By Evelyn Alemanni
For a garden that thrives, be sure to match your plants to your climate. Here in Southern California we have what is referred to as a “Mediterranean” climate, which typically has hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. This climate is found in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, as well as parts of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Central Asia, and Chile. Plants native to those areas typically grow well here.
Special conditions make the microclimate around your home different from the climate of the surrounding area. In fact you may have several microclimates. Knowing your microclimate(s) help you choose the right plants, which should be healthier and bloom better as a result.
Factors to consider include:
- Average lowest and highest temperature
- Hours of sun and shade
- Proximity to buildings
- Proximity to the ocean
Knowing average high and low temperatures helps you select plants that tolerate those temperatures. Otherwise you may end up with a plant scorched in the heat of summer. Hilltops and valleys are cooler than hillsides. Your house can soak up heat during the day and release it during the night, so plants adjacent to buildings have their own microclimates.
Locations with high exposure to wind can cause plants to quickly dry out and require more water. Consider using your most drought-tolerant plants in these areas. Cover the soil with 3 inches of mulch or wood chips, placed 8 inches from the base of each plant to help retain soil moisture.
Being aware of the average monthly rainfall is a big advantage in choosing the right plants for your garden. Native plants and those that “drink responsibly” help save money on your water bill. Look for plants such as Grevillea, which does not want water in the summer once it’s established.
Other good choices for our climate include: rosemary, which blooms in shades of blue during the winter and is available as a low-growing groundcover or tall shrub; and New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.), which offers colorful foliage.
In addition, the New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium) is a tightly branched evergreen shrub covered in flowers in spring. It is available in white, pink, and red. You can grow it as a shrub or prune it into a tree form.
Succulents of all kinds thrive with minimal summer irrigation and offer blossoms in winter and early spring. Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi blooms in late winter. Its foliage turns blue-gray in summer.
Knowing the hours of sun each day is essential to choosing the right plant. Remember, one side of your home may have many more hours of sun than another side, so plant accordingly. Many plant labels list sun needs.
If you live near the ocean, you need to consider the salty sea breezes and fog. This makes it important to choose plants that resist mildew.
Thousands of plants flourish in our climate, so go ahead and experiment with them. Just remember: Plants that thrive in cooler climates — for example forsythia, peonies, hostas, and tulips — do not grow well here.
Take a big step toward ensuring success in your garden. Stick with plants that are well adapted to your region’s climate.Learn More