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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Microclimates: Your garden may have more than one!

Considering the unseasonably low temperatures we've been experiencing lately, Ed Nordstrom, UC Davis Good Life Garden Supervisor, wanted to remind our readers how various microclimates within your yard can impact plant vitality.

Not sure what a microclimate is? It is just a fancy name for a piece of land that is subject to experiencing multiple climates. For example, in an urban garden, the concrete and asphalt that absorbs the sun's energy will radiate heat into the surrounding air and warm the garden's environment. Lack of protection or care to combat from this kind of severe heat can threaten a plant's well being.

Cold microclimates are also potentially dangerous, and can occur when plants are located near a body of water. The ground in these areas tends to be much cooler for longer periods of time than ground located just steps away. Being aware of your yard's potential for microclimates should influence what plants you place in your garden and where.

Sometimes, like us, you just learn the hard way. The Good Life Garden is surrounded by UC Davis' Food Science and Sensory buildings which create a wind tunnel running through a part of the garden. We have our nasturtium planted in two places in the garden--these are great winter plants because they can survive low temperatures, but, at the same time, they are a soft leaf plant which is very sensitive to wind.

One of our nasturtium plants is located in a wind tunnel created by the separation of the RMI North building and the Food Science Sensory building (shown in the upper left photo) The other nasturtium plant location is protected by the corner created by the RMI North and RMI South buildings (upper right picture). The two lower photos on the left and right show how the nasturtium plants are reacting to their two different microclimates, the left photo shows the nasturtium affected by the wind tunnel while the photo on the right shows the nasturtium that is protected and thriving. These photos show how easily such little things, like a protecting wall, can have a great effect on a garden and how they create microclimates.

As gardeners we are far from perfect! We thought you'd like to know how are plants are affected by the weather just like everyone else and hope you picked up some tips to help your plants ride out the rest of this chilly season.

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