Always Trust Your Instincts


This photograph represents a serious amongst of angst and irritation that I have experienced over the last few weeks.

I have had my small greenhouse (6′ x 4′) for probably 8 years and it has a small thermostatically controlled electric heater.  Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I use the greenhouse extensively throughout the year.  In recent years it has been home to a tender succulent collection which came through the recent cold winters, when we had temperatures down to -18C for days on end, unscathed.

I have never been tempted to use bubble-wrap. In fact the use of bubble-wrap seems so wrong to me as in my mind it could create condensation and this isn’t great for overwintering plants possibly leading to Botrytis cinerea. However, for some obscure reason I seem to have lost my ability to listen to my instincts, never a good thing, and I have started to doubt myself.  Having changed things around in the greenhouse so I can display my alpine collection I have been feeling all at sea and somewhat bewildered about using a sand plunge.  So no surprise that reading about others putting up bubble wrap I trotted off and bought a role along with the fiddly plastic widget things for attaching the plastic to the frame.

Now this blog might be called ‘The Patient Gardener” but I am not really a patient person especially when it comes to fiddly and tricky inanimate objects.  Over two weekends I have carefully cut panels of the wrap and painstakingly attached them to the sides of the greenhouse which worked reasonably well.  Then it was time for covering the roof. What a faff! It isn’t easy to hold up a sheet of bubble wrap while you try to push one of the tiny plastic widgets into the gully in the frame.

That was two weeks ago.  In a matter of days the panels on the roof started to droop and it was clear that the clips that are meant to hold the wrap on the side bars were coming off. More time was spent using more clips to secure the panels better but No! the panels were intent on coming adrift which defeated the whole object.  Then to make matters worse when I went in the greenhouse this weekend to sort out the problem I found myself in a slow cold shower.  My theory about the condensation had proved to be right and there was a constant drip drip of cold water on to my alpines – disaster.  The one thing alpines don’t like is winter wet so here I was creating an environment that was exactly what they, and to be honest me,  didn’t like.  I have also noticed that the light levels are reduced by the opaqueness of the wrap which isn’t what you want for plants growing and flowering over winter as it produces plants with long drawn out stems.

I have to be honest that at this point I had a complete sense of humour failure and the bubble wrap on the roof was removed in a matter of minutes with a lot of muttering and maybe a few profanities.  What a complete waste of time and money.  It has cost me more to buy the wrap and fixings than I would spend heating the greenhouse even in a very cold winter and I haven’t noticed any increase in the greenhouse’s temperature when the wrap was up.

I am so cross that I didn’t trust my instincts and allowed myself to be swayed by others’ views.  I am sure that if you have a large greenhouse then bubble wrap will have an impact your heating bills which will no doubt be much higher than mine.  I can also see it is good for partitioning off an area of the greenhouse which you want to keep warmer but it isn’t for me or my plants.

Interestingly on the day I had to dry my hair after getting so wet removing the loathed wrap I went to a lunch with my local Alpine Garden Society Committee and shared my tribulations with others.  The general consensus was that bubble wrap wasn’t ideal for alpines and that it would be better if I cover the pots with fleece if the temperatures drop and if I am really concerned then I can put a layer of bubble wrap on top of the fleece to provide a little more protection.

The lesson learnt is to trust my instincts and not follow everyone else blindly if it doesn’t make sense to me.

Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

17 thoughts on “Always Trust Your Instincts”

  1. How right you are to trust your instincts and how maddening it must have spent all that time and money. I feel similarly about plastic membrane which is used so often in gardens. I’m sure its bad for the soil and plants especially on heavy clay.

    1. Hi Christine
      I agree, I think listening to your instincts is best rather than following blindly. Everyone’s soil is different and what might work for one with sandy soil wont work for someone with heavy clay

  2. Hi Helen
    I was reading about this condensation problem in a well known gardening mag the other day and the writer suggested lining the greenhouse with heavyweight Envirofleece (30gm/sq.m) instead of bubblewrap. You can use the same clips and it doesn’f flop like bubblewrap. Possibly more opaque but apparently this doesn’t matter for dormant plants in winter. No guarantees but worth a try!

    1. Hi David
      The trouble is my plants arent dormant over the winter so they need the best light levels they can get but if you were going overwinter pelergoniums etc then that would be a better idea.

  3. I have been uming & ering about putting up some bubble wrap in my greenhouse just to protect a few overwintering plants, but now I’ve read your blog, I think I’ll just fleece up individual pots now.

    1. Hi June
      Its a real faff, never doing again, but I now have enough bubble wrap to keep me going for packaging for some years!

  4. Hi Helen, I have often thought about using bubble wrap,but have been put off by the thought of the faffing about to put it up. Like David I use the heavy duty fleece to protect my overwintering tender plants. I buy it by the metre from Harrod Horticultural…far superior to the thin cheap stuff.. and drape it over them like a tent,with excellent results. I realise that your actively growing plants need plenty of light,but you could just cover them with fleece if temperatures are forecasted to drop to danger level. I will be seeing a gardening friend tomorrow who grows alpines and also succulents in plunge beds…I will find out how he deals with it and let you know.

  5. Helen you have a serious problem if you wish to over-winter tender succulents in the same greenhouse as alpines. Your alpines need to be kept cold and dry. They will tolerate very low temperatures in a dry atmosphere, so you need good ventilation. Keeping the greenhouse vents open is essential and if you have to close them use a blower to maintain the air circulation. Plunge as many of your pots as you can, this will protect the roots and help maintain the correct moisture level. The sand should be dry on top but just moist at root level (about a finger depth down depending on the depth of the plunge and the size of the pot) If you are worried about others either wrap the pot in hessian or environmesh.i.e. something which will breathe; or in buckets of sand.
    Hope this helps, it can be a real battle over-wintering alpines. You need constant vigilance and high standards of greenhouse hygiene.
    Good luck you have a nice collection of plants and it would be a pity to lose even one.

    1. Hi CG
      Dont worry, the tender succulents are housed elsewhere safely where they will be warmer. Thanks for the advice on watering

  6. Thanks for reminding me of the many times I have done the same thing. Buy something that someone says will cure whatever problem I am trying to cure and then discover it doesn’t work to my satisfaction and I am left with a big lot of whatever to deal with. At least you can wrap your breakable packages in your bubble wrap.

  7. I have spent my whole life NOT using bubble wrap and completely agree with you, especially about the alpines where light is so important and insulation is not.
    I don’t use plastic membrane either Christine, but I am a big fan of its water retention properties, but of course on a really bad draining soil you are right and reducing soil evaporation exacerbates the problem.

  8. Hi Helen, have spoken to my ‘alpine’ friend today regarding how he deals with his greenhouse alpines in the winter. His advice is not to worry about extra protection, cold will not harm them…unless you have some less hardy types,in which case just lay a thin layer of fleece over them in particularly cold weather. Plenty of ventilation is key and only water when necessary to avoid excess moisture in the atmosphere. Hope that’s some help.

    1. Hi Dave
      Mark & Gaz overwinter exotics so I don’t think it matters so much and they pack their plants in tight so presumably they aren’t trying to get into the greenhouse with them as well.

  9. I ‘had a go’ with it last year Helen and had similar problems so shan’t be bothering this year – although I am sure I have a seen a photo of a greenhouse with it on the OUTSIDE – not sure how it would be retained, but at least you wouldn’t have the condensation problem. As I have now got a smaller greenhouse as well I shall just use that one which will be a smaller space to try and keep frost free.

  10. Thanks for the post, useful advice to a novice on greenhouses. The base for mine is to be laid next Saturday, I hope, and the greenhouse manufacturer/installer (Swallow Greenhouses) say they’ll get it delivered ASAP thereafter and anyway within 6 weeks, I can hardly wait. Any hints or tips would be most welcome, I doubt that I’ll try bubble wrap now that I’ve read your post on it. I very much enjoy your blog, thanks again.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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