What You Can Do
Advice to Gardeners from a Climate Change Expert
David Wolfe is a Cornell professor of horticulture and a leading authority of the effects of climate change and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on plants, soils, and ecosystems. His chapter in the book The New American Landscape titled “Gardening Sustainably in a Changing Climate” offers advice on how you can adapt your garden to a changing climate and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your garden.
Adapt your garden to climate change:
Experiment with new speciesIf your favorite plants become less able to thrive in new climate conditions, experiment with new species and varieties as plant hardiness zones shift. Dr. Wolfe urges cautious experimentation rather than many radical changes in a single year.
Move up planting and harvesting dates
Protect plants against frost
Be aware of any new invasive threats
Adapt your garden for Native Pollinators
Insects are essential to the reproduction of most flowering plants, so supporting a variety of pollinating insects throughout the growing season is beneficial for the success of your garden and surrounding natural landscapes.
Climate change impact may cause some plants to shift when they produce flowers, and other plants to grow poorly. To ensure that your garden provides nectar throughout the pollinator season, follow these tips:
Support pollinators throughout the growing seasonChoose a planting palette that blooms throughout the growing seasons, from spring to summer to fall.
Provide “depth in the bench” in your gardenChoose multiple species of plants that perform the same roles at once. By planting multiple species of flowering plants that bloom at the same time, if one plant species in your garden succumbs to environmental impacts or disease, others will still be present to provide nectar and pollen for pollinators in that same flowering window. This is called “functional redundancy.”
Keep your garden flexibleWhile there are projections for climate change in the future, there are many unknowns. One way to be prepared is to include a mix of flowering plants that have a diverse range of responses to environmental conditions. For example, if the summer is especially warm, only some of your plants may experience stress, while the heat tolerant ones can thrive in the warmer conditions. This is called “response diversity."
Shrink your garden’s carbon footprint
Reduce or replace nitrogen fertilizer
As a replacement
- Set your mower higher than three inches to promote root growth and exploration for more soil for nitrogen
- Leave lawn clippings in place on the lawn, since they hold nitrogen and other nutrients, which are recyled back to the lawn.
- Use organic nitrogen sources, such as manure and compost.
- As in gardens, avoid applying nitrogen in very early spring.
- For healthy, mature lawns in shaded areas, try using only two applications of supplemental nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
- If you must use synthetic fertilizer, choose urea over ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate, as the production of urea produces less greenhouse gas emissions.
Cut down the need for gas-powered mowers and fossil-fuel based fertilizers by replacing high maintenance turf with no-mow grass varities. Visit the low-mow demonstration garden on the southeast end of Plantations' Mundy Wildflower Garden, which displays a variety of grasses ideal for low-mow lawns.
Make Your Garden a Carbon Sink
Till your garden less, and instead let plants decompose and become part of the soil's organic matter naturally. This prevents carbon from being released into the atmosphere, but instead kept in the soil, an important component of soil health.
- Choose native plants, which are adapted to local climate, soil, pests and diseases and require less protection, water and fertilizer. Try your best to place plants in a location that provides the right amount of light, moisture and drainage needed for the plant to thrive without unnecessary inputs.
- Look for the "Veriflora Certified Sustainable Grown" label on plants, which means it meets standards for environmental and social responsibility
- Avoid buying potting mixes, as most contain synthetic fertilizer. Instead make your own by mixing 1/3 compost, 1/3 garden topsoil and 1/3 builder's sand.
- Planting more trees on your property can help take up CO2 from the atmosphere and place them to block winter winds and create summer shade to reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool your home.
Vary Your Vegetables
Adding diversity of your vegetables by interplanting perennial vegetables and herbs with annual crops requires less fertilizer and maintenance than monoculture beds of annual plants.
Power Down and Recycle
As an alternative to leaf blowers and weed whackers, mulch well to keep weeds down and rake a little every so often, which composts leaves in small bursts rather than in one big cleanup.
Reuse existing and salvaged materials for garden construction, like bricks and ston, to eliminate the need for manufacturing and transporting new products. Use recycled products whenever you need planter boxes, compost bins, garden hoses, fencing and pots.