Plants, like humans, thrive when environmental conditions remain within comfortable ranges and extremes are avoided. The temperature extremes of the past summer and this winter have provided a good test for the designs of greenhouse ventilation/cooling and heating systems.
Last summer some greenhouse growers would have appreciated the ability to decrease the peak daytime temperature by a few degrees. The benefits of lowering temperatures include greater worker productivity and/or better plant quality by avoiding heat stress and increased water use efficiency. Also, retail growers may be able to lengthen customer visits by lowering temperatures and providing a more comfortable shopping experience.
Focus on leaf temperature
Efficient application of shading can be a useful component of effective ventilation/cooling as well as an irrigation management strategy. Although a single sensor in a greenhouse heating/cooling zone is often used to provide environmental control equipment with decision-making data, the best objective is to maintain the leaf temperature in the most productive range.
Leaf temperature is an indicator of the level of energy present in a leaf as a result of an energy balance between the energy entering and exiting the leaf. Solar radiation and infrared radiation from the surroundings (i.e., structure, glazing, floor, etc.) act to increase the leaf energy. Energy is lost, or the leaf is cooled, via emitted infrared radiation, convection, conduction and heat loss via water evaporation.
Air temperature, which influences the plant, is not a direct indication of leaf temperature. Outdoors on sunny, summer days, the upper leaf temperatures are often significantly higher than the air temperature. Depending on the plant and leaf location, the leaf temperature can be 10°F-30°F higher than the air temperature. When clouds obscure the sun, leaf temperatures can drop to within a few degrees of the air temperature. The temperature of shaded leaves on the same plant can actually be a few degrees below air temperature.
Reducing greenhouse temperatures
Greenhouse shading can be used to alter several forms of radiant energy. Shading can be used to reduce the amount of incoming solar radiation as well as alter the exchange of infrared radiation between the leaf and its surroundings. Growers must decide which shade materials to use and when to use them.
Plants and plant leaves exhibit a large variability in susceptibility to heat damage. The resistance of a plant or leaf to damage by heat is time dependent. The longer a plant is exposed to potentially damaging temperatures, the greater the temperature effect on plant tissue viability.
Shading can reduce leaf temperatures and prevent heat damage. Shading can also reduce photosynthesis. Shading should be used when plants are near maximum photosynthetic activity, but prior to the point of causing irreversible damage to the plants.
The shade material temperature is an important factor in determining the net radiation on the plants. Shading can be used to save half of the required water without sacrificing yield...
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