Few things can have a greater impact for good or ill on a garden than the weather, or, put in another word, climate.
Planting and harvest dates, i.e. growing seasons, are quite different from one town to the next.
The average length of the growing season in our two counties here is about 14 ½ weeks with the longest at about 27 ½ and the shortest being no months frost-free but usually about 3 1/2 weeks from early July to almost the end of July. Whew!
One thing we all share though through much of the mountain west is a general scarcity of water.
Most of our garden plants and common trees require somewhere in the neighborhood of an inch of water per week during the growing season.
With most of my area receiving less than 12 inches of water per year, that gives us only two choices for our gardens and landscaping: significant irrigation or xeriscaping – a topic for another article.
One thing I have learned over my nearly 15 years as a weather spotter is that in general, people’s memories of both average weather and extreme weather tends to be less than accurate – to put it mildly.
For example, I’ve heard different people in Panguitch make claims for May, June, and July each as being the “normally” wettest month of the year.
According to NOAA (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/datatools/normals) the “normally” wettest month of the year in Panguitch is August. The second wettest month is July, followed by October, then September, then November, and so on. May comes in as #8 and June is clear down as #11, almost the driest month of the year!
A second thing that I have learned regarding extreme weather is that, for some reason I have yet to determine, the official records often seem to moderate rather than record what actually occurred. The only thing I can figure is that they must average readings from a large area, not representative of more localized microclimates in the area.
For both of these reasons, I now keep detailed daily records of my actual measurements of both temperature and precipitation (since they are critical to my gardening activities), as well as any extreme/significant weather events such as rainfall of an inch or more per hour, snow accumulations, high winds, hail, flooding, icing from freezing rain, and extraordinary temperature measurements.
For example, on Sept 10 last year, I recorded an extreme low temperature overnight of -10o Fahrenheit (yes, that’s 10 degrees below zero F.). The average low temperature for that date in my area is 39o F.
That was an extreme temperature event that resulted in frost killing of the above ground portions of most of the trees that I had planted that spring. Many of them, but not all, came back this year from the roots, but the tops are dead. My neighbors suffered similar losses. Yet, the official record shows our low that night as 39o F.
Speaking of microclimates, perhaps that term deserves a bit of defining.
A microclimate is an area that can range in size from a few square inches to several square miles where conditions such as temperature and humidity typically differ from those in the larger surrounding area. Some examples would be higher humidity combining with lower temperatures near lakes and rivers, colder temperatures at higher elevations, and warmer temperatures near paved roads and buildings. Hollows and narrow valleys also tend to have lower temperatures than surrounding areas, and frequently higher humidity as they are often protected somewhat from drying wind. Slope of the land as compared to sun angle can also have a significant effect, by several degrees, on the existence of microclimates and the potential for collecting water (if you have a rainwater collection permit).
Again, using my general area of Panguitch as an example, all of the roads and buildings in town contribute to generally warmer temperatures – especially at night – than I experience several miles out of town, at a higher elevation, and with a paucity of paved roads and brick buildings. The number and density of both buildings and trees in town provide significant protection from wind, and it’s attendant evaporation, that I do not have here, and, the trees as well as the number of people regularly watering lawns and gardens contribute to higher humidity in town than I have here.
All of these factors contribute to ease and success with a wide variety of gardening activities making it important to understand both the general climate as well as the microclimate potential and realities for your yard and garden. Understanding of this kind comes from accurate observations, and recording those observations so you can see the patterns over time.
Once again, please allow me to put in a “plug” for more people to sign up and help report on the ground precipitation measurements and conditions at https://cocorahs.org/, and yes, even reporting 0 is important! It only takes an extra minute or two of your day, especially if you are tracking this vital information for your own use and planning, and it provides a valuable service to a great many in the scientific community who are working to improve understanding of climate.