Updated: Jan 29, 2019
By Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
Microclimates are small areas where the climate differs from the surrounding area. It may be colder or warmer or even drier or wetter than the rest of the yard.
Unknowingly I created one of these at my house. In my backyard I have a corner that is surrounded by a metal fence, the house and a greenhouse. In the front yard, about 20’ from the metal fence is a very large Fruitless Mulberry tree. This deciduous tree created a sunny area in winter and partial shade in the summer.
Several years ago I decided to place a recycled 6’ round tub in this corner. I carefully filled it with soil and compost and began planting vegetables. I quickly discovered that plants that needed full sun would not grow in this area of my yard, but vegetables that grow with some shade thrived.
It is important to study your yard before you spend time and money on plants and trees. Man made structures alter moisture, wind and temperatures. Windbreaks can alter climate enough to grow plants that otherwise would not grow in an arid climate. They can also filter dust and noise. Beware of runoff from your roof during a rain as well. When we receive several inches of rain in a short period of time, the water can wash away soil and plants.
If you think you have a microclimate in your yard, place thermometers in that area and see how much the temperature varies during different times of the day and during different weather patterns. That will give you some idea of what you are actually dealing with and what can be successfully planted.
There may be an area that just gets too much sun or where heat is reflected from concrete or possibly a metal structure. This may be a great place to create your own microclimate by building a small decorative fence or wall or placing boulders to block sun and wind which can be incorporated into your yard design. A microclimate may be the answer to a comfortable outdoor space this spring and summer at your house.