Permaculture – Microclimate Modification to Facilitate Growth

Many gardeners live in areas where almost anything can grow effortlessly. Just plant the seeds and water it for a few weeks, and you have got a beautifully healthy and lush plant. But if you do not live in these areas, you will understand what it is like to have a slim selection of plants that grow naturally. It can be quite a challenge to service and sustain the growth of a large variety of plants, especially when the very climate you live in seems to be against you.

Some people solve this problem by using every type of chemical and fertilizer known to man. This usually works, but it seems kind of unnatural and unsustainable to depend on man made materials to keep your plants alive. If you are growing fruits or vegetables, many people do not feel very comfortable eating something that is entirely composed of chemicals.

A gardening theory that many rely on to grow many types of plants is that of creating a “microclimate” for each type of plant. According to Geiger in the book, The climate Near the Ground:

A microclimate is the summation of environmental conditions at a particular site as affected by local factors rather than climatic ones.

To modify a microclimate you can regulate the shade, the sunlight, moisture and wind factors for each separate plant. It sounds like a challenge, and it is. But you can regulate these factors in such a way that the plant feels just like it is in the ideal growing conditions. This can be achieved by the use of wind barriers, shading umbrellas and/or nets, water ponds, swales or other water features, mulching or different types or amounts of compost.

froggiesYou could start by finding a large shade providing bush or tree that will grow fast and naturally in your area. Just look at some undeveloped plots of land and see what is there. Most likely it grew on its own without any planting or care. This is what you want to happen. Usually the growing of one plant can bring about the growing of another more desirable plant.

If you have a fence in your backyard then you already have a good amount of shade to work with. You could start the microclimate process using just the shade of the fence, combined with a screen, a net or large bush to shade your new plant for the parts of the day with high sun exposure. The fence is also useful for shading against wind for more fragile plants.

Once you have established the shade, be it natural or unnatural, you have created a slightly less harsh miniature environment for other plants. You must remember this is a gradual process, but it gives you more choices and freedom to select plants that survive in cooler conditions.

If the next plant you are trying to grow requires more moisture in the air than you might install a fountain or a small pond that could fix this problem due to the evaporation. You may think you don’t want to waste water on a pond or fountain, but it’s all going towards the improvement of your garden. Having a pond or a fountain is similar to the watering process, only indirect. Also as an added bonus, water features are quite aesthetically attractive and a great addition to your garden. They also provide place for birds, bees and other insects to cool down.

If you are living on a larger block of land with a slight slope, swales are great to harvest water in your garden thus modifying the microclimate further.

As everyone’s goals and setups varies, it is almost impossible to explain every stage of the process. However to reach your goal, you should do some research on every plant that you wish to plant in your garden. Find out everything you can about the climatic conditions that it flourishes in, and ask yourself how you can emulate those conditions in your own garden. Areas worth further investigating for microclimate modification are:

  • herbal spirals
  • raised beds

You can almost always modify the microclimate and recreate whatever is desired. All it takes is some careful observation, evaluation and some permaculture principles.  According to the co-founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison:

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than  against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.


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