To the gardener, the most important thing about microclimate soils is their ability to provide areas where different plants will grow – plants that might not grow in your primary landscape because of a lack of sun or moisture. Soil in microclimates is influenced by various factors, making them different than most of your other soil.
Does Soil Affect Microclimates?
The term microclimate is normally defined as “a smaller area within a general climate zone that has its own unique climate.”
Soil is an integral part of the microclimate for the gardener. Does soil affect microclimates, you might ask. It is most often the other way around, as microclimates can affect the soil’s temperature and moisture. The soil in microclimates can also be influenced by vegetation that is growing there, such as trees.
Differences of Soil in Microclimates
Factors may include soil that is cooler or warmer or that offers sunnier or shadier conditions with varying degrees of moisture. For example, think of the conditions around the foundation of your home. Since some areas are shaded and grass likely won’t grow, these areas may be the perfect spot for some shade-loving plants.
If foundation areas get runoff from rain and stay moist longer, you can grow plants that prefer damp shade and high humidity. These plants aren’t likely to perform properly in dry and sunny areas of your landscape. Take advantage of microclimate soils for growing different varieties of specimens you love.
Your microclimate may be dry with loamy soil that gets hotter than your mostly shady yard. This gives you an opportunity to grow different heat-loving specimens. Soil in these areas may be different from the rest of the property or it may be the same. It can be amended, if necessary, for a particular type of plant.
The wind also affects the soil and microclimate. It may remove moisture and, depending upon its direction, can make the area warmer or cooler.
Microclimate soils are abundant under groves of trees that might grow on a corner of your property or beneath a mixed shrub border. Trees and shrubs shade the soil beneath, again providing a different environment than the surrounding landscape. Needle dropping specimens may influence the soil and microclimate by adding nutrients.
As an example, we often see shade-loving hosta plants under trees. However, there are many other shade tolerant plants that enjoy those microclimate soil conditions. Try planting solomon’s seal and others not seen in every garden down the street. Consider Rodgersia, with attractive large leaves and colorful midsummer plumes.
If there’s enough room in your microclimate soil area, add a few as background for others that grow well in these conditions. Consider shade tolerant ferns or the Brunnera for plants not so often used.
Now that you’ve learned to recognize the microclimates in your landscape, take advantage of them by growing different plants.
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Becca Badgett was a regular contributor to Gardening Know How for ten years. Co-author of the book How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden, Becca specializes in succulent and cactus gardening.