Matching Plants to Your Growing Conditions

Paying Attention to Water, Sunlight, and Winter Cold.

Pay attention to the micro-climates around your home when selecting plants.Pay attention to the micro-climates around your home when selecting plants.

When planning your water-wise gardening, you'll find it very helpful to become well acquainted with the growing conditions in your yard as well as your area. Even the smallest property will have what are termed "micro-climates" created by the house, outbuildings, slopes, low spots and existing shade trees. By being familiar with your property and its different growing conditions, you can make more informed, successful choice for the plants you use in the various parts of your landscape.


A microclimate is created when a building, large tree or the topography of your property changes the amount of sunlight, water and wind that the spot receives as compared to an open area with nothing but open sky above.

North facing walls: A bed along the north wall of a house or garage is always going to have cooler and shadier conditions with moister soil.

South and West Facing walls: A bed located on the south or west side of the house gets the full brunt of the sun creating hotter and drier growing conditions. In the winter, that bed will also be a little warmer than open areas away from the house, because of the retained heat from the building.

Low areas: low spots in your yard that collect water after a rain shower or big snowfall will need plants that like moist to boggy growing conditions.

Sloping or Hilly areas: If you property has a slope or hill, the soil on the slope or side of the hill will be drier than the soil at the bottom.

  • Place the xeric (waterwise) plants on the slope that need well drained conditions. i.e. Lavender (Lavandula)
  • Place moisture loving plants at the base of the slope (where water not absorbed by the soil uphill will collect to create moister growing conditions). i.e. Beebalm (Monarda)

By identifying these microclimates, you can look for the plants' preferred growing conditions and match them with where they are found on the site.

Winter Cold and USDA Zones

In the larger picture, it is very important to be sure your plant choices are sufficiently cold hardy for your area. Know your USDA zone designation which tells you the lowest expected winter temperature to expect. The smaller the zone number, the colder the winter lows. A USDA zone 4 plant is sufficiently cold hardy to grow in zones 4 (-30° F) and warmer. But a USDA zone 6 plant is not sufficiently cold hardy to grow in USDA zone 4.

The most cold tolerant USDA zone 3 plants: Aster (Aster), Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), Blue Flax (Linum), Veronica 'Royal Candles' (Veronica hybrid), Oriental Poppies (Papaver), Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia), Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), Yellow Yarrow (Achillea), 'Firewitch' Garden Pink (Dianthus)

The most cold tolerant USDA zone 3 & 4 bulbs: Daffodils, Crocus, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa), Bluebells (Hyacinthoides).

Text and Photos by David Salman.

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