Climate Change in the Garden: Weather vs. Climate

Gardening is a science that many try to perfect and master in their lifetime. Individuals learn about mathematics, entomology, plant pathology, and more just by getting their hands dirty. Many even learn to track the season’s weather in their journals. Some document day to day while others only focus on significant events like thunderstorms, frost dates, hail, etc. Since the climate is changing that information will soon become useful to the home gardener to see weather patterns. However, what’s the difference between weather and climate?


Weather is considered “short-term” and focuses on that day’s cloudiness, sunshine, temperature, precipitation, wind, and visibility. Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a specific time and place. Weather is commonly brought up in conversations, “How hot is it outside?” and “When is that storm supposed to start?”. As stated in Gardening in a Warming World: A Climate Smart Gardening Course Book, “all of earth’s weather depends on the interaction of the sun, which heats the earth and causes air to move as winds; and water, which moves between the oceans, skies, and land, forming clouds and precipitation.”


Climate, on the other hand, is “long-term”. By taking weather data of a certain location over a long period of time, 30+ years, we can calculate the climate of the area. Climatologists utilize the parts of weather, cloudiness, sunshine, temperature, precipitation, wind, and visibility, over a period to describe the average conditions. These average conditions create our high and low temperatures meteorologists refer to during their weather reports. These averages have also played a factor into some of the best gardening tools such as the hardiness zone and frost-free season maps. Both are used by gardeners to select plants that are suitable for their area based off climate data.


Take time to document weather in your garden journals. “Moving towards documenting observations deepens an understanding of changes from season-to-season and year-to-year allowing us to discover patterns and trends that better prepare us to make effective and informed management decisions.” For more information on garden journals read “How to Start a Garden Journal” article in the Flavors of Northwest Iowa Blogs (


Katelyn Brinkerhoff
Horticulture Educator
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach—Woodbury County