We didn’t call it “the microclimate bed” when we planted it, because we just wanted some pretty flowers. Lately, though, we’ve begun realizing its unique advantage.
It’s a 36 x 8-foot bed on the south-facing wall of the pole barn, in full sun. In the heat of the day, particularly this time of the year when the sun is low in the sky, the sun heats the insulated metal wall of the pole barn. Then at night, that warm wall radiates heat back to the plants in the microclimate bed, creating an extra 1-3 degrees of frost tolerance. We knew it worked, because we knew how our knockout roses kept their leaves and blooms long past the time those of our friends near us went dormant.
It took just the right frost event, though, to see the effect in living color, literally. You may want to click on the photo to see a higher resolution version of it. The red blooms are the knockout roses. We think they’re pretty, but they’re irrelevant for this shot, so ignore them. Look instead at the lantana growing all around them, both between them closer to the red wall of the barn and farther from it, to your left as you view the photo.
Lantana is a heat-loving tropical plant that, in central Alabama, is “an annual that sometimes behaves like a perennial.” Here in our microclimate bed, it’s clearly a perennial. We love it because it attracts and nurtures butterflies and wild bees from the first of May right on through October. In fact, if you study the high-res version closely, you’ll see several yellow blooms on the plants close to the barn wall, in a photo taken today, November 30.
The line you can see between the frost damage and the still-healthy growth runs about 50 inches from the pole barn wall. The frost that caused the damage was a temperature of 29 degrees that lasted for about four hours. For what it’s worth, as you can probably see in the high-res photo, there’s still some healthy living tissues in amongst the frost-damaged foliage, so the destruction is not complete.
So what do we do with this treasure? Therein lies a dialogue ‘twixt the Farmers Borden. Amanda, having labored long and lovingly to plant, weed, and encourage those lovely lantana and knockout roses, is happy as she can be with the microclimate bed just the way it is. I’m pressing for us to use it for something more adventurous, like, say, a meyer lemon or a satsuma orange. Knowing the history of our dialogues, my guess is that I will lose and she will win. We shall keep you posted.