How to Create a Microclimate

If conditions aren’t ideal in your yard, join the club — the microclimate club. Microclimates are areas in the yard with slightly different climates than the surrounding area.

So, how do you create a microclimate? Chances are, you already have several. It’s not difficult and doesn’t require esoteric knowledge. We’ll show you how to make simple changes in your yard’s microclimate to grow more of what you love.

What is a microclimate?

A microclimate is a small area outdoors that has slightly different climatic conditions than the surrounding area. If you live within a valley or next to a large body of water, there’s not much you can do to change the larger macroclimate of your area. You can control certain things on a plant-by-plant basis, though, to change the microclimate in your yard.

Here are a few examples of microclimates you may find in your yard:

  • A driveway that is warmer than the adjacent grassy area
  • The area next to a concrete wall may be a few degrees warmer due to radiant heat
  • A dry-loving plant hanging under a patio shields it from an otherwise wet climate.

You can’t change your USDA hardiness zone, but by creating microclimates in your yard, you can manage certain elements of nature to provide a more ideal growing climate for your plants.


Sunlight, along with water and carbon dioxide (CO₂), is key to a plant’s food production (aka photosynthesis). Get the sunlight levels correct, and you’re on your way to a healthy plant.

There is no fix for too little sun unless you grow inside, but too much sun is something you can work around.

Solar orientation and afternoon shade

Does your plant wilt under the blazing afternoon summer sun? Plant it (or place its container) in a different area in your yard.

If the plant needs lots of sunlight, a south-facing or western exposure works best, as long as the afternoon sun isn’t too harsh. If it needs softer light, place it on the east side of the yard. If it needs very little light, consider a north-facing location.

But you only have one area in which to garden, you say? Provide some afternoon shade, especially if your plant is on the west side of the yard.

Large rocks, trees, and taller vegetation are welcome shade umbrellas for wilting afternoon plants. Boulders are often strategically placed in succulent gardens to provide a shaded, cooler microclimate to mitigate the harsh afternoon sun.


How to create a warmer microclimate

Do cold air temperatures shorten your growing season? Extend it with warmer microclimates in your yard. Here’s how:

  • Want to start your vegetable garden earlier in spring or extend your veggie production in fall? Build a low tunnel with a row cover to extend the growing season in your area. Low tunnels help to increase soil moisture and humidity, creating a more conducive environment for early spring crops.
  • Black plastic mulch helps increase soil temperatures as well. The plastic should have good soil contact for the best results.
  • Low tunnels and plastic mulch are sometimes too much for beginners. If this describes you, start with a cold frame instead. Cold frames are simply bottomless boxes with glass or clear plastic lids. They are used to protect young plants from the weather and cool air. Set your tender plants out in the cold frame in early spring to acclimate them to the outdoors before they go into the ground.
  • Install spring plants next to a brick or stone wall for earlier outdoor planting. The radiant heat should raise the air temperature slightly, giving your plants a head start. Or place early-season pots on your driveway to achieve the same effect.

How to create a cooler microclimate

In early spring and fall, a warmer microclimate helps extend the growing season. In the heat of summer, some plants might prefer cooler temps.

Here are a few ways to create shade and a cooler microclimate in your lawn.

  • Install full-shade plants under a shade tree canopy. Even on the south side of your property, this may be enough to provide an ideal environment for shade-loving plants.
  • In a western-facing plot, install more delicate plants to the east of taller plants to shade them from the harsh afternoon sun.
  • Mow taller to shade the soil and prevent weeds like crabgrass from germinating.


As with the sun, you can’t make it rain more or less, but there are things you can do to manage whatever rainfall comes your way:

  • Build a hoop house to protect plants from too much rain and an increased risk of fungus in a rainy climate.
  • Use your covered porch or patio to hang plants that prefer a drier soil.
  • In dry or desert climates, try xeriscaping or use several rain barrels to collect water to use in the drier months.
  • Build a rain garden in front of your gutters to take advantage of the flowing water.


If you live next to a body of water, a tornado-prone area, or next to a mountain range, high winds may impact your landscape. Here are a few ways to manage windflow on your property:

  • Use a fence or hedge as a windbreak for wind-sensitive plants. Install plants in the ground, or create a vertical garden, using your fence as the support structure. If your fence blocks the sun, creating a shady area, install shade-loving plants in this sun-challenged microclimate.
  • Install native plants. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, for example, most native plants can take the wind, salt, and heat that hurricanes bring to coastal locations. Check out Lawn Love’s city-specific, hurricane-resistant landscaping articles, such as 10 Hurricane-Resistant Landscaping Ideas for Jacksonville, for more information on native plants that can take the wind.
  • If you garden on a balcony, add a windscreen, trellis, or use sturdy plants as windbreaks to protect more delicate plants from strong winds.


The soil microclimates, even in a small yard, can be different. For example, the area underneath a deciduous tree may have more organic matter due to the yearly leaf fall while other soil has a thinner layer of this rich compost. Here are a few tips on how to manage different soil microclimates in your yard:

  • Know your soils: If you dig around and find different colors or textures of soil in your lawn, take a soil sample for each of those areas. Your local Cooperative Extension office can send your samples to the state lab, sometimes for a small fee. Your soil test report will let you know your soil nutrient levels and pH, among other things.
  • Amend your soils: If your soil is too acidic (a low pH), or too alkaline (a high pH), use lime or sulfur, or another soil amendment, to raise or lower the pH, as needed.
  • The easiest way to change the soil in your yard is to start a container garden. Choose your potting mix and your plants, and move them to a location in the yard where the microclimate is just right.

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