- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
Coordinators Corner: Getting to know your Sunset climate zone and growing space!
When we do presentations on growing fruit trees and vegetables and herbs, one of the first things we cover is how important it is to know your soil conditions and climate. Soil and climate are the also two things we ask gardeners about who contact us as Master Gardeners. These two things will help us determine what might be wrong with your tomatoes, your apple tree, or your lavender plants. Spending time to get to know your soil and climate will really help you understand where to place different plants, and also help you trouble shoot issues.
For more information on soils, register for our free Zoom class on April 26th ‘Getting to Know your Soils” http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/?calitem=502732&g=61974
UCANR Soil resources: https://ucanr.edu/sites/soils/Soils_for_Homes_-_Gardens/
Knowing your soil will help you determine how often and how long to water, how well your plants will grow in the location you put them in and also what types of plants will do best in your yard. Even if you are planting in pots, understanding the soil you use will help you keep your plants healthy and happy! For a quick rule of thumb about “how often should you water,” no matter what type of soil you have check the soil water retention before you add water. Dig down a little below the root zone and make sure it's as wet or dry as you think it is to avoid overwatering, a common cause of plant death in established plants (underwatering is a common cause of death for newly planted plants, that haven't established themselves yet).
Back to our climates! In California we encourage gardeners to use “Sunset” climate zones rather than “USDA” climate zones since Sunset zones focus on heat and other important factors rather than just how cold a given climate is. If you live in the mountains where you get really cold weather, either work well and it's useful to know the estimated “last frost date.” For gardeners living in the deserts and valleys the Sunset zones better reflect the weather conditions we have here in California and the different factors that influence proper selection and care.
Why does knowing your climate zones matter? Weather patterns in your area are a determiner of what species of edibles and ornamentals are suitable and can save you time and money having to start over if the wrong species are selected.
San Bernardino County alone covers at least 5 Sunset zones:
7: Lake Arrowhead
18: Chino, Ontario, Redlands
19: Upland, Montclair
These zones can be found at: https://www.sunsetwesterngardencollection.com/climate-zones/
What do these zones tell you about the area you are growing in? These zones look at factors like time of the year of rainfall, summer and winter temperatures, and also factor in things like the temperature of continental air flow. Climate zones also help you determine when you can start planting your summer edible garden and what is the best month to plant things like native plants. One other factor you should know about if you are growing fruit trees is how many “chill hours” you get in your area. While Sunset zones help you determine your growing climate, chill hours are not reflected in the zone. The number of hours you get will help you determine what types of fruit trees will do well in your area. For “chill hour” calculators check out this website: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/Weather_Services/Chill_Calculators/
Beyond knowing your Sunset zone and chill hours in your area, there is still more to know about your growing space to really maximize your gardening experience. It is good to spend some time to get to know your microclimates. Microclimates in your yard are affected by some of the following, just to name a few: sun exposure (is your garden or space getting morning sun or afternoon sun?); wind movement through your property; radiating heat from buildings, roads/driveways and types of material used for ground cover; low spots in your yard that might allow cold to settle, and more. In my yard I have fuchsias growing in one area and a few dozen feet away I have cactus growing. By taking advantage of slightly different microclimates I am able to grow a more varied selection of plants in a small space. You do not need a big yard to have microclimates! Your porch will have different microclimates depending on which side of the porch your plants are on, getting the morning or the afternoon sun, or none at all if it's facing north for example. Your house even has different microclimates, with different sun exposure at different times of day, and different airflow depending on where your heating and cooling vents are located.
Lastly try to “hydrozone” your plants by placing your plants in groupings according to their water needs for accurate irrigation and water savings. Hydrozoning for plants in the ground can make a huge difference in the survival and success of the plants so that some don't end up overwatered and some underwatered (examples: fruit trees in a lawn, or roses with native plants). This technique also helps with potted plants as well, since groups of pots with similar water needs can be on a similar watering schedule. One note about hydrozoning: newly planted plants will need more frequent watering than their established plant buddies in a hydrozoned area. If you have a native garden with established buckwheat, and you plant a new buckwheat, remember that the newly planted buckwheat will need more water to get established then the other plants that may have been there for a few years. Supplement water applied through your irrigation system with regular waterings with a hose or watering can the first season. While that new buckwheat is properly hydrozoned, it will just have different water needs for its first season.
These many microclimates and hyrdozones can seem overwhelming, but once you get to know them you can use them to your advantage by finding “just the right spot” for your plants! When I have visited amazing home, or public botanic gardens, one of the things that makes them amazing is that they utilize microclimates to find spots around their growing space that will be well suited for their plant selections. With a little research on the needs/likes of your desired plants, and a little time getting to know your yard you can find the perfect match for the things you want to grow…..and the Master Gardeners are always here for you to answer your plant questions, and through questions we can ask, help you find the right plants for your yard! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our online “Ask a Master Gardener' times!