Climate change is causing shifting weather patterns and higher temperatures, and it’s a challenge when gardening. Plants bloom or emerge earlier and act in unpredictable ways. That means the way we do things has to change.
The act of gardening can be good for the environment, but there are some things we can do to lessen our impact and still keep our plots abundant.
We’re all in this together, and we can adapt in small ways. We just need to be smart. If you want to know what to do in your garden in response to climate change, then let’s go.
Tips for Climate Change Gardening
If you want to have a positive impact on the environment, but you still want to feed your family, you have to be adaptable. Here are the steps you can take:
1. Grow As Many Vegetables As You Can
Many people have small vegetable gardens, or they just have a couple of raised beds for herbs. Now is the time to grow as many of your vegetables and fruits as possible. They feed you and they feed the environment in so many ways.
The benefits are numerous:
- You save money. Growing vegetables and fruit at home costs a fraction of buying from the store.
- Fewer trips to the supermarket result from growing your own food.
- Form friendships with other locals and neighbors to swap for the foods you don’t grow.
- Growing your own and swapping reduces fuel consumption, meaning fewer greenhouse gases from vehicles.
- Even if you don’t grow organic, you likely use far fewer chemicals than the average commercial grower.
2. Plant Trees
Trees absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. If everyone planted a shade tree in their yard, millions of tons of CO2 would be absorbed.
Even better, make those trees you plant fruit trees. Not only will you assist the environment, but you’ll also provide your family with fresh, nutritious food.
Consider planting shade trees near your house to help cool rooms in the summer. This means you won’t use as much energy in the form of electricity. They are also nice to sit under in the summer heat.
3. Reduce Water Usage
It takes large amounts of energy to treat and pump water to your house. Saving water reduces the output of greenhouse gases. You can save water by:
- Mulch your plants to reduce water evaporation. Less evaporation means less water. Mulching also reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers that take a lot of energy to produce.
- Utilize rain barrels. Pure, clean rainwater is much better for both you and your garden.
- Use drip irrigation to slowly and consistently provide your garden with water.
- Plant drought-tolerant trees and shrubs. Consider xeriscaping principles.
4. Use Fewer Gas-Powered Garden Tools
Given many people don’t service gas-powered garden tools as often as they should, things like lawnmowers can produce more pollution than our cars, which we tend to service regularly.
- Push mowers that rotate the cutting blades as you push them.
- Use hand clippers instead of gas or electric-powered hedge trimmers.
- Use a rake or broom instead of a gas-powered or electric leaf-blower.
Go to yard sales and see if you can pick up hand tools our ancestors used. Many of them are so well made they can still be used today.
5. Compost Your Kitchen and Yard Waste
Store-bought compost costs a lot of money and it takes a great deal of energy to produce and package. Then it’s transported to the store. You drive to the shop and drive it home, before using it. Store-bought compost uses a lot of energy in its production, and plastic along with other forms of packaging and printing, as well.
Reducing food waste going to landfill sites reduces amounts of methane forming and going into the air.
6. Plant Natives as Much as Possible
Plants native to your area normally require less water than those introduced, and they provide nutrients and shelter for local native birds and animals. Remember, climate change is hard on them as well.
Native plants that are perennial restore soil and help to avoid erosion. Small and large spaces can be filled with various sizes of native plants.
Native plants generally can develop larger and deeper root systems, meaning less watering and feeding.
All trees are particularly good at storing and locking in carbon dioxide through their photosynthesis process. It’s stored in the roots and woody stems, eventually becoming decayed matter in the soil. But native plants have all these additional benefits.
7. Use Less Peat
Although peat has its place, it’s a non-renewable resource that uses a lot of energy to extract. Harvesting peat releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere and changes the landscape from where it’s extracted.
There are more environmentally friendly products to choose from, such as coconut coir.
8. Use Less Plastic
If you buy seedlings, try to get them in biodegradable or compostable pots. Imagine how many plastic pots are made and sold each year, before being thrown out and ending up in a landfill.
Reuse all those plastic pots time and again. Just make sure you clean and sanitize them each season.
Cheaply made plastic sheeting for greenhouses doesn’t last many seasons. They look nice when you first install them, but they deteriorate quickly. Their longevity doesn’t really make up for the energy used in making them.
Encourage your creative streak and try recycled windows. They can look trendy and will last forever if done right.
9. Plant for Pollinators
Pollinators are struggling with climate change heat and the altering environment. Plant those species you know pollinators love. You want to attract all beneficial insects including honey bees, bumble bees, and butterflies.
Also, keep in mind that native species support native bees, which are the most in danger of extinction. Contact your local extension office on which species work best in your area.
10. Remove Some Lawn
I say “some” lawn because the thought of having no lawn makes some people cringe. If you don’t mind tearing out all your lawn, go for it! But there are alternatives like replacing areas of a larger property that are out of the way with wildflowers or native trees and mulch.
Pretty manicured lawns use an incredible amount of water, and if we all remove a section of lawn where it won’t make too much difference to the look, give it a go.
If you’re brave, replace your lawn with drought-tolerant plants that use far less water than turf. Grass is considered a monoculture, which is terrible for the environment. It takes a lot of resources to keep alive and it takes up space that more beneficial plants could use.
11. Plant Perrenial Food Crops
Why? Undisturbed food crops, or those that stay in the ground on average for three years, can store much more carbon dioxide in the ground than those removed and replanted each season.
Not only do you help the environment, but you also get food, and you don’t have to put in as much work.
- Lemon Balm
- Fruit Tees
12. Plant Cover Crops
My philosophy is there should be no bare earth in your garden, especially when you are between seasonal crops, but not yet ready to plant. The time between winter and summer crops is the perfect time to plant cover crops.
Plant cover crops for all the good reasons like stabilizing the soil, adding nutrients when dug in, and saving on fertilizer. The great thing about cover crops in regards to climate change is they take carbon from the soil while they grow.
- Annual rye
- Field peas
I avoid mustard due to its proclivity to spread and pop up everywhere forever.
Some Plants to Fight Climate Change
There are ways to address climate change in the garden as we’ve already described, but what plants actually help?
After all, many plants will be here long after we’re gone, so it makes sense to plant the ones most effective against climate change.
Here are some known to cool the microclimates in your garden, or even buildings where they are planted. Just remember that some of these are considered invasive in some areas. Don’t plant them if that’s the case in your area.
- Jasmine: Plant jasmine next to a wall or building in full sun. Keep the soil moist. Consider planting in pots along the wall of a building. Plants like jasmine are known to help cool a building up to 44ºF.
- English Ivy: This is a very fast-growing plant. You may need to trim and prune it regularly to control it, but it’s worth the effort as it covers and cools walls. Keep it well-trimmed and you don’t even need it to climb.
- Viburnum: Grow in pots lined against a wall, or allow it to grow like a large shrub. Viburnum makes for a great hedge as well.
Trees with broad leaves are best because photosynthesis is greater. Try:
- Black Walnut
- Blue Spruce
- Douglas Fir
Any tree that lasts up to hundreds of years can only be good for the planet in my book.
If you don’t have room for a tree (or lots of trees) try planting shrubs. The message is plants help immensely in climate change, and planting the right ones keeps your garden looking good, contributing to addressing the problem of climate change and feeding your family in uncertain times.
For shrubs, try:
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): This herb is drought-tolerant and can double as an ornamental.
- Esperanza (Tecoma stans): A North American native, this plant can handle drought, heat, and anything else you throw at it.
- Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana) – this North American native is drought tolerant and attracts pollinators.
- Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster franchetii) – this shrub has been shown in studies to actually absorb pollution.
- Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) – Another North American native, it puts on a beautiful show with its foliage and attracts butterflies with its blossoms.
Some environments are actually better suited to shrubs than trees, so consider what is best for your area.
Top Tips for Gardening in Climate Change
- Grow Natives – the more the better.
- Compost your food scraps.
- Mulch, and then mulch some more.
- Reduce lawn size where you can.
- Reduce water usage and use smart irrigation.
- Plant trees, shrubs, or perennial vegetables.