Global Warming and GardensClimate change is not only coming, it's already well underway. What can we and our gardens expect?
Global warming is a hot topic, so to speak, and data and predictions continue to accumulate. Though a handful of scientists still debate the issue, an overwhelming majority of researchers say climate change is not only coming, it's already well underway.
What can we expect?
It's not the same for everyone. Here's a very basic general overview of regional issues in the United States that we're already experiencing and will continue to see more of:
- Water shortages in the West
- Warmer winters and less-frequent but more-violent precipitation events in the East
- Northward creep of hardiness zones and disruptions to habitat communities
In many ways gardeners are way ahead of the game in our attention to the changing climate. For example:
- We're tuned in to subtle changes to the environment, and we watch the weather like meteorologists.
- We're hawks about temperature and know that at some times of year, even a 1 or 2 degree difference is a big deal.
- We're hypersensitive to changes in plant and animal routines—did the cherry trees bloom earlier this year? Are the peonies flowering less? Are the songbirds at the feeders sooner than usual?
For many gardeners, the make-or-break part of the weather is precipitation, and that will be a critical issue as the climate continues to shift.
What can we do?
While many of us have already made changes to our lifestyle by embracing things such as using energy-efficient light bulbs, investing in solar panels, purchasing hybrid cars, opting for secondhand clothes, and remembering our reusable shopping bags, it's still daunting to think of the task ahead. Climate change might be inescapable and societal change a necessity, but armies of one can still make a difference.
Have you calculated your carbon footprint? Use the carbon calculator on The Nature Conservancy's website and see how green you are.
As gardeners, we are in a unique position to lead the charge. And many things we already do as a matter of course are right on track. Keep in mind that the strategy needs to be two-pronged: mitigation and adaptation. Meaning, keep looking for ways to be green, but also be prepared to make adjustments, in attitudes as well as actions.Below is a list of things gardeners can do.
At Ground Level
- Before your plants go in the ground, get your soil in good shape. Amend soil with materials that make sense for your region, or plant things that love the native soil as is.
- Compost, compost, compost.
- Mulch lessens the need to water and keeps down weeds, but choose mulch appropriate for your area. For example, decomposed granite makes sense in a place like Phoenix, but bark is a better fit in the Northeast. And, research which mulches are earth-friendly at the production end. You can also make your own mulch with compost or shredded leaves.
- Take a low-till approach since tilling oxygenates the soil and releases CO2. A clod-filled soil is healthy, and super-fine soil really is useful only for seeds. When planting seeds, just till a narrow strip and leave vegetative cover as natural mulch.
- Organic has become a buzzword, and organic gardening is a many-faceted, nature-friendly approach. But be judicious with fertilizers, since all of them, even the organic ones, produce NO2 as a byproduct when they break down.
- Start by choosing drought-tolerant plants.
- If you use automatic irrigation, install rain sensors and make sure the water is reaching its targets and not the driveway or street.
- Water deeper, but less often, to encourage deeper roots and tougher plants. Frequent light watering keeps roots shallow and vulnerable to drought stress.
- Decide how you want to appropriate your water resources. For example, if you want a vegetable garden, conserve water elsewhere.
- Rain gardens are a good (and attractive) way to collect and channel natural precipitation.
- Just by adding plants to the landscape, you're already being green, especially since they take up CO2 as part of their natural processes.
- Select appropriate plants that are tough and adaptable, including plants native to your area. Right plant, right place will always be a smart concept. And keep in mind that in any garden there are numerous microhabitats.
- Avoid invasive plants, especially if you live anywhere near a natural area. Many plants that are already too vigorous actually gain strength from increased CO2 in the atmosphere.
- Create a garden with diversity. This not only increases your chances of successful gardening (you might lose some plants, but others will be good performers), but it provides wildlife with more opportunities and builds its own ecosystem rather than a monoculture.
- Growing your own vegetables and fruits and buying locally grown produce cuts down on CO2 from transporting them around the country and the world.
- If you are attached to having a lawn, consider a freedom lawn (if it's green, it's a lawn) or a no-mow lawn of sedges or buffalo grass. Or choose lawn grasses with fewer needs (for example, fescues over Kentucky bluegrass). See lawn alternatives here.
- Consider wildlife when you garden. In addition to making your garden beautiful, including elements that provide shelter and food for wildlife supports the ecosystem.
Keeping Up Appearances
- Keep any chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides to a minimum.
- Recycle everything you can and reduce the use of disposable products (there are now pots made from biodegradable materials).
- Leave lawn clippings on the ground as you mow.
- Mow fall leaves or collect and add to the compost pile. Don't bag and leave them by the curb—that's good stuff you're throwing away!.
- Keep mowers and other equipment running efficiently, and consider electric versions or even a reel mower which makes a nice, clean cut (and provides a great workout!).
- For outdoor lighting, opt for solar and LED options.
- Keep an open mind about maintenance. For example, don't be a fanatic about cutting back perennials (the birds often like expired seedheads), and don't be bothered by a few spots on the apples.
BUSINESSES CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
While individuals taking steps to make greener choices in their everyday lives can indeed make a difference, it's businesses who choose to make greener choices that can make the biggest impact.
In an effort to help gardeners minimize their plastic use, Proven Winners has taken a big step toward sustainability by offering Seed Starter Eco-Pots: compostable and self-feeding pots. Made from a renewable resource comprised of starchy plants such as corn, switch grass, and sugar beets, they look like traditional petroleum-based plastic pots but are perfectly safe and eco-friendly!
When seedlings are ready to plant, the entire pot can be placed into the ground, minimizing root disturbance. Plus, organic nutrients built right into the containers are released as pots decompose, helping plants grow bigger and faster.
Watch an interview with Danny Mishek, president of SelfEco—the company who partnered with Proven Winners to put Eco-Pots on the market—where he discusses composting, recycling, and the harm of using petroleum pots. (At 16:50, he shares how many of those black pots you see in the nurseries are actually recycled. Hint: it’s not many!)