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Climate and Your Garden

Climate has a major influence on plants growth. Choosing the right plants that thrive in the prevailing climate is fundamental to a successful gardening, although many plants will adapt to weather conditions alien to their natural habitat. The effects of climate on your garden plants are complex and responses to the weather conditions are shaped by many factors, including a plant’s location in your garden, the stage of its maturity and the length and intensity of exposure to inclement conditions. Understanding the effects of climate on your garden plants you will be better able to grow healthy, productive and attractive plants.
World climate may be divided into four broad but clearly defined zones: tropical, desert, temperate and polar. Each zone has its specific characteristic and specific plants that grow in that area. Tropical climates are characterized by high temperatures and heavy, sometimes seasonal, rainfall and support luxuriant, evergreen vegetation. Deserts have average daytime temperatures in excess of 38 Celsius degrees (100 F) but often very cold nights and with annual rainfall of less than 25 cm. The plants that are adapted to desert climate and can survive in these conditions are the ones from the cacti family and only few other more. Temperate regions have changeable daily patterns but rainfall is generally evenly spread throughout the year and temperatures are less extreme than in the tropics or deserts. Deciduous plants are more common than evergreen in those areas, as they are better adapted to these conditions. Polar regions experience extreme cold, strong winds and low rainfall, so little plant growth is possible.
In addition to these four broad zones, intermediate zones, including subtropical and Mediterranean are also recognized. Conditions within climate zones are determined by geographical factors such as latitude, altitude and proximity to the sea, which increases rainfall and moderates temperatures.
The elements of climate that directly affect plants and the techniques used to grow them are temperature, frost, snow, rain, humidity, sunlight and wind. From all of these, temperature is usually regarded by gardeners as the most important. It determines the choice of plants to be grown as well as the length of the growing season.

Frost and Wind Protection

In cold climates, most tender plants and not very hardy ones will need protection from frost and wind in order to survive the cold season. It is best to select the plants that you are growing to grow in your garden so that they will thrive in your climate. If you are planning to grow very tender plants in a cold climate will end in disappointment as they will not survive the hard conditions of the cold winters. They will need to be grown under cover in order to survive. For some of the not very hardy plants that normally do well in a site but may suffer in harsh winters, providing protection against wind and frost over the cold period is a necessary precaution for them to survive.

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Water Conservation and Recycling

In hot weather our garden plants need watering, so we should conserve and collect water for this task as much as possible in order to make the job affordable. Water conservation in our garden begins with choosing the right plants for our garden soil and climatic conditions. The appropriate plants must then be planted in well-prepared soil. To reduce the need of supplementary watering we should first improve our garden soil by incorporating as much organic matter into the ground as possible and by the use of mulches.

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Microclimate

Differences in topography often mean that local microclimates show variations from the more generalized pattern within a specific climatic region. A site in a natural dip or hollow may be relatively warm if it is protected by the wind. But if the hollow is shaded from sunshine it will be cool and may form a frost pocket in winter. Rainfall may be less in gardens in the lee of high ground than in others in the same locality but on the windward side.

A garden and its plants further modify local climate and introduce features that give rise to a microclimate specific to the garden. This may differ markedly from that of the surrounding area. To alter the existing microclimate of a garden, a gardener can readily adapt certain features to provide specific conditions.

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Wind

Wind, especially strong ones, often damages plants. But wind has also some benefits. It plays an important role in pollen and seeds dispense and may also be useful in cooling plants down, provided that they have enough water to prevent desiccation. Gentle winds prevent the development of a stagnant atmosphere and deter plants diseases that might otherwise thrive.

Strong winds may discourage beneficial insects and make it difficult to control pests, diseases and weeds. Spraying is less effective in windy conditions or damaging to non-target plants due to spray drift. Many other problems are caused by the wind, but there are various ways to protect the plants.

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Sunlight

Sunlight plays a major role in stimulating plants growth by providing the radiant energy to raise the temperature and humidity of soil and air. For most of the plants, sunshine and a consequent high temperature encourage maximum new growth, flowering and fruiting. A warm, sunny summer will result in greatly enhanced food storage to plants and helps to firm their protective tissue, which means that better propagating material is produced and that the plants will be more resistant to the winter cold.

Daylength
The duration of daylight in a 24 hours period will vary by latitude and season. It affects flowering and fruiting of some plants which need a specific amount of daylight in a 24 hours period. According to their need of daylight, plants can be categorized as short day and long day plants. The short day plants will need less than 12 hours of daylight, while the long day plants will need more than 12 hours of daylight.

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Humidity

Humidity levels are determined by the quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere and the moisture content of the soil. The point at which the air becomes saturated varies according to sunlight, temperature and wind. Atmospheric humidity is usually referred to as the relative humidity and represents the amount of water vapor present in the air expressed as a percentage of the saturation point.

The effects of humidity
Atmospheric humidity varies from area to area, for example in areas with heavy rainfalls the atmospheric humidity is high and in areas with very low levels of precipitations the humidity levels are low.

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Snow and Rain

Snow
Water droplets freeze in clouds or rain and may fall as snow when atmospheric temperature falls close to freezing but not below it. Snowfall provides a useful supply of water on thawing and often provides valuable insulation for plants, as a blanket of snow prevents the soil temperature from beneath to fall below 0 Celsius degrees (32 F), even the atmospheric temperature may drop below freezing point. However, heavy snow, followed by severe frost, my damage shoots and branches. The considerable weight of thick snow may force apart hedges and evergreen shrubs and trees if it is allowed to settle for too long. Always clear snow from such plants as soon as possible to prevent any damage or you can shape your hedges in a form that will prevent snow to collect on top of them.

Rain
Water is a vital element for photosynthesis and the main constituent of cell sap. A good water supply will determine a good plant development starting from seeds germination and continuing with the development of roots, shoots, leaves, flowers and fruits. Respiration and transpiration of plants also depend on water.

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Frost

Frost is a great hazard in gardening. It is considered to be more crucial than the average minimum temperature for an area. An unexpected severe frost has serious implications in gardening as it can damage even the hardy plants, which may be particularly vulnerable to unusually low temperatures after they have produced new growth in spring.

Frost occurs when the temperature is consistently below freezing and it takes several forms. In a hoar frost, crystals of ice are formed from water that has condensed from a humid atmosphere. Black frost is more likely in a dry atmosphere and blackens the leaves and stems of plants. Ground frost results whenever the temperature of the soil falls below freezing point. The depth of penetration of ground frost depends on its intensity and duration. Particularly dangerous are still, clear nights when the cold air collects at a level just above the ground. The most affected are those trees, shrubs and climbers, whose woody tissue has not ripened well, usually due to a lack of sun and warmth during autumn.

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Temperature

All vital plants processes: photosynthesis, transpiration, respiration and growth are affected by temperature. Each plant species has a minimum and a maximum temperature beyond which these precesses fail to take place. For most plants, the maximum temperature is around 35 Celsius degrees (96 F), while the minimum is highly variable. When extremely low temperatures occur, plants tissues may be physically destroyed.

Air and soil temperatures are the most important climatic factors influencing the onset and breaking of dormancy in plants and also the length of the growing season.

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