a tiny greenhouse. You can get creative and recycle things like an old aquarium tank. The hardest part is to get started, as it might seem a bit complicated, but once you have one greenhouse you’ll just want another! Luckily, we are here to make it extra easy for you.
II. Why own a greenhouse cabinet?
It all started with the realisation that growing certain kinds of plants indoors was pretty challenging. Growing tropical plants which require high levels of humidity, light and temperature in a house would be already difficult in tropical countries, but it’s even harder in places where the weather is anything but tropical. Facing this problem, plant lovers first thought of grow tents, which are tents specifically made to be placed indoors and to contain greenhouse settings. But not all of us are okay with the idea of sharing our living room with a massive tent. Plus, it hides the plants themselves. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to observe my plants constantly. They are part of my decoration. It would be a shame to hide them!
The solution to this problem was to turn display cabinets into heavens for our tropical plants. Not only is it beautiful, but it is extremely handy. A greenhouse provides stable conditions for plants, which they love. Some plants are very demanding and require very specific settings constantly. This is what you provide with a greenhouse cabinet, and without any struggle! Indeed, the grow lights will supplement your plants with the required amount of light no matter the season or the weather. Those grow lights will most likely produce heat, which will raise the general temperature of the cabinet during the day. At night, the lamps are turned off which will cause the temperature to lower. Some plants need to have lower temperatures at night, just like if they were living in their natural environment. And of course, because it is a closed space, it is much easier to maintain a high level of humidity, even without a humidifier. You will easily reach 90%! Suddenly, all of the most difficult plants will feel like a piece of cake. Philodendron Melanochrysum, Calathea White Fusion, Anthuriums and Alocasias… you name it!
III. How can I make my own greenhouse cabinet?
There is not (yet) a ready-to-use greenhouse cabinet available on the market. That means that you’ll need to buy a cabinet and turn it into a greenhouse yourself. But don’t worry, it is not as hard as it sounds! Depending on the size and configuration of your cabinet, you might need slightly different things. Here, we will go over what they all need to include: grow lights, a fan (although this one can be optional in a tiny greenhouse), a thermometer and a hygrometer, a way to organize your cables, a mechanical or digital timer plug (also optional but strongly recommended) and a power strip.
1. Grow light(s)
We will not enter into the details of how grow lights function or how to pick one, but instead, it will focus on what to take into account when choosing a grow light for a greenhouse cabinet. You first need to take good measurements of your cabinet and especially of the specific place where you are planning to attach your grow light(s). Some people want their grow light(s) to be attached to the cabinet’s ceiling so that the light is facing down the plants like the sun would. Some others prefer to have their lamps attached alongside the doors so that the light is facing the plants. This will have an impact on the growth pattern of your plants.
You then need to find a grow light with a proper spectrum for plants. Unlike common beliefs, it does not have to be pink, purple or blue lights. It also has to be strong enough, especially if you intend to place your cabinet in a very dark corner. In that case, keep in mind that the grow lights will produce heat. It might be a problem, especially if you already live in a quite warm country, or if the lamp is very close to the plants. Some lamps get warmer than others. LEDs don’t get as warm as other lamps, and they also consume much less energy. This is an important factor considering that they will be turned on between 10 to 16 hours every day.
Because humidity will most likely be very high, it is extremely important to create airflow in a greenhouse cabinet. Opening the door might not be enough. Airflow will prevent mould and fungus from appearing. It will also help with water evaporation and prevent root rot. Besides, it will create a beautiful scenery in the cabinet!
Usually, tiny fans don’t consume much. Keep in mind that good electronics with a high level of water resistance are safer to use in a greenhouse cabinet, as not every electronics can handle functioning in a 90% humidity environment.
A hygrometer measures the level of humidity. Often, hygrometers are also thermometers. It is important, especially at the beginning, to keep an eye on those two factors so that you can adjust your greenhouse settings. Keep in mind that the measurements might differ whether you are at the bottom of the cabinet or the top. It might be handy to have several hygrometers placed in several locations, so you have a clear idea of the environment you are giving to your plants. Plus, these thermometers can lose accuracy with time. Having several will allow you to know if one is deficient.
Thanks to the hygrometer, you will notice very quickly if your greenhouse cabinet is airtight or not because it will be difficult to maintain a high level of humidity constantly. Spoiler alert: it probably is not, and that’s ok. It’s a good thing to have a bit of airflow going in and out of the cabinet. The problem is when there is too much of it, in which case it will be very difficult to maintain a high level of humidity and a stable temperature. That is why we use weatherstripping. There are several kinds of weatherstripping, and the ones you need will differ depending on which part of the cabinet you are trying to weatherstrip. For instance, you could use a rubber tape or a silicone seal strip.
5. Cable management
Between the grow light(s) and the fan(s), you’re gonna end up with a lot of cables! If you want a clean look, you’ll need to find ways to organize them, tie them or even cover them so they become invisible. You can use cable clips or cable covers for instance.
6. Timer plug and power strip
If you want the lights and fan to turn off and on automatically even in your absence, it’s possible! You simply need to add a timer plug. Whether it’s mechanical or digital, you will be able to program exactly the moment where you want the lamps to be on. That way, you almost have nothing to do anymore!
You will also need a power strip because you will at least need to plug the grow light(s) and the fan(s). You can plug it directly into your timer plug so that the fan(s) and grow light(s) are synchronized.
This is the end of this article on the basics of a greenhouse cabinet. We hope it was clear and that it made you want to build your own. Stay in touch if you want to know more about this trend, because this is not going to be the last time we talk about greenhouse cabinets on PLNTS.com!
Lisa is a true plant enthusiast at heart, and her passion for greenery knows no bounds! Her apartment is a lush oasis, filled with the most unusual and exotic plants. So, if you're ever in need of plant-related guidance, she's your girl!