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  3. Microclimates: How To Assess Your Garden

Microclimates: How To Assess Your Garden

People tend to be much more familiar with the concept of climate than microclimates. You’re likely to know the overall climate in your area quite well. However, you may not know much about the microclimate in your garden. In this article, we’ll discuss what microclimates are and how to understand the local climate in your garden.

What is a microclimate?

A microclimate is a smaller, individual climate localised to areas like gardens. Weather conditions will differ from the overall climate due to different factors in the area.

Why should you assess your microclimate?

The differences between your garden’s microclimate and the general climate in your area could make a huge difference to the plants you grow. Understanding the specific climatic factors in your garden will allow you to provide better care for your plants, resulting in a thriving outdoor space.

Factors that impact microclimates

Aspect

The ‘aspect’ of your garden refers to the direction in which it’s facing. North-facing gardens get less light and warmth than south-facing. This also applies to vertical structures that you may be planting on, such as walls and trellises. A south-facing wall will absorb heat during the day and release it during the night, keeping your plants safe from frost.

Exposure or shelter

This factor refers to how exposed to wind – or sheltered from it – your garden is. Lots of elements may shelter your garden from the wind. For example:

Some plants will grow better in sheltered positions, while some are quite robust against wind. Some microclimates – such as seaside gardens or exposed hilltops – may be dominated by exposure to wind. In these cases, it may be best to introduce shelter to the outdoor space. The most effective shelter against the wind will slow it down rather than entirely block it. For example, hedges rather than fences.

Light or shade

The amount of light your garden receives will drastically impact the types of plants that will thrive in your garden. The general climate in your area will determine how much light your garden is capable of getting (e.g. how many cloudy days there are) but the surrounding factors will determine how much light it actually gets. For example, the presence of trees or fences will result in more shade, whereas open spaces like lawns will provide more light. This factor will greatly determine which plants will grow well in your microclimate. Shade-loving plants like ferns, for example, would do much better near walls or trees.

Drainage

Effective drainage in an area depends on certain factors like nearby construction, proximity to bodies of water, and how low-lying the land is. Drainage can be especially poor in low-lying areas, which can result in bogs and waterlogging. These poor-drainage areas are more suited to very thirsty plants, while well-drained areas support normal or drought-tolerant plants better.

Topography

Hills, slopes, and valleys can have huge impacts on microclimates, affecting the other factors on this list. For example, higher ground is often more exposed. Dips and hollows in the ground can also impact microclimates, collecting cold air on frosty nights.

Frost pockets

Speaking of frosty nights, frost pockets are areas with significant risks of late and early frosts. These areas tend to also have shorter growing seasons. Some plants are more suited to growing in frost pockets, such as late flowering varieties.

Rain or drought

As with light and shade, the amount of rain in an area will hugely depend on the local climate. However, the amount of rain your garden receives depends on its individual microclimate. Here are some factors that can affect rainfall in your garden:

  • Walls
  • Fences
  • Canopies
  • Trees
  • Umbrellas or shades

How to assess your own garden’s microclimate

Having considered these factors, let’s talk about how you can assess the microclimate in your own garden. Use the factors above to create your own checklist of factors in your garden. For example:

  • What direction is my garden facing?
  • Is my garden low-lying or close to bodies of water?
  • Are there structures sheltering my garden from the wind?
  • Does my garden sit in a frost pocket?
  • How much light is my garden receiving?

You can gather this information in whichever way you like, such as simply making a list of factors or drawing up your garden and pointing out different features that impact the microclimate.

Use these answers to understand your garden’s microclimate, therefore understanding the types of plants that would grow best there. This understanding of your garden will also highlight any potential improvements you could make to the space. For example:

  • Should you add some shelter to make your garden more accessible to sensitive plants? How and where could you add this shelter?
  • Do you need to add or remove shade to allow your plants to have an appropriate amount of light?
  • Would you like to install a greenhouse or other structure to grow plants that won’t thrive in your microclimate?

Conclusion

Understanding the climate in your area gives you a great base to start planning an outdoor space, but understanding the microclimate of your garden gives you much more in-depth knowledge. It will allow you to identify plants that should do well in your environment and ones you should avoid. Click here to learn more about keeping your garden happy and healthy.

Updated on January 10, 2024

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