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Sunrooms great for gardeners

A sunroom can help dull the winter blues. Photo by Mary Jane Breitling

Winters are long in North Dakota, so we seek ways to extend our gardening experience.

Corene Geffre has added a sunroom to her West Fargo home which, to me, is the ultimate in gardening under glass.

Corene’s home was built in 1990 and did not have the open concept that is so popular today. She wanted more room, as all of her children, grandchildren and guests tended to congregate in the kitchen. She likes lots of light and the kitchen area was dark even though patio doors led out to the deck.

Corene had been to the Home and Garden Show and found what she liked. Eventually, she worked through Hot Springs Spas on 13th Avenue and a private builder who began in July and finished in September. They used the foundation of her former deck on the east side of the house. Three sides and the ceiling are all glass except for a couple of feet around the perimeter. The wall against the house is covered with an attractive product called train car siding.

The sunroom is guaranteed for year- round use. I visited on a frigid day and it was very comfortable. It is heated and air conditioned, and Corene has set the temperature control to 62 degrees night-time and 68 degrees during the day. She has many flourishing plants inside and can look outside to the small neighborhood park. Three mature deciduous trees are just outside, letting in the sun during winter and providing shade in summer.

Avid gardeners may opt for a greenhouse to grow plants year-round or to extend the season in spring and fall. This can be either free-standing or attached to a building. Attached greenhouses usually cost less to build and have lower heating costs, especially if they are facing south or east. According to an Extension publication, greenhouses can be any size, but 200 square feet should be the smallest that should be considered. The cost is proportionally more to build and operate in smaller sizes.

Greenhouses may be covered with glass, fiberglass or polyethylene and framed with wood or metal. Polyethylene is not used on year-round greenhouses. Heat is provided by hot air, hot water or steam and supplemented with electric heaters. The houses need ventilation to reduce humidity and heat on sunny spring and summer days. Check with the University Extension agent for information and plans.

For several years, we have had a temporary 4-by-6 greenhouse that we set up on our deck in mid-April. I have used it for seedlings that I have started and geraniums and other potted plants that I have managed to keep alive through the winter.

We screw the frame down to the deck, but have found through experience that we need to tie cement pavers to the polyethylene because of the wind. Last year, there were many freezing nights in April and May when we had to cover the plants and keep an electric light on in the greenhouse. On sunny and warm days, the temperature inside can soar over 100 degrees very quickly so I must be sure to open the door for venting.

The least expensive option for extending the season in the spring and fall is a cold frame or mini-greenhouse. Directions for construction of one can be found online where “This Old House” even has a video. Begin with a salvaged window and use it for the dimensions of the frame. Use rot-resistant wood to make a box that is higher in the back than the front. Set the box on cement pavers. Attach the window to the box with hinges and cut dowels of different lengths to raise the window for ventilation when needed.

Many years ago, my husband made one for me and I used it many springs, sometimes adding a heat tape for extra warmth.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener.