Magazine article Sunset

How to Be Your Own Weatherman

Magazine article Sunset

How to Be Your Own Weatherman

Article excerpt

How to be your own weatherman

Mercurial, given to extremes, and powerful enough to control your garden's fate, the weather deserves as much attention as you can give it. After all, even if you do everything else right--till, fertilize, water --much of your garden's success ultimately depends on the weather.

The more you know, the more you'll understand how the weather affects your plants. To keep track, you'll need a few instruments and a way to record your readings.

Instruments: some (like a birdbath) you probably have, some you don't

Some gardeners rely on natural clues to chart the weather: for example, judging how cold it is by checking the tightness of the curl on rhododendron leaves.

But for most of us, a more accurate way to monitor weather is with the instruments described here. You can buy them separately; try a hardware or nautical supply store, nursery, or scientific supply outlet. For a weather instrument source list, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Weather Watch, Sunset Magazine, 600 Logan Building, Seattle 98101.

Or you can install a rooftop weather station (several instruments in one; see pictures on page 237). It's a pricy but convenient alternative, especially when bad weather makes gauge-reading in your garden an endurance test. Units range from $350 to $1,500.

The instruments listed here are ranked in descending order of importance:

Minimum-maximum thermometer. Records the lowest and highest temperatures in a 24-hour period. Mount it out of the sun but not on a building wall or under an overhang (both may give false readings).

To find your garden's microclimates, use two such thermometers. In the evening, put each in a different location; compare the low readings in the morning. Note the chilliest locales and avoid them for frost-tender plants. Cost: $15 to $30.

Rain gauge. This measures how much water your garden gets--even from sprinklers. Situate your gauge out in the open, since large objects (buildings, trees) can block rain and give a false reading. Cost: $3 to $50.

Birdbath. Not just for bird-watchers, it can serve as a quick gauge for cold temperatures and humidity. Put yours in plain view; fill when necessary. In winter, check water for a skin of ice every morning. In summer, pay attention to how fast the water evaporates. When it dries up fast, water plants more. Cost: $32 and up.

Barometer. Measures atmospheric pressure --a good clue to short-term weather patterns. A rising barometer indicates a high-pressure cell (usually clear weather); a falling barometer marks a low-pressure system (clouds and precipitation likely). …

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