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How to Cope With Your Garden's Microclimates
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Many gardening books will advise you to work with nature rather than against her. Greenfingers is no exception. Climate and weather are such a huge topic and how they affect us as gardeners presents one of the major challenges of gardening. This workshop will show you a few basics to help you take advantage of the microclimates in your garden. Even within a small area, there can be large differences in conditions. Your local weather is modified by the exact position of your house and its aspect. There may be features within your garden that cause changes in its microclimate, and create variations. If you have been gardening in your existing garden for a while, you will probably have discovered hot dry corners, cold draughty places and perpetually damp spots. Or perhaps, plants may have failed to thrive or died on you, to highlight these areas! It's how microclimates affect your success with your choice of plants that lies at the heart of the matter. The following Workshops might also be helpful: How to set out your garden from scratch, How to cope with exposed gardens, How to cope with hot, dry gardens, How to cope with problem soils. Instead of one job being divided into the different steps in most workshops, here each step relates to one area or subject that will affect your garden's climate and perhaps create special conditions, and, where relevant, suggests what to do.
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you will need
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step1
Garden Layout. Know exactly where the sun is in your garden, morning and evening, and in different seasons. If you are new to your garden, use a compass to check - better still, take one with you when house hunting. Take aspect and sun position into account when you plan your garden. If you want to enjoy morning or afternoon sun, plan where you put patios and places to sit and relax, in both summer and winter.
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step2
Elevation: whether your garden slopes internally or not, this affects where you plan features, where you put plants, and what plants will thrive. North facing slopes have less sunshine, and naturally have more lush vegetation. South facing slopes receive more light and heat from the sun, and plant growth and crops will ripen earlier. Exactly where your garden is on a hill affects levels of temperature, light, and wind.
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step3
Soil. Soil types react with climate in different ways. Check the type of soil you have and look at the structure - is it clay, sand, loam? Structure can be modified to affect microclimate. For example, light, sandy soils on a slope will drain very freely. Digging in plenty of organic material and mulching the surface of bare soil will help to conserve moisture around plants.
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step4
Plants. Choose plants from climates and habitats similar to your own garden for lower maintenance and good success rates with plants. Go plant buying knowing what conditions you have to offer plants in your garden. An ideal - difficult to achieve! To grow plants from a wider range of natural habitats, modify microclimates to provide suitable conditions. For example: give plants from the Mediterranean region or continental climates full sun in summer to ripen new wood, increasing winter survival rates. Give them sheltered south facing spots.
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step5
Use your house walls, garden walls and fences to best advantage when choosing plants. These will create specific microclimates with different planting conditions: North facing: constantly cool and shaded. South facing: sunny, hot, and dry. East facing: - cool - can be cold, and moist. West facing: warm, air movement and moisture from prevailing winds.
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step6
Wind. Plan to baffle, filter and drain rather than contain wind. Choose hedges for boundaries or use types of fencing that baffle wind - picket, ranch types rather than solid panels. Choose or make sheltered sites for patios, arbours and places to sit. Walls can create wind eddies. Make year round sheltered pockets using evergreen plants, or by using filtering internal structures such as trellis. Wind causes physical damage to plants, breaking limbs and stems, and drying out foliage of evergreens. Make a 'shelter belt' of planting in the right place(s) using wind tolerant plants. Use a good proportion of evergreens in your backbone planting to make permanent sheltered bays throughout your garden. When you plant new trees and shrubs in an exposed area, install temporary shelter around them to help them get established. Use garden mesh, stapled to stakes to make a windbreak. Garden mesh is available from garden centres.
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step7
Heat. Make use of available storage heaters in your garden - patios, buildings and walls. Make warm patios bounded by walls. Darker materials will absorb heat in the daytime. Walls and fences trap cold air sinking down a slope making frost pockets in winter and potentially permanently cool spots in summer. Plan patios and seating areas accordingly. Plan planting around hot walls and patios with care. Heat reflected by the paved surface can fry some plant foliage on hot patios as leaves transpire water faster than roots can take it up. Acers in containers for example need dappled shade.
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step8
Cold. Position kitchen gardens so that they receive sun to warm up the soil early in the season. Avoid frost pockets for kitchen gardens. Use deciduous plants to shade patios and your house from hot summer sun. Their bare branches in winter will allow winter sun to warm up your garden when you need it. Container gardening - position groups of large containers according to their permanent planting. Keep sun lovers away from frost pockets, and shade lovers in cool corners.
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step9
Planting for hot and cold. Use plants from hotter climates in warm south facing areas and near paved hot spots: Lavenders, Rosemary, Cistus, Brooms, Euphorbias, Californian Fuchsia (Zauchsneria). Use plants from colder regions in north facing cooler areas, or in the shade of trees and buildings: Holly, Dogwood (Cornus Alba), Winter Flowering Jasmine (Jasminum Nudiflorum), Actinidia Kolomikta, Elephant's Ears (Bergenia), Bugle (Ajuga Reptans), Lungwort (Pulmonaria Saccharata).
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Walls and fences protect and give different conditions
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Select plants for areas, such as dry shady corners
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Wind eddies along walls but can be filtered by trellis
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