Get started with cool microclimates

How to Get Started with Cool Microclimates

Are you making the most of cool microclimates? While often seen as a negative, you can actually use cool microclimates to your advantage to increase harvests on your property. In a warming world, having cool areas on your property provides a relief from the heat and can help you extend harvests of cool-weather plants well into the summer heat. So let’s dive into what cool microclimates are and how to use them.


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Most of the time when people talk about microclimates, they’re talking about creating warm microclimates. But on my property, I find that I’m often focused on creating relatively cool microclimates far more than warm microclimates.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about creating frost pockets.

Instead I’m talking about moderating summer droughts and the extreme heat so many of us are facing in the summer these days due to climate change.

Cool microclimates are a great thing in the middle of the drought or extreme heat. These relatively cool areas will lower the stress your plants are dealing with and improve their harvests.

These areas will also need less water.

But cool microclimates may have a shorter growing season overall, depending on how you do it. Though you can create a cool microclimate in the summer that actually becomes a warm microclimate in the winter!

To learn more about microclimates, make sure to check out the other post in this series.

Microclimates Series

Get started with microclimates on your property.

And before you scroll on down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet all about microclimates—warm and cool! This cheat-sheet will help you get started with both types of microclimates.

Simple Cool Microclimates – Mulching, Woody Debris, Plant Cover, and Late Afternoon Shade

Simple cool microclimates

Mulching prevents the sun from directly hitting the soil, which reduces evaporation and also cools the soil. This is my go-to cool microclimate, and it’s my main way of reducing the impact of summer droughts on my property.

Mulching is a fantastic method to improve your garden. It builds soil over time, supports beneficial soil life, and reduces how much water your garden needs. Plus, it minimizes weeds!

But it also cools your soil. Though unlike frost pockets, the air temperature will remain relatively unchanged.

Adding woody debris to shade the soil next to your plants works in a similar way.

Both of these methods results in cool microclimates, but in such a way that they enhance rather than reduce plant growth. This is because they reduce the stress caused by dry, hot soil.

Keeping the soil cool and moist with these methods will also promote soil life, which will further benefit your plants.

Wild Tip:

The exception to this is when you’re sowing seeds. Cool soil can delay seed germination. One way around this is to pull the mulch back from the seeding area several days before you sow your seeds. This will let the soil warm up a bit before you sow your seeds.

Once your plants are up and growing, you can move the mulch back around them. You can wait to place woody debris near your plants until they have grown taller than the wood you’re using.

Growing plant cover is another way to achieve a similar affect, except that the soil and the air will be cooler.

Just think about how nice it can be to sit under a tree on a hot summer day.

This can be used to your advantage to create relatively cool microclimates that are great for growing cool-loving crops and leafy greens in general.

While lettuce and other leafy greens may grow more slowly under the canopy of larger plants, they will also be much slower to bolt. This can extend your season for these vegetables well into the summer.

Finally, you can also plant hedgerows, food forests, or just a row of taller plants along the western side of your vegetable garden to provide late-afternoon shade.

As long as your garden gets sun from the morning through the middle of the afternoon, even warm-loving crops will still be happy.

While technically this results in a relatively cool microclimate, it’s really not that cold. All you’re doing is minimizing the extreme heat that can happen in the late afternoon.

This can go a long way towards reducing how much watering your plants need and lessening their heat-related stress.

Summary - Simple Cool Microclimates:

Use mulch and woody debris (logs) to lower the soil temperature without reducing air temperature. This can reduce heat and water-related stress and promote the growth of your plants. Just be careful to move the mulch prior to sowing seeds so the soil can warm up. Move the mulch back once the plants start growing.

Plants can shade the ground, creating relatively cool microclimates below them. Growing plants under taller plants can extend the harvest of some crops that don’t like the summer heat.

Finally, use hedgerows, food forests, and tall plants in general to block the late-afternoon sun and create relatively cool microclimates. Plants planted in these sheltered areas will have less heat-related stress and produce more harvests for your family and community.

Cool microclimate in low area

This willow area is the lowest point on my land. During the summer, when I walk from my house down to this area, I can feel the air getting cooler. It almost feels like walking into an air-conditioned building after being out in the heat. All the cold air from the surrounding area collects here.

I know I said I wasn’t talking about creating frost traps. But it’s a good idea to understand these types of cool microclimates and how to use them to your advantage.

The biggest reason is that, often, the creation of a frost trap can also create a relatively warm microclimate at the same time.

You can plant a hedgerow or food forest that traps or deflects cold air, resulting in a sheltered area on the other side of it that is actually a warm microclimate.

But that cold air has to go somewhere. The result is a cooler area somewhere else on your land.

Wild Tip:

If you have ponds or other water features on your property, you might be able to direct the cold air to those features. The water will help warm the cold air and reduce the impact of these cool microclimates.

These cool microclimates can be a good thing, though.

You could put a vegetable garden in this area and actually increase your harvests of certain cool loving vegetables.

Spinach, snap peas, and lettuce could also be grown longer into the summer in a garden located in a cool microclimate compared to a garden outside of it in the same general area.

But you won’t get to plant as early, and your overall growing season will be shorter.

Though if you combine this cool microclimate garden with a regular garden, and potentially a warm microclimate garden, the overall affect is a much longer growing time than any one garden could provide on its own.

You could start your cool-loving crops in the warm microclimate garden several weeks or even a month early. Then plant the same crops in your regular garden at their normal time and finally plant those crops in the cool microclimate garden several weeks late.

The result will be an early harvest, a regular harvest, and a late harvest—that means much more overall harvests for your cool-loving vegetables!

Summary - Trapping Cold Air:

While often seen as a bad thing, frost pockets can be used to extend the harvests of cool loving vegetables like spinach into the summer when they would normally bolt.

Combine a garden in these cool microclimates with a regular garden, and even a warm microclimate garden, to get harvests over a longer time period than otherwise possible.

A cool microclimate that is getting warm

Some features, like ponds, create both cool microclimates and warm microclimates, depending on the time of year. In the summer, a body of water cools the surrounding land. But in the winter, it warms the land around it instead.

If used properly, cool microclimates can actually extend your growing season by reducing heat-related stress and countering the impact of droughts.

This is why I find that I’m focused on creating relatively cool microclimates on my property more often than warm microclimates.

But you can actually create cool microclimates for the summer months that also work as warm microclimates in the winter.

Ponds and other bodies of water are a classic example of this. They warm the air in the winter and cool it in the summer.

But mulch works in a similar way.

Mulch will cool the soil in the summer. But it can prevent the soil from freezing in the winter, protecting the roots of your plants along with soil life, such as earthworms!

Trees and other tall plants also create sheltered areas that, while cooler in the summer, can actually be warmer in the winter because the cold air is deflected away.

All these methods work to moderate the extremes of heat in the summer and cold in the winter. This is a great thing in a world facing climate chaos.

So while warm microclimates are often what people focus on creating, cool microclimates are a very important part of cultivating abundance for people, plants and animals.

And using both together will get you the best results.

Have you used cool microclimates to moderate the summer heat? Leave a comment sharing how it worked.

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.