Engineer a Greenhouse

Design and construct a model greenhouse using simple craft materials.

About the Activity

Greenhouses are protected structures that allow botanists to grow plants in a controlled climate. Transparent materials (like glass or sturdy plastic) shield plants from a harsh environment while still giving them natural sunlight. Gardeners benefit from greenhouses where they can control warmth and moisture to help plants thrive.

This activity will use the engineering design process to design and build a model greenhouse for one or more pretend plants.

This activity is part of our 4-H at Home Plant Science Series. See the rest of the activities here.

Grades: 6-8
Topic: Agriculture, Engineering, Plant Science, STEM
Estimated Time: 45-60 minutes

Brought to you by University of Georgia Extension/4-H
Special thanks to Kasey Bozeman, Extension 4-H Specialist

Inside of a greenhouse filled with rows of green plants

Supplies

supply list icon
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • Tissue paper
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips
  • Poster putty
  • Hot glue gun (with adult supervision)

Activity Steps

Engineers design and construct buildings, machines, vehicles, and tools to solve real-world problems. Greenhouses are designed so that botanists can easily grow plants year-round.

Follow this engineering design process that engineers use to find solutions to their problems, and learn how to make your own greenhouse:

  1. Print out the Greenhouse Plants document, then choose a paper plant template to represent a plant that you want to “grow” in your greenhouse.
  2. Cut the shapes out along the dotted lines, and inside the two pieces of dirt so the pieces will fit together.
A man watering plants inside a greenhouse
  1. Insert the bottom slit of the plant cutout into the top slit of the dirt cutout, forming an X shape.Did you know? Since Roman times, botanists have used greenhouses to grow plants. Greenhouses are particularly helpful for growing non-native plant species in locations where they don’t naturally exist. For example, citrus trees need warm places to grow, but botanists in colder regions can grow these trees indoors in a greenhouse because they can control the temperature and keep the plants warm. The first modern greenhouse was built in the 1800s in Holland.
  2. Next, ask yourself the question: What problem are you trying to solve? You are trying to build a greenhouse model large enough for your paper plants to grow for this activity. It’s time to brainstorm a solution, so look at your materials and see how you could use them. The greenhouse model must be a stable, free-standing structure that allows the plant space to grow, and it must be made of transparent materials to allow light to enter the greenhouse.Did you know? Greenhouses come in all different shapes, and it varies based on the location, the greenhouse’s purpose, and what plants are going to grow inside it. Common greenhouse shapes include the gable, tunnel, and the A-frame. 
  1. Use your blank paper to sketch out your design, keeping in mind that you’re about to build your design with the supplies you have.
  2. Now, get building! Using your supplies, build your greenhouse based on the design you sketched out. If you are using a glue gun, be sure to ask an adult for help.
  3. Test your greenhouse! Insert your 3-D plants into the greenhouse. Does it meet the criteria listed in step 4? If not, rework it until it can!Did you know? In real life, a well-designed greenhouse will have these elements:
    - Ventilation: to regulate temperature and humidity
    - Heating elements: to increase the temperature, if needed
    - Cooling system: to decrease the temperature, if needed
    - Lighting: to provide lighting when natural (sunlight) is not present
    - Watering system: to provide water and other nutrients to plants

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder:

  1. How did you use the engineering design process to construct your greenhouse?
  2. Did you have to make any improvements to your greenhouse? If so, what were they?
  3. Have you seen a greenhouse in real life? How did it compare to the greenhouse you built?
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Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Originating during the Italian Renaissance, many wealthy homeowners began to install orangeries attached to their houses. These greenhouse-like structures were called orangeries because they grew tropical plants, like oranges, and protected them from cold weather. As pineapples became popular to eat in Europe, pineries or pineapple pits were built as well. Over time, larger greenhouse structures were built throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States.

Today, universities, laboratories, garden centers, museums, public gardens, and even homeowners may use greenhouses to help cultivate their plants. When different plants are being selectively bred for desirable characteristics, this is done inside a greenhouse to try to control for as many variables as possible.

A photo looking into a greenhouse from an outside perspective

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