Growing Plants in Mediterranean Climates
Mediterranean climates are named for the climate experienced by lands surrounding the Mediterranean sea. Though a Mediterranean climate also occurs in a few areas elsewhere. These climate zones are typically located along the western coastlines of continents, between roughly 30 and 45 degrees north and south of the equator. They are characterized by hot dry, or warm dry summers and mild, wet winters.
What is a Mediterranean climate?
The Mediterranean climate is characterized by mild temperatures. It belongs to the temperate climate zone. The term "dry subtropical climate variation" can also be used to describe it.
It is particularly dry in the summer and mild in the winter. Rainfall is concentrated from autumn to spring. In the driest month of the year, precipitation is less than 30 mm and about a third of the amount during the wettest month. The scarcity of rainfall in the summer, at least two consecutive months of drought, is a peculiarity of the Mediterranean climate. In the other climatic classifications, rainfall is concentrated in the warm season.
The Mediterranean climate is divided into the following subtypes: Climate Csa and Climate Csb.
The Mediterranean climate of the Csa subtype is characterized by a temperature above 72 °F during the hottest month of the year. The Mediterranean climate of the Csb subtype is characterized by a smaller temperature range between the hottest and coldest months of the year. In autumn and winter, the rains are very frequent, and the weather conditions are often difficult along the coasts.
The regions near the Mediterranean Sea benefit from the marine influence, which mitigates the cold air currents coming from the north. The proximity of the Mediterranean regions to the sea, limits the degree of temperature fluctuations throughout the year. Winter is not harsh, even though winter temperatures can sometimes drop below freezing. Summer is, on the other hand, particularly hot and dry. Spring is hot and rainy, and autumn is mild and humid.
The Mediterranean climate is not only present on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This climate type is present in other areas around the planet. Countries, areas, and islands with the characteristics of a Mediterranean climate are: Portugal, a large part of Spain (the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands), southern France (Corsica), a large part of Italy (Sardinia, Sicily), Malta, Greece (Crete), coastal areas of Croatia, Albania, Bulgaria and some other parts of the Balkan Peninsula, Cyprus, the southern and western coasts of Turkey, the Mediterranean coasts of the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Israel), the western coasts of North Africa, California, Central Chile, the southwestern coast of Australia, the southwestern coast of South Africa, the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and a few other parts of the world.
Benefits of growing within a Mediterranean climate
Depending on the region, the Mediterranean climate enjoys a nearly year-round growing season due to mild winters without frost or with just sporadic frost and a great number of sunny days.
A larger yield and a wider diversity of plant crops are made possible by such benevolent weather conditions.
In many places of the world, agricultural productivity normally decreases during the winter, but not in the Mediterranean region. Even in the winter, many plant species may thrive in this climate and provide valuable yields.
So, even though for most people, October and November are the end of the growing season, for people who live in a Mediterranean climate, this is actually the time to plant vegetables that will be ripe in the spring.
In addition to the abundance of native species, people who are engaged in fruit growing or agriculture in such climatic conditions are able to cultivate many other types of plants from distant regions successfully, as has been done for centuries.
For example, oranges, lemons, and pomegranates, which are grown in many countries with this type of climate, come from Asia. The same applies to kiwi and Eriobotrya japonica, which come from China.
A plant originating from the tropics of both Americas, the avocado is now very often grown in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Another great example is that the majority of the world's supply of almonds, or about 80%, is grown in the state of California.
If we omit China, which is currently in the first rank, Spain, Turkey, and Morocco are the three countries that produce the most tangerines globally. We all know that Italy and France, thanks to the benefits of their climate conditions, are among the countries with the biggest production of grape vines. If we look at the top five olive-producing nations worldwide, they are Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey, and Greece.
In regards to vegetables, after China and India, the United States produces the third-largest amount of tomatoes, with California leading all other US states in production. When it comes to the production of lettuce, the numbers are comparable.
Finally, let's not forget about herbs. Turkey, which is another country with a Mediterranean climate, exports more sage than any other country.
From these facts, we can observe that people who live in a Mediterranean climate can grow many of the plant species that are of great importance to humanity.
How to adapt to the Mediterranean climate?
We’ve discussed all the advantages of growing plants in a Mediterranean climate in the previous section, but it is inevitable to mention that there are also characteristics of the climate region that can be aggravating. As we mentioned, there are a significant number of days with extreme heat and insufficient rainfall during the summer.
Summer drought is a problem, but there are solutions that can lessen or eliminate it entirely. Undoubtedly, irrigation is an obvious solution to the issue of drought.
Research various irrigation systems that are suitable for your needs, then choose the one that will save the most water. This is frequently drip irrigation. Drip tape consumes 30–50% less water than overhead irrigation, according to research.
A rainwater harvesting system is another very advantageous way to irrigate. During the rainy season, we can collect huge amounts of water (depending on the size of the container) and use it for irrigation during water shortages. Even if we do not provide enough water for the entire dry season, we can at least reduce our dependency on utilizing additional water sources.
Keeping water in ditches or ponds next to your growing area can be extremely helpful during periods of drought.
Developing a watering schedule for your crops is another crucial tip for aiding water conservation. Make sure you are watering at the right intervals for your crops because many farmers have a tendency to overwater. For instance, onions and beans will benefit more from shorter, more frequent watering intervals due to their shallow root systems.
Use deep aquifer water instead of surface water wherever possible. The root system of plants normally takes a while to absorb water that has been applied to the soil's surface. Instead of fully utilizing the water, this technique increases the likelihood of evaporation and water loss.
Utilizing an Olla watering system is one method of preventing precious water from evaporating and increasing the effectiveness of irrigation.
Olla irrigation is a straightforward method that is quite affordable and simple to use. Water-filled ollas are buried in the ground. Dry soil draws water through the porous, unglazed pots, moistening the surrounding soil, which then irrigates the plants. Plants like tomatoes, melons, corn, beans, carrots, etc., are planted all around the olla, which is filled with water. Or, to help a new shrub or sapling survive its first year, an olla might be placed close by.
When compared to a traditional irrigation system, using Olla’s may save 60 to 70 percent of the water.
Another factor that has an impact on the soil's capacity to tolerate dry spells is the way in which it is farmed. By practicing conservation tillage when necessary, and leaving crop residue on the field, we can increase the soil's ability to retain moisture and lessen the likelihood of evaporation and erosion. Additionally, we can use this technique to promote water infiltration into the soil and decrease runoff.
Maintaining and creating riparian buffers, filter strips, grassed channels, and other types of conservation buffers around streams and other water sources will retain water and grow green vegetation even during a drought.
Using a subsoiler, ripper, or Keyline plough to till the soil is another effective method. It might improve the soil's ability to retain water and aid in the development of topsoil. Another good tip about plowing that I would like to share with you is that it is also important to reduce the amount and depth of tillage. Both the number of passes and the depth of tillage result in an increase in moisture loss.
More organic matter in the soil increases its ability to hold water. Therefore, increase the organic matter in your soil by adding compost, planting, and incorporating cover crops to use as green manure.
Crops that can tolerate dry conditions, retain water, and require less irrigation should be planted. Melons, tomatoes, squash, and beans do better in dry environments, while lettuce, brassicas, and maize require more moisture to grow. Take into account front-loading early-season crops. Some farmers are planting more early successions and waiting to see if there will be adequate water to grow fall and winter crops.
Mulching is not only good for weed control and improving the soil around plants, but also for saving water and reducing weeds.
Notable plant species that thrive in Mediterranean climate regions
Even though it is possible to grow a wide variety of exotic plant species in regions where the Mediterranean climate is predominant, I advise that you give preference to those plant species for whom the Mediterranean climate is a natural environment. In this manner, you can have more success in cultivation since it will require less effort and less money to carry out, there will be fewer losses, and the yields will be larger.
I will highlight the following species as being particularly noteworthy for this climate region.
Fruits: figs, apples, pomegranates, grapefruit, pears, peaches, lemons, oranges, olives, grapes, cherries, avocados, etc.
Fig is a heat-loving plant. In fact, it resists drought very well and really suffers a lot from cold temperatures (below 14 °F). Because they tolerate drought well, excess water can be deadly.
For this reason, I recommend planting in sandy soils with a neutral pH level of around 7. The best period for planting figs coincides with the end of autumn and continues until the end of winter, except on days when the ground is frozen.
During the first year, care should be taken to ensure sufficient irrigation, and mulching can be of great help.
Fig pruning is extremely important for its proper maintenance. The tree should be pruned at least once a year, in winter, but it is recommended to do it twice, once in summer. The high percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer can reduce productivity. Production begins 2-3 years after planting.
The optimal season to plant olives is in the spring, and fall planting should only be done where winter lows do not go below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid planting in the summer heat.
Don't plant in low areas where standing water collects, and place your plants in full light. Olives are incredibly drought-tolerant, but you should water them frequently throughout the growing season for healthy flowering and fruit development.
Any well-drained soil will do. Avoid planting in dense clay soils.
The production of fruit can actually suffer from extremely fertile soils because the olive is not a heavy feeder. If the soil is extremely deficient, moderate fertilizer is advised.
Mulching can be very beneficial for weed prevention and moisture conservation.
To maintain a pleasing shape and get rid of any dead, diseased, or dying branches, prune olive trees in the early spring.
Depending on how you intend to use them, you can either select olives when they are still green or when they are fully ripe in late fall. Young olive trees may not begin to develop fruit at their peak potential until they are 4-5 years old.
The optimal time to plant citrus trees outdoors is early spring, as they will have the entire summer to establish themselves before the weather turns cooler. Citrus trees should be planted in a warm, sunny, and wind-protected area since warmth promotes the maturation and sweetening of citrus fruit. Extra warmth is less crucial when sweetness isn't a factor. This applies to lemons and limes.
Citrus trees require soil that drains well. The roots may decay if they are left in excessive moisture. But they prefer a certain amount of moisture and dislike being absolutely dry. Check out the topsoil. When you water it again, it may be somewhat dry to slightly moist, but not wet.
Consider measuring the pH of your planting site and making the necessary amendments because citrus trees love slightly acidic soil. Therefore, a mulch made of crushed pinecones and pine needles is perfect for these citrus fruits. However, you need to be cautious when applying it because it shouldn't cover the ground close to the tree.
Citrus trees require routine pruning for the best fruit quality and productivity. By increasing the amount of light in the canopy, pruning can enhance fruit quality.
Numerous citrus kinds are harvested starting in mid to late-December (in the northern hemisphere). However, some cultivars ripen as early as November, and others by January or February.
Pomegranates are widespread in the subtropics, tropics, and sub temperate zones and are ideally suited to climates with hot, dry summers. It is significantly more cold-resistant than citrus.
Pomegranates should receive at least one inch of water every week for the best development and output. Water is necessary while it's dry out. Fruit may drop too soon if it isn't properly irrigated during dry seasons.
Trees should ideally be planted in the spring or fall. Pomegranates require lots of sunlight to grow and bear fruit. Find a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight. Pomegranate trees require good drainage, but they may grow in practically any soil, including poor or alkaline soil.
A mature pomegranate tree only requires pruning once a year, during its dormant period, just like a young tree. Focus on cutting back on light growths and crossing branches during pruning.
Pomegranates should be fertilized when they begin to leaf out. Use an organic fertilizer 2-3 times each year or cover the area generously with compost.
Pomegranate fruit should be thinned to 1 fruit per 6 inches or so. Fruit thinning encourages the growth of large fruit and guards against limb harm from heavy fruit.
The optimal conditions for grapevine growth are long, warm summers and wet winters. The ability of grapevines to blossom, set fruit, and ripen depends on warm temperatures during the growth season.
About 7 or 8 hours a day of full sun are ideal for grapevine growth. Reduced light causes fruit rot, increased powdery mildew, worse fruit quality, and decreased fruit yield.
Grapes can withstand droughts better than the majority of other crops. However, they are not unbeatable.Young grapes are more sensitive and need between half and one inch of water each
week, depending on rainfall, throughout the first two years of the growth season. In hot climates such as the Mediterranean type, grapes may require watering more than 3 or 4 times a month.
Grapevines are often planted bare-root during the dormant season. Numerous types of soil support the growth of grapevines. Although grapes grow well in deep, fertile loams with good drainage, they can do well in soils with clay, slate, gravel, shale, and sand. Grape vines are generally light feeders and require little fertilizer once they are established. A surplus of fertilizer may encourage the growth of wood and leaves rather than fruit.
Shredded bark is a good mulch to use around grape vines, since it is dense enough to block weeds and takes a long time to decompose. Straw can also be used for this purpose.
Beginning in late February and continuing through March, dormant pruning should be finished. Three to five nodes per spur should be removed from wood that is a year old.
The majority of types typically reach maturity between August and November in the northern hemisphere and between March and August in the southern hemisphere. Determining the ideal time to harvest grapes, nevertheless, is difficult.
Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, cauliflowers, celery, lettuce, melons, onions, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, etc.
You can plant your broccoli in the fall or early spring. However, the most common time is autumn to avoid the high temperatures of early summer. Broccoli needs temperatures of close to 60-68 °F and plenty of sunlight to form flower heads.
Prepare the soil to a depth of 12 to 20 inches before planting broccoli. When preparing the soil, lay down a 2-3 inch layer of high-quality garden compost or composted manure. Broccoli grows best on soil with a pH of 6.8–7.4, or slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. A fertilizer rich in nitrogen is ideal for this plant.
For broccoli to grow at its best, it has to be properly irrigated. Water plants every day for the first week to develop the yield. To maintain the health of the plants, continue to water the broccoli every four to five days as necessary.
I advise harvesting broccoli early in the day, just before the head flowers, when the head buds are tight and solid. Take off the plant's heads, leaving at least 6 inches of stalk.
Tomatoes are warm-weather plants that require a lot of sunlight to thrive and grow best at temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. March and April are ideal months to plant seeds.
The type of soil used to grow tomatoes doesn't really matter to them. Like the majority of garden vegetables, they thrive in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH range of 5.8 to 7.0.
Since tomatoes are vulnerable to drought stress, they need enough water to grow. There will be more disease, fewer high-quality fruits, and reduced tomato yields as a result of drought.
When you plant tomatoes in the garden, fertilize them first. Then you can start fertilizing again after waiting until they begin to bear fruit. Every one to two weeks, sprinkle a mild fertilizer when the tomato plants begin to bear fruit.
In general, 60 to 85 days after outdoor seedling implantation, tomatoes are ready for harvest. The climate in your area and the tomato variety you are cultivating, however, can alter the timing.
Lettuce does better in the cool season, and the ideal daily temperature for this plant is 73°F. Therefore, lettuce seedlings can be grown all winter long in climates like the Mediterranean, giving rise to a staggered harvest.
Loose, nutrient-rich soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 are ideal for lettuce growth. Depending on the variety, soil type, and season, lettuce has different nitrogen needs.
The roots of lettuce are shallow, so plants need to be watered frequently. The soil should be checked to see if it is dry down to 1 inch deep at least twice each week, and then watered.
Lettuce leaves should be harvested when they reach a length of about 3 to 6 inches, depending on the variety. Morning is the time when lettuce leaves are at their best, so it's the right time to harvest. Cut the outer lettuce leaves at a height of about an inch, just above the crown. This protects the lettuce's crown, enabling future growth.
In areas with a Mediterranean climate, carrots can be grown almost all year round, and in some cases, all year round. Early spring is the ideal time to plant because the cold weather risk has passed. Besides, it is early enough for the cycle to be finished before the summer heat, which would be harmful to this plant.
Carrots prefer loose soil with good drainage and a balance of clay and sand. The pH of the soil must be neutral or slightly acidic for it to thrive.
Young carrots require around one inch of water every week; as the roots get older, they require up to two inches. Check if the soil is sufficiently moist or if it needs to be watered by carefully inserting your finger about an inch deep into the dirt close to the plants.
Natural fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphate is essential for growing carrots, and excess nitrogen will result in split and forked roots. Carrots will probably benefit from a layer of mulch around the tops to keep the roots cool if the temperature gets too high.
Depending on the variety, carrots are often available for harvest 60 to 80 days after the seeds are sown. The carrots' root tips will likely be an inch or less in diameter and begin to emerge from the ground, but this is not always the case.
The temperature requirements for eggplant are very strict. This plant needs a temperature range of 70 °F to 85 °F and lots of sunlight, among other things, to grow. Frost or temperatures over 95°F can delay blossoming and seriously harm plants.
The best soil for growing eggplant is a sandy loam with a moderate amount of organic content. One week prior to planting, spread 1 inch of well-rotted manure and compost over the planting bed to increase soil fertility. Eggplants grow best in soil that is not overly high in nitrogen. A pH of 5.8 to 6.8 is preferred.
April and May are the ideal months to sow seeds directly in the ground. However, planting can begin as early as March in warmer climates, such as the climate of southern Italy.
The plant requires 1 inch of water per week, preferably once a week rather than daily watering. Daily watering might cause berry or leaf rot as well as the thinning of eggplant roots.
The plant needs adequate fertilization with formulas with a high potassium content. This can speed up the ripening of the berries and will have a positive effect on their juiciness.
Eggplants are harvested 100 to 120 days after sowing. A ripe berry can be recognized by its firmness, but it should not be hard. Do not leave the harvest for a long time.
Herbs: basil, oregano, chives, rosemary, lavender, thyme, parsley, mint, sage, santolina, fennel, cilantro
This herb loves warm, sunny days. While temperatures close to 50°F won't kill your basil, the cold can cause the leaves to blacken. Anything below 45°F is a danger zone.
Basil prefers soil with a pH of 6 to 7 that is rich, moist, yet well-drained. By adding a lot of organic nutrients like compost, blood meal, or cottonseed meal, the soil can be improved.
When there hasn't been a frost for two weeks, basil can be planted outside in the Mediterranean climate. This fragrant plant is ideal for containers, raised garden beds, and in-ground gardens. Plant basil at regular intervals of 12 to 18 inches.
It needs about an inch of water a week and likes to be kept moist. To maintain moist soil and deep-growing roots, water deeply at least once every week.
Picking basil leaves is advised when the plant is 6 to 8 inches tall. A significant increase in leafing out will start as the temperature approaches 80°F. Morning is the best time to collect the leaves because they are the juiciest at that time.
Oregano is one of the plants that thrive in a well-sunned position and in soil that is not of high quality. The soil should be well drained. It prefers a temperature range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 50 to 60 degrees at night.
Once the risk of frost has passed, planting can start. The soil temperature should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Since oregano is a perennial, you can use it for 5-7 years after planting.
The plant can withstand a moderate drought and only needs approximately one inch of water per week. In between waterings, let the soil dry out. Root rot and other issues might result from excessive irrigation.
The harvest can begin once the oregano stems are at least four inches tall. When they reach a height of approximately eight inches, prune them back to about two-thirds of the original plant. If you've chopped the oregano too much, don't worry—regular trimming promotes new growth.
Sage is a hardy perennial that requires little maintenance and thrives in full sunlight and sandy, well-drained soil. If grown on damp ground, it will rot. Because of this danger, and because of its resistance to drought, sage should be watered only when the soil is dry.
The best time to sow sage is at the beginning of spring so that the newly formed seedling can be transplanted in May. However, the best and easiest way to grow sage is from a small plant or cutting.
After flowering, pruning plants promote vigorous new growth while preserving an attractive shape.
The leaves of sage, which are typically evergreen, can be harvested at any time of year, although summertime fresh growth provides the finest flavor.
How to mitigate the risk of fire during droughts
In this part, we continue to talk about the disadvantages that areas with a Mediterranean climate are prone to. A large number of sunny days without rain, besides bringing difficulties to farmers for their production, can cause much greater problems and dangers to both the habitats of animals and plants as well as to humans.
And we all remember such devastating fires from the recent past, and they affected California, Australia, Spain, Greece, South Africa, etc. Again, we see that these are countries with a Mediterranean climate. Climate change is clearly having a major impact on the frequency, intensity, and destructiveness of fires, and worst of all, that trend is on the rise. The situation cannot be improved by itself, and it is high time that man does something to reduce global warming.
But an individual engaged in agriculture cannot resist solving such a large-scale problem. I will present to you some tips that, if followed, can help farmers deal with fire in the best possible way and mitigate its consequences.
- Recognize the weather patterns that pose a significant fire risk. These are the following: temperature, wind direction and speed, and humidity.
- To provide real-time fire information, use technologies like satellite-based fire information tools.
- Invest in your own, dependable firefighting tools. This expressly alludes to the water pump.
- Mechanization should be equipped with functional fire extinguishers, and everyone should be trained in their use. One should ideally be in the cab, and one should be reachable from the ground.
- Regularly remove extra oil, crop residue, dust, debris, and dirt from all heat sources.
- Use low-clearance vehicles with caution when driving across fields since the exhaust pipes and catalytic converters can burn stubble or dry grass. Park at field edges or in locations where dried crop residue won't catch fire.
- Use agricultural equipment sparingly on days when there is a significant fire risk. - When utilizing welding, cutting, and grinding equipment, exercise extra caution. - Get trained in firefighting techniques and safety rules for smoking, burning trash, etc.
Countries dominated by the Mediterranean climate have the advantage of being able to grow a very wide range of agricultural crops thanks to the long growing season, mild winters, and large number of sunny days that characterize this type of climate. Mild winters enable the production of many types of fruits and vegetables during that period, which is unimaginable in colder parts of the world.
For centuries, many agricultural crops from faraway places around the world have been grown in these regions because the climatic conditions are favorable for their survival and thriving. As a result, huge production and profit are realized from those domesticated fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
The Mediterranean climate makes it possible to grow almost all of the plant foods that are crucial to human survival.
Warm weather during most of the year, as a feature that enables all the benefits I have just mentioned, on the other hand, simultaneously causes problems for farmers during the hottest period of the year. Dry and hot summers force farmers to invest more effort and resources in irrigation than their counterparts from colder climate zones.
In the last segment, I also talked about fires, which are an even bigger potential problem due to droughts.
However, when all the facts are considered, farming is profitable in countries like Spain, California, Turkey, Greece, and other countries because there are solutions to the mentioned problems, and the ultimate result will be a sizable profit despite the investment, effort, and worry.
I hope that the plant crops that I mentioned in the article can be a good idea and the strategies concerning the problems with drought and fires can be an encouragement and help to those who practice or plan to practice agriculture in the conditions of the Mediterranean climate.