Importance of Microclimate When Choosing Cold Hardy Palms

Are you wondering how do some gardeners manage to grow beautiful palm trees in cold climates? It seems like they are the only ones that have a tropical paradise while gardeners around them are struggling. The secret to their success might be the microclimate.

Microclimate is a relatively small area about few yards or even smaller, that has a slightly different climate from a general climate of a region. This small area is usually influenced by such factors as humidity, hills, hollows, wind, heat balance, evaporation, sunlight, shade and etc.

If you’ve noticed that the temperature forecast for your area is always colder or warmer than what you are getting, you might be living in a microclimate. A good example would be, if you have hills that protect your house from cold winds and therefore keep the temperatures in your area higher.

Microclimate is very important when it comes to growing cold hardy palms. In the cold climates, the microclimate can make a huge difference in how many species of palms you can grow. Some gardeners, because they live in a microclimate, might be able to grow 400 species of palms vs 50 species.

When thinking of microclimate, think about moisture and shade. You can make a microclimate in your home garden by using buildings, ponds, fences, rocks and patios. By experimenting with different elements you’ll be able create areas with higher/lower temperatures, sunlight and humidity.

Hills and Valleys

If you live in a cold valley, you would experience colder temperatures than indicated on the map. You will also have shorter growing season due to late spring/early fall frost. It will be harder for you to grow palm trees in that area no matter where you plant them.

Planting on the the hill side will have a protective effect since hills get more sunlight during all day. Then, during night, it will radiate the warmth making the top hill area warmer than the bottom.

Buildings, Rocks and Fences

Palms growing near rocks, buildings, fences or paved surfaces will often stay warmer due to the protection from the wind and also heat radiation. Those structures absorb heat all day long and release it at night keeping the palms warm as long as possible. This little amount of heat can make a huge difference on the near-freezing nights. Planting on the south side of a wall can also be helpful. The wall will reflect enough heat to keep the palm from freezing during night.

Canopy

Protective canopy could be the most important factor for marginal palms. Dense canopy trees act like a blanket helping regulate temperatures and provide protection. On the cold night, the air under canopy can be 5-10 degrees higher than unprotected air temperatures. Keep in mind that dense canopy will also prevent your palm from receiving sunlight. So pick a palm that can tolerate shade.

Soil

Different types of soil can also affect the microclimate. A clay soil acts similar to pavement, trapping heat and moderating temperatures. Light soil with air pockets can trap the heat below the ground acting like an insulating layer between the subsoils and the frost on the ground level.

These are just some of the things you can do to create a better climate in your garden and grow more palm trees. Keep in mind, cold hardy palms can be grown virtually anywhere. Tropical landscapes are no longer limited to tropical climates.


David A. Francko, the author of a top rated book “Palms Won’t Grow Here and Other Myths: Warm-Climate Plants for Cooler Areas”, goes into more details on how you can grow cold hardy palms in zones 7, 6 and even 5! This is the perfect foundation book for the gardener who would like to see a banana next to his cherry tree and a palm between his maples.

Even though the author David A. Francko is a PhD, it is very easy to understand. He tells you what works and what doesn’t work. I always recommend this book to all the people who want to create a tropical paradise in a cold climate. It got great reviews and 5 stars rating (out of 5) on Amazon.

~Susan Brian

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