Why Do Greenhouses Need Carbon Dioxide

When it comes to producing fresh fruits and vegetables, our planet is very lucky to have a massive amount of space suitable for farming. Unfortunately, because our planet is so big, it isn’t easy to ship fruits and vegetables across the world – that’s why many countries use greenhouses. But why do greenhouses need carbon dioxide in order to function?

Greenhouses need carbon dioxide in order to create a suitable environment for plant growth. Plants require carbon dioxide in order to make the energy they need to survive. Without it, similar to what happens when plants don’t get sunlight or water, they would die. 

Understanding how greenhouses work is incredibly important in order for people to know where their food comes from. Read on to learn more about why greenhouses need carbon dioxide, how greenhouses work, tips for growing plants in greenhouses, and more.

Carbon Dioxide and Photosynthesis in Greenhouses

In order for any living organism to survive, the organism needs to produce energy to power the cells that perform the body’s basic functions. 

Plants do need energy in order to grow and thrive. Since plants can’t consume food as a source of energy, they must produce it for themselves. This is done through the process of photosynthesis.

In this process, plants use special chemicals in their cells to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2), and water (H2O). Then, using sunlight absorbed through the leaves, these cells initiate a chemical reaction, binding together six particles of water with six particles of carbon dioxide. 

In doing so, the cells connect the 6 Carbon particles, 12 Hydrogen particles, and 6 Oxygen particles to make a sugar called glucose (C₆H₁₂O₆).

When this reaction occurs, 18 Oxygen particles are left without any other particles to connect to. As a result, these particles bind to one another, releasing 9 particles of O2 into the air. This means that plants literally clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. 

This is why so many people talk about how important plants are in combating climate change because they are consuming the bad chemicals and releasing the good ones.

In a greenhouse, where people are trying to grow plants indoors, limited air cycles through the building, often making them short on carbon dioxide. For this reason, many greenhouse owners pump in carbon dioxide so plants can photosynthesize better.

How Greenhouses Work

Now that we understand why carbon dioxide is so important for plant life and why it is used in greenhouses, you might be wondering how greenhouses actually work. 

Most people know that greenhouses are designed to allow people to grow plants despite the weather. However, not many people understand the processes involved in maintaining a greenhouse.

Greenhouses are designed to help extend the growing season by providing a warm place for plants to stay even in the cold months. As most home gardeners will know, if plants are exposed to temperatures that are too cold, such as a frost, the plants will die. 

Greenhouses are designed to absorb the sun’s rays and trap the heat the rays produce. Imagine stepping into your car on a cold winter day, the car is probably slightly warmer than the outside because of the sun’s heat.

But, as you might realize, the warmth of the sun’s rays is not enough to heat a building, especially when the temperatures outside are too low. Additional heat is produced in greenhouses through the process of photosynthesis. 

When that chemical reaction occurs, it actually produces a small amount of heat. When multiple plants photosynthesize in an enclosed environment, eventually the combined amount of heat becomes noticeable.

Sometimes, however, the climate outside is just so cold that, no matter how much heat plants produce and the greenhouse is able to trap from the sun’s rays, the heat will become depleted too quickly and fall below freezing. 

In these cases, greenhouse operators typically provide supplemental heat and light in order to encourage plant growth.

Tips for Growing Plants in Greenhouses

While it might seem like starting and growing plants in a greenhouse is relatively easy, this idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Different plants require different conditions in order to grow successfully, and many plants can quickly fall ill and die if they are not cared for correctly. 

Let’s consider a few tips for anyone looking to start a greenhouse.

Make Sure To Ventilate Your Greenhouse

While greenhouses are often a great solution in the wintertime and allow your plants to stay warm without needing to do much work, sometimes, your plants can get too warm. 

Heat rises, and if your greenhouse becomes too warm, your plants can quickly die from dehydration and overheating. Make sure you provide some ventilation for your plants to get fresh, cool air.

Control the Amount of Sunlight Your Plants Get

While all plants require sunlight in order to grow, many plants can die if they are exposed to too much sunlight. Some plants are required to be grown in the shade, while others should get half shade, half sun. 

One easy way to accommodate your plants is to create a shaded location in your greenhouse for plants that can’t grow in direct sunlight. You can make your own shade, or you can purchase greenhouse shades.

Grow plants with similar sunlight requirements close together, and keep the shade-loving plants on one side of the greenhouse where they can receive adequate shade.

Start Plants From Seeds

While it might not seem like the easiest thing to do, it is actually far easier to start a greenhouse with plants that have yet to germinate than with seedlings. 

Seedlings that have been grown outdoors, or plants that are started by cutting off a branch of another plant, are exposed to different kinds of bacteria and insects than plants grown from seeds in a greenhouse. If your greenhouse plants catch a disease, it can easily kill everything! 

Starting plants from seeds will allow you to choose and use healthy seeds free from diseases and ensure that the other plants in your greenhouse are safe.

Popularity of Greenhouses Throughout History

As you can probably imagine, greenhouses are popular in many colder climates across the world. 

Cold climates, particularly in the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe, mountainous China, and Canada, are well known for using greenhouses to extend the growing season in those regions. 

Other countries, such as Turkey, Japan, and South Korea are also frequent users of greenhouses to reduce the need for large, open fields. But these countries are not alone in their regular usage of greenhouses. 

In fact, these countries weren’t even the first to use greenhouses. The original concept behind greenhouses began in ancient Rome, where the emperor hoped to grow plants in a climate-controlled environment in order to provide himself with a never-ending supply of fresh cucumbers!

Eventually, however, greenhouses developed for more practical reasons. Following the renaissance and enlightenment periods, explorers from around the world began transferring plant life back to their colonial rulers from far away places in order for local scientists to study the plants. 

While much of that science was more so for pleasure than necessity, greenhouses are in large part responsible for the massive dietary increases during the 1700s.

Eventually, greenhouses evolved even further, creating the practice of horticulture. As humans have tried to create plant species that provide the most nutrients and the least amount of work, we have begun to grow plant life in labs in order to understand how plants can survive in different climates. 

Greenhouses have advanced so far that we are even able to grow plants in outer space. 

However, regardless of the purpose and design, the fact remains that greenhouses require sufficient amounts of carbon dioxide to encourage photosynthesis and maximize crop yields.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to growing plants in a greenhouse, there are a number of factors that must be considered in order for your plants to grow and thrive. 

Make sure that your plants get plenty of sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide in order for your plants to grow. Try to make sure that your greenhouse meets all of the standards each plant needs to survive, and customize areas of your greenhouse as needed to fit plant needs.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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