Monday, January 3, 2011

Micro Climates

The past ten days have delivered a cold spell here in Greeley which have allowed me to conduct a study of my yard in the infra-red spectrum.  I have been venturing out with a laser point infrared thermometer and measuring the temperatures of key areas in my landscape during the daily light cycle during the shortest days of the season in order to find out exactly what climates are present.  I recorded the temperatures on south facing walls, near the foundation, and on the north side of the property in the shade in order to start understanding my property in greater detail.

This is what I learned:

1.  I have several micro-climates that will maintain a soil temperature of 25 degrees F even during -2 F night temps.

2.  There are some places around my foundation which supported live red onions all of the way until the 27th of December.  This was possible despite 20 degree temperatures and severe winds.

3.  The thermal mass from a south facing wall in my back yard is sufficient to warm nearby soil to melt snow even into the evening during sustained cold temperatures below 20 F.

So, what do I plan to do with this knowledge?  I want to run an experiment with a Fig tree in the warmest micro-climate.  I believe that it might take as much as three years to get to the point where it will yield however, I am patient and the addition of figs to my edible landscape will be fantastic!!

You could do a similar experiment with an infrared thermometer. There is still time in the dark winter season to find the temperature differentials of the micro-climates in your outdoor space.  You might find miniature zones as much as two gradients higher lurking somewhere that could be used to plant that exotic that no-one knew was possible.


  1. I love thinking about the micro-climates around our yard. I have thought about building low to mid-high garden walls with shrubs around them to create micro-climates around the gardens. Thick earth or stone walls will collect and store a lot of thermal energy, and if the wind can be blocked and diffused, I may be able to create pockets that are one or so zone warmer.

    We have a Chicago Hardy variety of fig that I was tempted to leave out all winter on the south side of our shed. I know there is a microclimate there, but was pretty sure the top would not survive. Instead, I planted the young tree in a 3 gallon pot, and sunk that into the ground. At the end of the season, when the leaves fell off, I pulled the whole pot out, severing the roots that came out the bottom. I pruned the roots back, and put the potted tree in the basement until mid-late spring.

  2. I am glad to see someone is taking an interest in this group again that is close to where we live...After a stint in a condo, we are back in a house with a real yard...just not ready for the "condo police" to rule...
    That fig tree sounds very prescious...I would hate to risk the elements on it...could you just get another one as a back up plan to experiment with?
    Heather & Philip

  3. Thank you for this post; very interesting. Where does a person buy an infrared thermometer?

    I have wondered about doing exactly what you describe: planting a fig tree in a little spot on the west side of the house where it would get some warmth from the house (brick) and strong afternoon sun. I'm in zone 7 in Maryland, in an urban-ish suburban neighborhood, and have not been sure if this would work.

  4. Interesting post.
    When we had our super blizzard on New Year's 2007 meteorologists talked about the micro climate the massive snowfall created. Chilling the air and preventing snow melt until March.
    But I did not think of micro climates within the incremental areas of a yard.
    I guess we can watch snow melt patterns in our yards as a clue for where the more hospitable planting areas are.
    Good luck with the fig tree experiment. If it works there it might work here, 100 miles farther south and at a lower elevation, though cold air tends to fall into the lower Arkansas Valley and makes it colder than the Springs at times.

  5. @Chessie, zone 7 is fine for growing hardy varieties of fig, like the Chicago Hardy. It may not grow like you would expect if you have seen figs in So. CA, but will still produce well. Hardy figs grown in colder climates (I am in zone 5a) often only have a surviving crown, and send up new multiple stalks each spring.

  6. I love this blog! I'm new here and am very excited about being here!

  7. @chessi, Home depot sells a Ryobi for under $30 and Harbor freight has one simillar in price they can be used for cooking as well. I have found that they are awesome when grilling and for checking oven temps.

    @tech.samaritan I am getting a "Silver City Survivor" from a man in Albaquerque nicknamed 'The Fig Man' he has cuttings from Silver City NM 6000 ft. and a low zone 6. Here is his web address. You can call him he loves talking about figs.