Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Mediterranean Climate and Gardening

Mediterranean Climate and Gardening

In Marin, we are blessed with a Mediterranean Climate. Understanding the Mediterranean Climate will help in choosing successful plants for your garden.

What is a Mediterranean Climate?

Mediterranean climate is a term derived from those countries bordering the Mediterranean Basin such as France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco. Present on continental west coasts in a band around both the northern and southern 40th latitudes, and associated with five large subtropical high-pressure cells of the oceans, the climate also occurs in northern coastal California, South Africa, and small portions of southern South America and Australia. The North Pacific High relates to our climate in California.

Characteristics of a Mediterranean Climate

Mediterranean climate is typically cool and wet in the winter, with infrequent freezes, and warm or hot and dry in the summer, with very little summer rain. There is a large collection of plant species that are well suited to this climate, wherever it occurs. The Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and shrub biome is closely associated with Mediterranean climate zones. Particularly distinctive of the climate are what are technically known as sclerophyll shrublands, and called chaparral in California.

Mediterranean Climate 2

Characteristics of Scierophyllous shrublands/chaparral

The term sclerophyllous refers to a type of vegetation that has hard leaves and short internodes between leaves. The foliage often tends to be evergreen, compact in leaf size, grayish or grayish-green in color, and frequently slightly furry. It is this plant structure that reflects light, reduces evapotranspiration and makes the Mediterranean plant types drought resistant. It also allows them to continue to photosynthesize all through the year. 

Choose the right plant

Few Mediterranean plants can tolerate prolonged or severe freezes, but many can handle the occasional frost. Most are relatively drought tolerant once established, but like well-drained soil. That means that that in places with clay or adobe soils, a lot of amending with organic material is necessary. What will grow well for you depends on your specific site and microclimate: soil type, amount of coastal fog, frequency of hot, dry wind, directional sun exposure, amount of slope. While most species are drought tolerant, that does not mean NO water when young or when we have a hot spell.

Habitat gardening

Habitat gardening and Mediterranean gardening are not mutually exclusive, either. Several plants on the Mediterranean list attract beneficial insects, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, such as: buddleja, lupine, penstemmon, yarrow, rosemary, lavender, citrus and the natives madrone, manzanita and ceanothus. 

Enjoy your Mediterranean-style garden, for its easy and natural-feeling integration into our local landscape, for the water-wise and wildlife friendly nature of its plant list, and for the beauty and harmony it can provide when intelligently and prudently designed.

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