When we think about landscaping our yard, we may look at the entire yard as one environment. Actually, each yard has a number of microclimates. And to complicate it more, the microclimates change through the seasons and through the years as the landscape matures or is renovated.
So what exactly is a microclimate? It's the atmospheric environmental conditions in the immediate vicinity of a plant.
You may have noticed after our recent freezes that there was more damage to one area of your yard than to others. My star jasmine in the back yard received little damage from the cold, but the plant in the front yard was completely defoliated. The backyard plant was protected between a fence and the house, whereas the front yard was totally exposed.
This concept of having multiple microclimates in a single yard and how these microclimates can change is obvious if you remove large trees from your yard. The loss of tree canopies immediately changes the amount and angle of light hitting parts of the landscape. Wind patterns around remaining plant materials shift. As landscape renovation begins, existing plant materials will have to be replaced with plants more tolerant of direct sunlight. New plants must also be able to withstand more wind movement.
If your yard is home to large trees, walk around at different times of the day and see where the sunlight penetrates the branches. Note the land that is completely shaded. You might be surprised at the small pockets of sunlight that enable you to use sun-tolerant plants. If your yard is completely shaded, you may want to have your trees trimmed. This might enable you to plant sunlight-loving plants in places you didn't before think possible.
On the other hand, if the majority of ground is open to bright sun all day, you could strategically plant trees or large bushes. These trees may enable you to use more shade-loving plants in your landscape. Remember small trees grow, and in Florida very quickly. Don't over plant. Although our oaks are beautiful and offer ample shade, your situation may not need such a large tree. Some smaller shade trees include: dogwood, star magnolia (can be grown as a tree or shrub), peach tree, crape myrtle (shrub or tree form), or golden rain tree.
Other microclimates can be caused by low-lying areas in a yard. These areas tend to get more frost and stay damp. These temperature and moisture parameters should have a direct influence on what you plant.
In addition to adding trees or shrubs for shade, there are a number of other ways to adjust microclimates. Hard surfaces such as a fence can reroute or cut down on wind. Using fill or berming soil can improve drainage. Study the microclimates in your yard and you'll make more appropriate plant choices.
What to plant
If you've studied your microclimates and are ready to do some planting, now is a good time to add plant material to your landscape. If you're looking for instant color try the following annuals: alyssum, celosia, cleome, coleus, cosmos, dahlia plants, dusty miller, geranium, impatiens, lobelia, marigold, petunia, salvia, sweet William, vinca, wax begonia or zinnia.
For more permanent additions, try perennials such as African iris, blue salvia, day lily, gerbera daisy, pentas, shasta or verbena.
Don't forget to add some edible landscaping. This is a good time to plant beans, beets, carrots, green onions, lettuce, peas, peppers, radishes and tomatoes.
To add a little variety to your garden and to your cooking, plant anise, basil, chervil, coriander, cumin, horehound, lemon balm, marjoram, sage, savory and thyme. You don't need a vegetable garden to grow the vegetables or herbs listed. Tuck the plants among your ornamental landscape plants.
For spring color, try some bulbs: Amazon lily, Aztec lily, caladium, canna, clivia, dahlia bulbs, gladiolus, gloriosa lily or zephyr lily. Wait a few weeks for warmer weather to settle in before adding these to your garden.
Some outstanding flowering shrubs for our Florida gardens include: azalea, bottlebrush, confederate jasmine, yesterday today and tomorrow and Indian hawthorn.
If planting new additions to your garden doesn't keep you busy, there are more chores to be done. Remove cold-damaged growth from plants, fertilize landscape plants and lawn, spray scab-susceptible citrus trees and prune landscape plants that require shaping and size reduction. Also, pinch out growing tips and old blooms of annuals to increase branching and flowering, watch for pests, use your oak leaves as mulch or in the compost pile and try your hand at air-layering shrubs and trees.
It's obvious the slow season in our gardens is past, and now is the time to get back outside. Try to do any heavy work that needs done before it gets too hot. Getting the garden in shape now will pay off this summer.
Mary Collister can be reached at [email protected]