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Climate Change Adaptation for Gardeners

Unfortunately, climate change is threatening the gardening experience. There have been changes and more changes are coming. Fortunately, gardeners can play an important role to help adapt and mitigate the climate change threat and contribute to a greener future. We discuss climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies which are in our control, things you can do which will have a positive effect.

Here’s a sobering thought: we are the first generation that can no longer depend on looking back for guidance on when to plant, what to plant, and what pests and diseases to expect. We have to learn as we go, and learn to adapt our methods. Sustainable gardening and landscaping will play an increasingly important role in the reduction of carbon emissions and increase carbon storage in the soil.

Some Effects of Climate Change on Gardens

Many see positives of longer growing seasons. But climate change is already having a noticeable impact in our yards. Climate change affects plant growth, insects (both good and bad insects), pollinators including birds, diseases and microbes that interact with plants. Among others, we are experiencing:

Warmer winters

Contrary to popular belief, evidence shows that warming has not led to fewer frost events. Many plants that experience late-flowering can actually increase their risk of frost damage. The early emergence of reproductive parts of plants, which also increases the risk of frost damage in the garden.

More damaging pests

Shorter periods of cold weather will mean that fewer pests will die, thereby increasing the damage to your garden plants. A perfect example is the Gypsy Moth damage to our eastern forests in the spring of 2021. Our winter of 2020-21 was not cold enough to kill Gypsy Moth eggs.

Hotter summers

Hotter summers add many forms of stress to vegetation.

Extended droughts with resulting watering restrictions

We can now expect increased variability to climates. This includes increased likelihood of extended droughts, with resulting water restrictions

Damaging storms

Warmer air can store more water, more humidity. As a consequence, a warming climate has the potential to cause more violent storms with heavier downpours. Heavier downpours can cause the flattening of vegetation, regional flooding and accelerated erosion and run off.

Change in blooming dates

As the flowers begin to shift in timing, this can be very problematic for plants which are relying on pollination between many different varieties. If different flowering times are not able to overlap, there could be much less successful cross-pollination and potentially less desirable fruit.

Important connections between pollinators, breeding birds, insects, and other wildlife and the plants they depend on will be disrupted. Pollinators such as hummingbirds and bees may arrive either too early or too late to feed on the flowers on which they normally rely.

New weeds and garden pests

Invasive, non-native plants and animals’ ranges are shifting or expanding. This makes them more apt to take advantage of weakened ecosystems and outcompete native species. Some of the most problematic species may thrive under new conditions, in part because their range is extended.

Diseases and pests also change and adapt, adjusting growth cycles as a result. Climate change will inevitably lead to an increase in pests and diseases. They are likely to cause a lot more damage to the garden. Warmer temperatures over longer periods encourages the spread of disease and increase the number of generations of pests.

Variations in usual germination and pollination cycles.

In 2021, a number of gardeners mentioned they felt their plants bloomed about 2 weeks earlier than expected. That’s a shift with potential repercussions, for pollinators for example.

Unpredictable growing season

Many native and iconic plants may no longer be able to survive in portions of their historic range. There are indications that some countries, provinces or states could lose their official trees and flowers.

Higher average temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are causing plants to bloom earlier, creating unpredictable growing seasons. Even warm weather plants like tomatoes can be harmed by increased temperatures.

Falling food production yields

Faster maturing fruit could ripen early at hot times of the year, resulting in fruit heat damage.  

Feedback

GardeningCalendar wants to know the effects of climate change on your garden. What have climate change effects have you seen? Please tell us about it via our contact form.

What Can Gardeners Do For Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation?

Gardeners contribution to the solution to climate change should not be underestimated. By using climate-friendly practices in gardens and landscapes, sustainable gardening and landscaping techniques, gardeners can help slow future warming, reduce carbon emissions and increasing carbon storage in the soil. These climate change adaptation techniques will also help beautify gardens and landscape, and help produce an abundance of healthy garden produce.

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 

Reduce your use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment. Avoid using gasoline-powered tools such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Instead, use electric garden tools. Use human-powered tools such as push mowers, hand clippers, and rakes. Reduce the amount of lawn area that needs maintenance. Using a gasoline-powered mower for an hour pollutes 10 to 12 times more than the average car.

Grow food

Grow food and buy locally grown food. This reduces emissions associated with long-distance transportation and storage. And these foods are generally tastier, fresher and healthier to eat.

Rotate your crops

Rotating crops can help balance and replenish soil nutrients, reduce pest activity, and decrease disease occurrences. Did you know that planting beans can increase nitrogen level in your soil? By rotating crops you can eliminate the need for harsh chemical pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. All you have to do is plant different types of crops in different plots each year!

Compost kitchen and garden waste

Composting food scraps and waste can significantly reduce your contribution to carbon pollution, especially methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. It also provides an excellent source of nutrients for your garden, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Residents in apartments can also compost effectively.

Choose plants for energy conservation and cooling effects

Homeowners can use trees to reduce energy consumed by heating and air conditioning units. Plant evergreen trees on the northwest side of the house to protect it from winter winds. Deciduous trees planted on the south and southwest sides block the sun during the summer and allow the sun to penetrate and warm the house during the winter.

Plant trees

Plant windbreaks to protect the garden from stormier weather. Support tree planting efforts in your community. Volunteer to plant or water trees.

Reduce your lawn

Lawns do not appear naturally anywhere in nature. Plant lawn alternatives where grass does not grow well. This will reduce mowing and inputs of fertilizer and herbicides (which also take energy to produce!).

Promote Pollinators

Planting a container garden for pollinators is an easy way to help the environment. Pollinators are responsible for creating our food, so it’s important that we take care of them. Plant pollinator plants such as gaura, milkweed, and echinacea in your garden to help these hardworking insects do their job. Use GardeningCalendar’s Plant Selection Tool to help find the perfect pollinator plant for you.

Take Care of Your Birds

Climate change is causing many birds to struggle in their habitat, affecting their migration patterns, safe and healthy habitat and traditional food sources. When climactic conditions such as temperature, precipitation or food sources change, they may not be able to survive. This means that we’ll need to give them the help they need to live!

Plant drought tolerant plants

Plant trees, shrubs and hedges that are drought tolerant.

Reduce Runoff and Erosion

When considering clearly a trees or bushes, ask yourself if this clearing really required. Be careful if on slopes not to clear too much of the existing vegetation, as this will create problems with erosion. Plants build the soil by adding all-important organic matter which also reduces runoff and erosion.

Keep Plant Records

The majority of citizen scientists who have been tracking biological events over time have observed the ways in which plants change. By keeping records can be more prepare us for changes that will come in the future. For example, as you keep a record, you can see how pests and plants change their patterns. You can also know when to cover your plants to protect against frost and to see how to increase desirable cross-pollination. You can learn when to set a trap for their pests according to the weather, rather than relying on the calendar year. This will be a lot more accurate foot disrupting generations of pests and therefore reducing the impact on your garden.

Increase plant diversity

Landscapes with more plant diversity are more resilient when it comes to facing new pest and disease pressures in a changing climate. More plant diversity in your garden will support more pollinators and beneficial insects that provide essential services like pest management.

A housing development in the Ottawa area lost all their ash trees to the Emerald Ash borer. Smartly, they replaced and planted a wide variety of tree species. One bug can no longer denude them.

Planting a diversity of plant delivers another benefit in that it addresses another huge societal problem, decreasing biodiversity.

Add native plants

Native plants require less water and fertilizer, provide food and shelter for wildlife. They help store carbon, and help minimize soil erosion.

Don’t plant for the long-term in flood areas.

If in doubt, add another houseplant

Every plant eats CO2 and produces oxygen. And houseplants are now known to deliver many health benefits.

Add ponds and water features

Add ponds and water features to give some respite to animals in hotter drier summers

Remove invasive plants

Removing invasive plants from your garden and choosing an array of native alternatives can minimize the threat of invasive species expansion. Native plants help to maintain important pollinator connections and ensure food sources for wildlife; nonnative plants can outcompete these important native species for habitat and food.

Improve energy efficiency

Using energy-efficient products and reducing your household’s energy consumption will reduce your contribution to carbon pollution. In your backyard alone, you can replace outdoor light bulbs with high-efficiency LED bulbs, install outdoor automatic light timers, or purchase solar-powered garden products.

Collect rainwater and preserve water

Collect rainwater in rain barrels, amend soil with compost to improve its water-holding capacity, plant drought-tolerant perennial plants, and cover soil with mulch.

Reduce water consumption

There are a number of ways to reduce water consumption in your garden, which is particularly important during increased heat waves and droughts. These include mulching, installing rain barrels, adjusting your watering schedule, and use a drip irrigation system. Practices like mulching also provide nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers which take significant amounts of energy to produce.

Protect and improve soils

Help store carbon by keeping soils covered with a diversity of plants. Improve soil health by adding organic matter and disturbing the soil as little as possible. Make compost from yard waste and food scraps, and use cover crops to recycle nutrients and reduce erosion.

Establish stormwater management systems

More frequent rainfall events and floods are anticipated with climate change. Help excess water slow down, soak in, and reduce erosion by creating a rain garden, swale, or vegetated buffer. Use rain barrels to store water for later use. Learn about these and other stormwater management systems.

Plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide

Trees can absorb and store as much as a ton of carbon pollution (CO2) from the atmosphere. If every one of America’s 85 million gardening households planted just one young shade tree in their backyard or community, those trees would absorb more than 2 million tons of CO2 each year. Shade trees planted near your home can also reduce energy used for cooling in the summer.

Consider protective structures for your plants

Have you considered a greenhouse or cold frames? How about walipinis, crop cages and share strutures? They can protect your plants from extreme weather such as hail and driving rain. Clearly, greenhouse also extend seasons and, in the spring, give you a jump start on seed growth for the coming growing season. Crop cages can also protect from squirrels, gophers, rabbits and other small animals.

Be Prepared to Adapt

Climate change adaptation is about adapting your gardening choices and techniques to a changing climate. It’s about flexibility and adapting to the unexpected. What to you respond to extended droughts, torrential rains and damaging storms, new pest infestations, early spring or late frosts, changing germination cycles and changes in bloom dates? Information becomes becomes a key asset to make informed choices in on to respond and keep a great garden.

We want to know your strategies

GardeningCalendar wants to know your strategies for climate change adaptation. What have you done that has worked for you? Please tell us about it via our contact form.

Author

Jean Carr, Founder of GardeningCalendar.ca

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