As Earth Day approaches, I can’t help thinking about how many indicators of climate change can be found simply by looking out my own back door. We’ve all seen them, from plants flowering and songbirds arriving earlier than ever to wonky weather patterns. Should we start changing the way we garden? Can what we plant in our gardens make a difference? In one word: Yes! Here are 7 great tips to help fight climate change and create a more resilient garden.
1. Plant trees:
Trees are very good at combating pollution. In fact, they’re the reason twin residential towers dubbed ‘vertical forests’ are being built in Nanjing, China. As designboom reports, “the towers will help regenerate local biodiversity and provide an estimate of 35 tons of CO2 absorption each year, while producing 60kg of oxygen per day“. (See some great images of the proposed towers, bristling with trees growing from balconies on each floor, in the minute-long video, below). Shade trees are also terrific at helping to cool down your garden (see tip #7).
2. Practice “Right plant, right place”:
Beyond finding the perfect flower in the perfect colour for a particular spot, taking the time to find a plant right for the existing growing conditions of that place in your garden means you’ll ultimately create a healthier planting with less maintenance demands (i.e. making it easy for you to avoid using fertilizers, pesticides and excess water). When you choose a plant, make sure it’s going to be happy with:
- the amount of light it’s going to get (full sun? full shade? dappled light?)
- the type of soil (prone to dryness? wet? sandy? rocky? clay? compacted?)
- the hardiness zone
- exposure to winds, street pollution (like salt from roads)
3. Increase the diversity in your garden to fight climate change:
The greater the number of differing plants you have in a garden (including natives and hybrids, flowering plants, grasses, shrubs and trees), the more biodiverse a garden. Essentially, you’ll be creating a more enticing banquet for attracting a greater variety of birds, bees, and beneficial insects (see tip #4). And you’ll be offering more opportunities for critters to find shelter, too. All of the above helps fight climate change because greater biodiversity creates healthier ecosystems which in turn mitigate climate change by absorbing man-made carbon emissions.
4. Add plants that feed the birds, bees and beneficial insects:
Yup, that does mean taking a good look at native plant options for your region. Flowering natives are great for starters but they aren’t the only choices. Try an oak native to your area. The leaves of an oak tree sustain the most amount of caterpillars of any tree species in North America. And with more caterpillars you get more butterflies and more food for birds. (Read “Plant An Oak, The Tree That’s All Heart” for 5 great reasons why oak trees are the lovingest of all the plants you can grow.)
Some non-native plants and native hybrids can be good food suppliers to native critters, too. For instance, a guide to helping bees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst suggests the following climate-change-fighting ornamental plants and herbs that are non-native to northeastern U.S.A. (and southwestern Ontario):
- Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
- Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica)
- Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
- Catmints (Nepeta spp.)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Autumn joy (Sedum spectabile).
5. Loosen up when it comes time to tidying up:
By being a little less enthusiastic about making your garden neat and tidy, you can increase the chances that beneficial insects will find food and shelter. So slack off on clearing up seedheads and dead plants with hollow stems. And leave some patches of bare earth in your garden beds. Check out The Lazy Gardeners Ultimate Guide To Fall Clean-up Day for more tips.
6. Lower your own pollution emissions:
Old, inefficient gas-powered lawn mowers have gotten a bad rap for spewing as much pollution into the air as a fleet of cars so looking into environmentally safer mower options is a good first step but not the only one.
- Avoid using fertilizer whenever possible. If you absolutely have to use a fertilizer, avoid using more than the recommended amount, don’t apply it on windy or rainy days and don’t fertilize areas near waterways.
- Shop for garden maintenance equipment that tout the lowest nitrogen oxide emissions. Keep in mind that lawn mowers aren’t the only sources of air pollution. Snow blowers, whipper snippers, wood chippers, chain saws and leaf vacuums can also do damage to the environment.
- Don’t burn leaves. Use them for mulch.
7. Cool down your garden
Our climate may be warming but you can still do your part to bring down the temperature of your garden and your house, too. Planting one or more shade trees will make a big difference but if you don’t have the room for a giant oak tree, there are other ways to cool it. For a variety of ideas, from using vines strategically to choosing lighter coloured materials for pathways and patios, go to “Growing A Cooler Backyard“.