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Creating Microclimates

Many gardeners live in areas where almost anything can grow effortlessly. Just plant the seeds or bulbs, water them for a few weeks and you've got a beautifully lush plant. But if you live in the south, you'll understand the importance of placing plants in the proper environment to best facilitate their growth. Although the growing season is long, all plants must be able to survive the plant wilting heat of a southern summer.  There are few plants that can truly handle full sun in the south. Many of the plants offered for sale by plant suppliers will only survive when planted in the optimum conditions and, as a gardener, it is up to you to provide these "optimum" conditions by creating microclimates.

A gardening theory that I have relied on in the past to grow many types of plants is that of creating  microclimates.  This is when you regulate the sunlight, shade, moisture, and wind factors for different parts of your garden. You can then select plants best suited to grow in each microclimate. If you think about it, this is how "Mother Nature" does it. It sounds like a challenge, and it is; some changes take longer to accomplish than others. But you can regulate the climate factors in such a way that the plant feels just like it is in the ideal growing conditions. This can be achieved by the use of wind barriers, shading umbrellas, extra water, less water, better drainage or different types or amounts of compost.

Plan:  If you're ready to attempt creating a microclimate, you'll need to make a detailed plan in advance. This will involve surveying and mapping your yard with an eye to what microclimates are already there and what style of garden you want to add.  For example, if you want a shade garden but there are no trees in your yard, you may be taking on a far larger job than you are ready for at this time. Once the surveying and mapping of your area is complete, you can begin to look at which microclimates you want to keep and which ones you may want to change. Remember, when designing your plan, to take into account the final size of a plant. That small tree or shrub you buy at the nursery could eventually grow to a very large size and impact the environment around it. 

Shade:  If you want to establish a large shade area, just look at some of the under- developed areas of the yard and see what is there. Sometimes, near property lines or in distant corners, trees and shrubs have grown on their own without any specific placement or care. This is what you want to find in the yard or you will have to make it happen. Your local nursery or extension service can also inform you of good fast growing tree and shrub varieties for your area and you can create or supplement an area. Here in the south, river birches are very fast growing and can provide a great filtered shade so can be added to a corner for 'quick' shade.

If you have a solid fence in your backyard  then you already have a good amount of shade to work with. You can start the microclimate process using just the shade of the fence, combined with (perhaps) a screen or large bush to shade your new plant for the other half of the day when the fence does not provide the shade. The fence is also useful for breaking the wind which can damage fragile plants.

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