Working With Microclimates in the Garden

Apr 30, 2017
Microclimates in the Garden

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In your garden, you may have a microclimate—a small area that has a different climate than your broader growing zone. How do you work with a microclimate?

Often, this niche or pocket climate is slightly warmer than the surrounding landscape. For perennial gardeners, the easiest way to encourage earlier blooms and more frequent blooms is to plant them in the warmest pockets in your landscape. 

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We all drive by houses where the crocuses and tulips seem to be up and blooming weeks ahead of our own, causing us to wonder what we are doing wrong. The answer is often as easy as that they have planted their bulbs in a protected spot on the south side of the house while ours are under that pile of snow left by the snow plow. It is obvious that the same plant in two different locations will bloom at different times if one spot is colder than the other.

Many warm microclimates already exist in our landscape; we just have to put them to good use.

For example, if you planted hellebores or pulmonaria in a spot on the sunny side of a boulder or stone wall, you will notice they get a jump start on spring. The warmth stored by the rocks radiates back at night keeping the area just a touch warmer than the open areas of the garden. Take advantage of the heat and light reflected from the walls of buildings or foundations to create a garden for early blooming perennials and bulbs.

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Daffodils or pansies planted in a sunny, sheltered corner that is protected from cold north winds will bloom way ahead of those shivering by the roadside.

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Primroses planted near streams or open water often bloom much earlier than the same plant in a drier location. South-facing slopes not only thaw first and warm up early, they also allow cold air—which flows very much like water does—to drain off. This will keep your early bloomers from losing buds or flowers to heavy frost on an especially cold night.

There are several microclimates that occur in almost everyone’s yard.

  • South or west facing walls and fences
  • Shelter from the wind
  • Sloping ground
  • Overhanging eaves
  • Stone walls or boulders
  • Pavement
  • Tree canopies

All of these situations offer a small measure of protection or slight heating that can alter growing conditions just enough to trick plants into putting on their show a little bit sooner.

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Carefully watch when flowers bloom this spring, and consider your microclimate(s) when planting in future seasons.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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gardening on a slope

we have a very steep slope that runs from my front yard down to the road in front of our house. Recently it was invaded by voles and we unfortunately had to poison them to save our slope and lawn. Do you have any suggestions on what would do well to plant on the slope. It gets full sun and is too steep to walk up. It is about ten to twelve foot in height. It is getting to be a lot of work for us to keep cutting the grass that grows there with a weed eater, since we are aging. I am afraid that it will erode without something there.

Planting on a Slope

You could try turning it into a wildflower patch! This would be beneficial to the local environment (especially for bees and other pollinators) and would be low maintenance. Other options would be low-growing sedums or periwinkle (Vinca minor), though periwinkle tends to grow better in partial sun. 

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