Climate and its effects


All forms of gardening are a balancing act between the forces of nature on the one hand and the desire of the gardener on the other lo coerce or cajole nature to perform to his or her command. From the earliest times people learned to grow plants for food and, if we were not to starve, we learned to offer nature a helping hand: providing irrigation in times of drought or shelter in particularly hard winters.
Any gardener who fails to pay attention to the demands of climate will ultimately pay the price of reduced performance in their plants. Gardeners must be aware of the climate conditions in which they live, as well as the climate conditions demanded by the plants they wish to grow. Nevertheless, there are margins (or error and, nature being what it is, surprises in store: The plant Libeled “tender” survives a really hard winter, while another cited as drought-resistant fails to cope with even a week without rain.
However, these are exceptions to a generally applied rule. Plants evolved over thousands of years to cope with specific climatic conditions. We now import many of these plants from all over the world; we therefore need to be able to work out whether they will grow as well for us as they do in their native habitats. A great many of the plants we regard as indigenous are, in fact, imports brought back by plant hunters several centuries ago; they have survived and adapted so well that they are now, lo .ill intents and purposes, indigenous.
Climate zones
To aid our understanding of plant hardiness, botanists have created maps showing zonal bands that chart the climates around the world. However, even these ‘hardiness’ ones are not foolproof. A plant that is subjected to a long period ol wet weather before the temperature drops to I having will cope less well with the cold than a plant that was dry, since it is the combination of both cold and wet that is likely to cause a plant to fail. Equally, wind-chill can have a very adverse effect on plants, even when the ground temperature is perhaps within the “safe” band; therefore, where you plant—on a sheltered site or an exposed one—will play a part in the ability of the plant to survive. Plant hardiness ratings indicate the lowest temperature at which any given plant will survive. The United States Department of Agriculture has mapped the country’ into zones of consistent annual average minimum temperature. A similar map has been developed for Europe. These temperature bands, defined by a zone number from coldest to hottest (1-10), are then used to describe the performance of the plants. For example, if a plant is allocated a zone 9 rating, this indicates that it will survive the annual average minimum temperature of that band, but it will not survive the colder winter temperatures of zone 8.
The maps that accompany this zoning information are rough guides only, as individual factors will affect the temperatures: south-facing slopes will be warmer than north-facing ones (and vice versa in the southern hemisphere), cities will be warmer than open countryside. The greatest factor in changing the zone bands locally is altitude: a 330 ft. rise will mean a consequent 2°F loss of temperature.
It is unfortunate for the gardener that zoning information is little more than an indication of hardiness. Unseasonable weather will quickly render it useless, as late spring frosts can kill off plants that, all things being equal, should have survived; therefore, you may need to be careful about growing plants that are only just within the band of tolerance in your area.

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2 Responses to Climate and its effects

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