Plants do best when planted in conditions close to their ideal conditions. Each plant has a preference of ideal conditions. Knowing what the ideal conditions are for a plant, and finding plants with ideal conditions similar to the conditions of the garden is the key for success. The three key factors are light, moisture, and temperature, and each plant prefers a different combination of all three. Although other factors such as salt or pollution affect plants, plants in most cases only tolerate these conditions but prefer their absence. Therefore, this article will focus on the three major factors of light, moisture, and temperature.
Different plants require different levels and duration of light. Light can be direct or filtered. If an area receives direct light for over six hours, it is referred to as full sun. A site that receives less than two hours is referred to as full shade. Anything in between is part shade. If the shade is caused by trees rather than buildings, and some sun gets through during the day, the light is referred to as filtered. Filtered light is made naturally when trees such as white birch provide a light shade, and some shade cloths can also make filtered light. Some plants will not grow at all in certain light conditions, while others will only flower if the right light (or absence of light) conditions are met. The popular flowering mums in fall will not set flower buds until the nights are longer, but will grow well even when nights are too short to promote flowering. Therefore, it is essential to know the plant’s preference of light condition and duration and only grow if the light needs can be met at least partially.
Water is essential for plants, as evidenced by how few can grow in a desert. However, different plants have different preferences to how much water is available at a given time. Many factors will affect the moisture conditions. The soil itself may hold water too poorly or too well. There may be a source of water saturating the soil, such as a stream, high water table, or spring. Dry or windy conditions could cause plants to dry out faster. Look at plants that are doing well and assess their water preferences. Plants that have similar preferences will likely do well.
Temperature is the last of the three major environmental conditions that affects plant growth. Plants can withstand a wide range of temperatures, but only will grow in a specific temperature range. Some plants require a certain amount of warm days to bloom, while others need a certain number of days of dormancy each year to do well. Although it sounds complicated, the zone map does a good job of informing gardeners where a specific plant can grow. If it cannot withstand winter temperatures past a certain point, that becomes the plant’s cold limit, and if it won’t grow without a certain amount of cold, that is the plant’s warm limit. Annuals that don’t do well without enough hot days or growing days are said to not be fit for that zone. Therefore, by planting plants that grow within the temperature zone, gardeners can have better results. However, a plant that is only hardy to that particular zone is more likely to be lost during an especially cold winter.
Those are the three major environmental conditions that affect plants; light, moisture, and temperature. By knowing the preferences of a plant in each, gardeners can find the plants that will do best.