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When it comes to gardening one of the most important things that you need to know and understand is what climate that you live in. Around the world there are many different classifications of climate and any given country could have between 1 and 7 or more different climate zones. What is the big deal? Well, most plants have a preferred climate and some plain just won’t grow outside of their preferred climate, or will struggle to take hold. As such, for you to have success in your garden you need to plant shrubs and trees which are suited to your climate, and to do this you need to know and understand your climate!
In Australia it is generally accepted that there are three to four different climates. Tropical, Sub-Tropical(sometimes combined with tropical as they will be by me), Temperate (see part 2) and Cold (see part 3). Now although the climate will differ throughout these zones depending on where you are in them, they generally hold quite well.
On the right you will see a very rough climate map of Australia. This is not exactly precise but it will give you a pretty good idea of what climate you are in, as long as you can work out where your town is located roughly! Obviously, if you are close to a boundary then you will probably experience slight variations between the two climates around the area.
Understanding the Tropical & Sub-Tropical Climate
Today I want to give a bit of an explanation as to what makes a tropical climate so you can hopefully better understand the tropics, if you live in this region. Now firstly, a disclaimer, I have not lived in the tropics myself so much of the information I am sharing about this particular region is from my own research and not through living and breathing the climate.
What makes it Tropical?
Very generally, tropical climates are found around the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer (Northern Tropic) and the Tropic of Capricorn (Southern Tropic). Within this zone there are variations of climate, with up to as many as 4 distinct zones, however this region can still be discussed as a whole and be generally correct.
Characteristics of a Tropical Climate in Australia
For this discussion I am focusing solely on the Tropical environments found in Australia. As we are further from the equator, the Australian tropics experience slightly different conditions to countries that exist on and directly surrounding the equator. Some characteristics include;
- Generally 2 seasons, wet and dry season
- Wet season generally corresponds with ‘summer’ in the rest of Australia
- Cooler, drier winter
- High humidity all year round, though more so in the wet season
As I have said before, what people in Far North Queensland experience and what people living in towns bordering the temperate zone experience will be slightly different, but this does generally correspond to any tropical area of Australia.
What is the effect on gardening?
For plants to survive in the tropics they have to be able to handle lots of moisture. Lots of moisture in the air and often lots of moisture in the soil. As such, many plants which require really good draining soils will struggle in tropical climates. There are also many fruits and vegetables, like banana’s and pineapples for example, which actually require a tropical environment to thrive. Try and grow a Banana tree in a temperate zone, you may get it to grow okay but they will rarely produce a bumper crop.
Another thing about tropical gardening is that a lot of native tropical plants are used to either forming a canopy, or existing under a canopy. What does this mean? In a forest there are many different layers of life and the word canopy refers to the upper most part, where the tops of the trees are. They form a ‘canopy’ over the forest, often either stopping or filtering the light from getting down below. Some tropical plants CREATE this canopy and some need to live under one. Take a shrub that needs a canopy and plant it in the blazing sun in a temperate zone and it will wilt. Many ferns are an example of this.
This is a really basic explanation of a tropical climate but I hope it will help you understand your tropical garden, if you find yourself living in a tropical zone OR if you are doing your best to recreate a tropical zone in a different climate. This is possible, just very difficult! Don’t miss part 2 (Temperate climate gardening) and part 3 (Cold climate gardening) in the series.
All my best articles have been collected into what I’m calling the ultimate gardening toolkit – make sure you take a look, there’s a heap of great gardening advice available. I’ve also published a series of gardening ebooks that you might be interested in. Good luck!