The text below is copyrighted by Ventura Life & Style.


By Jade H. Smith

Your most important gardening tool 
is familiarity with your local microclimate.


           A microclimate is the unique type of weather in a small-scale area (garden, park, or valley).  The various characteristics include temperature, rainfall, wind or humidity.  It is the mixture of multiple microclimates that make up the climate for a town or city.

For coastal areas, such as Oxnard, Ventura, or Santa Barbara, gardeners need to understand beach microclimates that can vary in different parts of the same city depending on the elevation and distance from the ocean.  When the warm onshore air comes in contact with the cold land surfaces, condensation of the warm vapor occurs, creating mist or fog.  Plants, such as single or double petal flowers would be a better choice than tight thick petal flowers that tend to rot because of the moisture before they can bloom.  Coastal microclimates have land and sea breezes that are cool during the summer and are mild during the winter.  Select plants that manage well with cool summer weather or choose early varieties of warm season crops, such as Early Girl tomatoes.  Use mulch with care. An organic mulch can cool the soil as much as 10 degrees.  If you are trying to get warm season plants such as tomatoes or cucumbers started in spring, mulch in May. 

  Microclimate questions you can ask yourself or your local garden center:

  • What is your area’s average rainfall?
  • What are the high and low temperatures?
  • What are the characteristics of the seasons (cool summer, warm early fall)
  • What are the wind factors; does your microclimate experience dry Santa Ana winds, or cool off shore coastal breezes?

Another way of understanding what may grow well in your area is simply walking around your neighborhood.  See what works well for your neighbors and talk to them; not only will you gain knowledge, but you may make a new friend!  Remember, microclimates can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.

      If you live close to the ocean, remember that soil and spray are saltier than in inland neighborhoods.  Winds can carry salt spray miles inland.  Low or little rainfall can contribute to high concentration of salt in the soil.  Soils in Ventura County tend to have an acceptable pH.  However, if the pH is incorrect, it tends to be alkaline.  Ask your local garden center for soil amendment and plants that are more tolerant of salt concentration.  To amend thin topsoil, or soil that is sandy or heavy clay, add organic matter.  Adding soil conditioners, peat moss, compost, leaves, or grass trimmings can improve the condition of your soil while improving water retention capabilities. An added bonus for our county’s drought areas.

--Jade H. Smith

photo by Ray Smith

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