When planning a garden we’re often warned about areas to avoid: shade, wind tunnels, frost pockets – you know the sorts of things. But what about those areas that can positively help your growing?
Any hard surface will absorb heat during the day then release it at night when temperatures drop. Walls, fences, paving – even large rocks – can help protect plants from nighttime cold temperatures by radiating out this stored heat.
Take advantage by growing heat-loving crops such as chilies against hard surfaces. Vining tomatoes, for example, can be grown against walls that face the midday sun, taking advantage of radiated heat to encourage quicker and more even ripening, while extending the growing season.
You can boost this effect further by adding a layer of crop protection. For example, clear polythene screens laid across wall-trained fruit trees, such as peaches, can shield frost-sensitive blossom on cold nights, guaranteeing a crop of juicy fruits. Lean-to greenhouses or cold frames can offer a similar effect, using the sun-facing wall as a free source of heat that will keep temperatures inside significantly higher at night. Use them to start off early seedlings and gain a solid two to three-week start on outdoor sowings.
Suntraps are sheltered areas of the garden that enjoy plenty of sunshine, creating a cozy corner that warmth-loving plants thrive in. Like a greenhouse, a suntrap can have the effect of extending the growing season, with conditions often a week or two ahead of less-sheltered areas in spring.
Grow vegetables in pots on sun-drenched patios, or fix hanging baskets, troughs and other containers onto vertical surfaces that soak up the sun’s warming rays. With some creativity, suntraps can become very productive indeed. Just remember that warmer conditions mean that plants will need watering more often in summer too!
Rooftop and balcony gardens benefit from being lifted clear of the ground and away from potential frost pockets. You’ll need to consider the additional exposure to wind, but with a few carefully placed screens a balcony could become a sheltered microclimate ideal for growing more tender crops.
In hot climates you can use the opposite effect and take advantage of cooler microclimates. Shady areas of the garden will provide welcome relief from singeing heat, enabling cool-season crops such as lettuces and peas to grow, even in midsummer.
Shade is especially helpful in the midday and afternoon heat. If you’re not sure where the shade falls in your garden, take the time to track its progress during the course of the day and plan your sowings accordingly. Shade cloth can also be used to create temporary shading for young seedlings and plants.
Garden beds raised above soil level – whether within a framed raised bed or on mounded soil – will drain better and warm up earlier in spring. Orient beds to face the midday sun to enhance this effect.
Cover raised beds with a row cover and you can extend the growing season even further. Any vegetables can be grown in raised beds, with early crops such as carrots especially benefitting from these improved conditions.
Our Garden Planner enables you to add cold protection such as cloches, cold frames and row covers to your plan. Simply select Garden Objects from the selection bar menu, scroll through to choose the item you want, then click to select. Move the cursor to where you want it on your plan, click to place it, then drag the corner ‘handles’ to stretch out the cover to fit. The accompanying Plant List automatically extends the sowing and planting times of crops beneath the cover.
Every garden has its own unique microclimates. Make the most of them and you can really improve your growing success. Why not share your experiences of using microclimates to make the most of your garden by dropping us a comment below?