Think you are in a single climate zone? Think again...
What makes a microclimate?
A microclimate is a small area with different environmental and atmospheric conditions than the surrounding area. It is different from its neighboring zone in temperature, wind exposure, drainage, light exposure, and other factors. These microclimate factors may vary from site to site by just a few minute measurements or by quite a lot. As a gardener, you need to know your microclimates so you can place plants in the most optimal spots.
Microclimates have become the talk of the town as gardeners try to manage their landscapes more efficiently and earth friendly. Every piece of land has a dip, large tree, wall, or a hill that creates a microclimate. These are just objects that change the exposure the site has or blocks wind, rain, and other elements. Such influences on microclimates may be man-made or natural. The southern side of your home radiates more heat than the north side of the house - so this is a microclimate. Such small variations in the conditions a plant experiences can make a world of difference in how it grows or produces. It’s not only manmade structures that influence the atmosphere though.
Natural formations like a rocky outcropping, hill, or anything that turns winds, creates shade, or harbours water are considered microclimate factors. Gardeners can use these conditions to their advantage with careful planting and consideration.
Why Microclimates Matter
The information on a plant’s tag will usually tell you the zone it grows best in. This indicates the average annual minimum winter temperature so you can tell if a plant will survive your cold season and indications for warmer weather also. This is important information, but what if you have an exposed location with no trees, constant wind, and on a bit of a hill? It will get the brunt of the wind with no rest from the cold and still be dry as water sloughs off the hill. Cold and dry equal dead plants, even if it is hardy to your zone. This is why microclimates matter.
If you want to create a shady site in your landscape, plant a tree or build a fence. In areas with lots of rainfall, take advantage of what comes with a rain garden. In arid, sunny regions, use large rocks to make shade. Each addition to the landscape creates a microclimate. It is fairly simple to manipulate your garden and change some of the site conditions, but what is easier is to just use what is there. Take a walk around on a sunny, windy, or rainy day and see which areas of the landscape are impacted the most. Then, use this information to your advantage by placing plants that enjoy those natural weather conditions.
How to Determine Your Microclimate
Microclimates vary widely depending upon the location of the garden, nearby structures or building materials, and even the direction which the garden faces. Learning how to determine your microclimate will help to better understand how to meet the needs of garden plants.
The biggest key to finding microclimates in the garden is to be a keen observer. Throughout the entire year, growers will need to pay special attention to temperature. Noticing ranges in temperature can be quite helpful in identifying microclimates. Temperature is greatly impacted by the amount of sun which the garden receives. Finding the orientation of the yard will assist growers in determining what areas of the yard will receive the most direct sunlight. The impact of sunlight can be further amplified by the presence of concrete walkways, roads, and even your own home. Many aspects of the yard can also assist in the cooling of the growing space. Mature trees, shrubs, or other structures that create dense shade can all impact the way plants grow. Though these small microclimates are cooler in the summer, they may also be more prone to frost and cold in the winter. This can potentially impact the ease in which perennial plants will be able to successfully thrive over winter.
Identifying microclimates in the garden extends beyond the presence of structures within the yard. Elevation also plays a major role in the garden climate. Those who garden at higher elevations will often notice colder temperatures than those with garden at lower elevations. Gardeners who live in valleys may also notice these cooler temperatures, as the cold air can often settle in these places. Familiarising yourself with the topography of your region will help to better understand what to expect when planning the garden. Like temperature, soil characteristics and the rainfall patterns can greatly impact the garden microclimate. These aspects will all be impacted by topographical and regional differences within the growing zone. Collecting data regarding rainfall and soil quality within your own garden can help growers to gain greater understanding of the needs of their plants.
Even in the same growing zone, regional differences in the garden can be quite dramatic. From one garden to another, growing conditions will never be identical. Microclimates within the garden can greatly impact which plants can be grown and how. Topographical characteristics, as well as features of the landscape, can greatly influence the climate of the garden and how it is used. By utilising these microclimates to their advantage, however, homeowners can create beautiful and vibrant garden spaces that serve a wide range of purposes.
How to Use Microclimates
When designing with microclimates in mind, it will first be important to closely observe the conditions in the garden throughout each part of the growing season. When planting using microclimates, it will be imperative that the needs of the plants are met during both the warmest and coldest times of the year.
While temperature is most often discussed, microclimate gardening can also refer to aspects regarding water, amount of sunlight, and even exposure to wind. Each of these characteristics can greatly impact the overall health of growth of the plants. Gardening with microclimates can be especially useful for those who wish to extend the growing season. Strategically placed trees, paths, or water features are only a few ways in which homeowners are able to create microclimate zones conducive to gathering and retaining heat.
These microclimates allow for soils to warm more quickly in the spring, and to help keep the garden frost free for a longer period in the fall. These microclimates are further amplified for those living in larger cities, due to the urban heat effect.
Using microclimates to your advantage can not only assist in increasing yields in the garden, but also improve one’s overall enjoyment of outdoor spaces. The implementation of trees, shade structures, and well-ventilated areas can help to create cool and relaxing patios and sitting areas. While aspects like elevation cannot be changed, it is possible to craft useful microclimates in the yard. With attention to detail and planning, homeowners are able to better utilise their yards and enjoy them all season long.