Over the past few years, rare and exotic houseplants have surged in popularity. I’m sure everyone has a self-proclaimed “plant mom” in their life, or more likely, you yourself are a proud plant parent. As a result, many have turned to building DIY greenhouse cabinets as the ultimate hack to care for and display their various houseplants. Similar to the Wardian cases of the Victorian era – an early type of terrarium that provided a safe space for exotic plants free from industrial pollution – indoor greenhouse cabinets create a controlled environment and beautiful display for a number of indoor plants.
If you have amassed an extensive collection of houseplants, rare or not, are wanting to add a natural element to your home décor, or want to have more control over seed starting and propagation, consider constructing your own greenhouse cabinet. Plants with tropical origins flourish in warm, humid environments, which a greenhouse cabinet can provide. In addition, they also let light in while keeping out frost and pets that may accidentally trample or ingest your plants. Below is a tutorial on what materials and modifications you will need to make in order to create your own greenhouse cabinet.
Common Materials used in Greenhouse Cabinets
- Minimum set-up: glass-pane cabinet, grow lights, fans, hygrometer, and thermometer
- Humidity: humidifier, weather-stripping tape, humidity trays
- Organization: wire racks / shelves, wire baskets, risers, wall hanging planters
- General: zinc paint, double-sided tape, cable management box, zip-ties, power-strip w/ timer, humidity resistant décor
1. Purchase a glass cabinet
The first step is to acquire a cabinet, which will depend on your personal preferences, level of DIY skills, budget, and number of plants. While IKEA and other furniture stores have a myriad of cabinet options, a nice cabinet can be found at a secondhand shop as well. IKEA is one of the most popular places to purchase your cabinet due to their minimalist aesthetic and reliable functionality. As long as the cabinet is glass-paneled, the origin of it does not matter. If you choose to search for cabinets at second hand stores, Facebook marketplace, or Craigslist for a discounted price, make sure they are sturdy and humidity-friendly. Cabinets should be made from metal and glass, not from wood, which can rot and degrade overtime due to the high humidity.
2. Choose the types of plants
Tropical plants that thrive in high, humid environments are ideal for a greenhouse cabinet, but you can grow cacti, vegetables, and almost any plant you want in it as well. Orchids, philodendrons, anthurium, ferns and alocasia are common plants found in greenhouse cabinets. Avoid cold weather and dry climate plants.
3. Drill holes to plug your equipment in
The first modification includes drilling a hole a convenient yet hidden corner of the metal base to plug in the cord(s) of your equipment. This should be done before the cabinet is fully assembled. For additional safeguards, rust-proof any exposed metal in the hole using zinc paint or a rust resistant coating like rustoleum paints. It is optional to add rubber lining or a grommet to protect your hands from the exposed edge.
4. Add grow lights to your cabinet
In order to create the ideal environment, there are three main factors to keep in mind when installing a greenhouse cabinet: air circulation, humidity, and lighting. After you have assembled your greenhouse cabinet, seriously consider adding grow lights, especially if your cabinet is located in a dark or shadowy corner. This step can seem complicated due to the vast number of options available, but do carefully research available products and make sure they are in accordance with the light requirements of your plants.
Although there are many fancy kits available, you can purchase cheaper fluorescent light bulbs at a local department store. T5 and full-spectrum LED strip grow lights are often recommended. If you have just a few plants, purchase single grow bulbs. Make sure your lights aren’t too strong, as they may burn plant foliage. The best options will include or be easily connected to a timer, so you can modulate the amount of light throughout the day. Strip lights are recommended because they do not require screws to attach, only double-sided tape or adhesive. As an added precaution, tie strings or zip ties around your lights in case the tape becomes loose and fails. Below are the light requirements for several types of plants. To go the extra step and assess the proper lighting for your plants, consider purchasing a light meter.
Some Popular Plant Examples:
Low-Light Plants: African Violets
Moderate-Light Plants: Most aroids like anthuriums, Pothos
High-Light Plants: Most Philodendrons, Monsteras
Very-High-Light Plants: Vanda Orchids
Full-Sun Plants: Cannabis, Lemon Trees, Cacti
5. Maintain ventilation
As mentioned previously, the next most important factor is air circulation, which prevents fungal disease or problems with rotting. Small fans are commonly used to provide ventilation throughout the greenhouse cabinet and can be attached using zip-ties, S hooks, or set up on a stand. The lowest setting on the fan should suffice. It is important to open your cabinet for around 10 minutes every other day or so to let in fresh air. A popular fan option is electronics fans, which are intended to cool down laptops and PCs and are able to run continuously for long periods of time. They can also be daisy-chained together by a long cable so that they share the same power outlet, foregoing the need for an extension cord. Again, this is another aspect of this project where you do not need to break the bank. The type of fan is up to you and your needs.
6. Maintain humidity
A thermometer and/or hygrometer is necessary for monitoring heat and humidity levels. If you find that you need to increase the humidity, which is relevant especially for those in dry climates, you can use a small humidifier or humidity trays with optional heating mats. Humidity tends to decrease in the winter, so make adjustments as needed. Another tool is weather-stripping tape, which seals in gaps in the cabinet to prevent humidity from escaping, but is not totally necessary if the cabinet is fairly tight as is. The optimal humidity level is usually set between 75 – 80%. As some humidifiers can measure incorrectly, it is important to use a hygrometer to gauge the correct humidity. The more control here, the better.
7. Organize your shelves
Once you have set-up your cabinet, it is time to organize your shelves. Some creators chose to replace the standard glass shelves with wire shelves or grids, although that is not necessary. Often used to display miniature plants and propagation bits, wire grids or pegboards allow you to maximize vertical space. Wire shelves, which are used to improve ventilation, have the benefit of being easier to clean than glass, so those are two reasons they are such a popular modification. IKEA has a white pegboard that can be repurposed for your cabinets. Note the dimensions before buying any alternate additions to make sure they fit your cabinet. Other optional items to consider include shelf risers, wall hanging planters, and shelf liners.
8. Cable management
Visible wires detract from the striking aesthetic of your greenhouse cabinet and can become tripping hazards with all the little wired additions, so you should obscure them with a cable management box. Add a power-strip with a timer, which also serves as a surge protector, so you can keep track of your grow lights, fans, and humidifier. This will bring some ease of mind and keep the cabinet more manageable.
9. Cabinet maintenance
Clean your cabinets regularly by wiping it down and ensure that there is no water pooling around at the base. Open your cabinets if you notice condensation building up or otherwise every other day to let in fresh air. Root rot, a common issue in gardening overall, can be prevented by using fans to improve ventilation, careful choice of plants, and caring for each plant’s individual needs. Check foliage and soil for pests regularly.