Is Your Yard Drier Than It Would Be Naturally?

If you are like one of my clients in Santa Ana, California, your yard may tend toward dryness.  This particular client actually only watered her landscape a few times a year prior to our working together.  I advised her that all plants need to be watered during their first one to three years in the ground so that they can establish their root systems.  Strong roots give plants the ability to draw moisture from deeper in the soil as well as pull the nutrients the plant needs.

As you might expect, the appearance of this homeowner’s landscape was on the extreme verge of desertification.  Even succulents were dessicated.  I knew that it would be a delicate conversation to convince her that plants need and deserve water.  Once I had brought her over to this understanding, I set to work creating layers of defense for her soil, existing trees, and the new plants I would be adding.

Permaculture is so multi-layered that I won’t try to go through all of the techniques, strategies, and methods I employed to help restore this Southern California landscape to its best functional capacity.  But as I worked with those layers, I also sought to create smaller pockets within the larger property where moisture would be retained naturally, plants would be sheltered from intense wind, and sun and shade were balanced.  This approach created microclimates within the site.

Microclimates – Pockets of Shelter

image: microclimateCreating microclimates is not difficult.  You just need to know a few things.  For my client in Santa Ana, she deals with high winds.  This dries out the soil at a fast rate.  So I was glad she decided to call me for help, as she wasn’t replacing the water wicked from her landscape.

For your own property, focus on one factor affecting your plants.  Plants are a good indicator of the health of your soil, because they will show stressors.  If they are wilty looking, have yellow leaves, or are growing over paths or sitting spaces, these are all things you can observe to infer where to begin your investigation.

There is a huge range of ecosystem types and climate conditions across America, so I will focus on remediating drier situations for this article.

Creating pockets within the larger landscape is kind of like establishing small seating nooks for human occupants.  Plants change their environment.  You can set up wind breaks with taller, more hardy species of plants to shelter smaller or more delicate plants in your garden or yard.  Consider selecting wind break plants with additional benefits to offer your other plants, local wildlife, and/or your soil.

Here is an example of how to create a microclimate at your house.  I went ahead and bought a Sea Kale plant, a perennial vegetable that doesn’t typically like the climate in Southern California where I currently live.  But I have this plant in an area of my patio that sits under a little pergola and also has a potted blueberry bush on its sunny edge.  Beans, honeysuckle, grape, and other flowering climbers shelter the spot under the pergola, and the big pot with the berry bush in it moderates the intense heat from the sun and also radiating back off of the concrete.

The Sea Kale plant is doing fairly well, even though it technically shouldn’t have survived here.  The reason is that I created a microclimate for it using other plants and structures around it.  These companion elements help the Sea Kale do well in a pocket with conditions it needs, even though that pocket sits within a larger space affected by the climate for my region.

Shelter For Everyone

Over my hammock, I grew a wildly productive vine.  By about the time in the early evening that I want to hang out outdoors but don’t feel like sitting, the hammock is shaded by this vine and makes a cool spot for reading, talking to a friend, or catching up on my favorite shows.  I also placed a row of potted plants on the sunny side of my hammock to create a wall for my little outdoor room.  The plants I have in these pots include raspberry, pomegranate, and hibiscus.  This gives the hammock a feeling of privacy.  Along the opposite wall of the outdoor room, I’ve placed a flexible trellis all the way up to the roof of my home.  At the base of this, I placed a large tub in which I planted watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber vines.

Creating this microclimate has been a real win-win.  Last year I spotted a baby Praying Mantis hanging out, just like me, as he waved from an underside of a leaf above my head.  A little twist tie or length of wire applied every so often to assist the melons in their climb is easy when I spend time in my hammock, because I naturally glance over at this beautiful vignette and so notice when somebody needs a hand.

Permaculture allows us to restore our local environments through doable steps, strategies, and techniques.  If you apply some of the simple methods I’ve shared here to expand livable outdoor space at my home with microclimates, you too can grow more food in less space, attract beneficial organisms to help you with maintenance tasks, and have more comfortable spaces to put a hammock.

If you would like to be able to work from a comprehensive plan for restoring your whole property, start here.