This is the summer of our climate emergency on full display. . . .The brief timeframe for decisive action on climate change seems suddenly to have collapsed upon us. We hope for a reprieve. We see little relief in sight, especially when observed on a global scale. Yet, and maybe because of this, a hyperlocal focus on the sustainability potential of my modest suburban yard has kept me going. Is this optimism or head-in-the-sand behavior? Maybe both, but taking concrete steps to make even a small patch of land a refuge for biodiversity can feel like a tonic against mounting climate despair.
For the past eleven months, we’ve explored the topic of climate change and practical actions gardeners can take in their home landscapes in response: from managing water wisely and building healthy soil to thinking differently about lawns and making informed choices regarding plants. To help home gardeners remember some of the mitigating and adaptive techniques discussed, we have summarized them in this handy printable “Climate-Conscious Gardening Checklist.”
For many gardeners, reading about gardening and plants is the next best thing to working in their own garden or tending their containers or houseplants. If you are looking for a special book to give your favorite gardener this holiday season, consider one of the following Extension Master Gardener favorites.
No discussion about how we can help cope with climate change would be complete without addressing the critical importance of trees. Trees offer habitat, nesting sites, and a variety of food to wildlife and the life functions of trees provide many other beneficial ecosystem services.
The new trend toward hotter summers and warmer winters is necessarily changing the way we garden. While the DC metropolitan area has previously been designated as Zone 7 on the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map, our current lowest average temperature of 14 degrees now would place our region in Zone 8, which is presently located around Virginia Beach, a little over 200 miles further south.
Native plants may be best suited to environmental conditions and provide critical support to wildlife. Some categories of natives may fulfill these functions better than others. An important consideration in selecting native plants is whether to purchase so-called “straight species,” the forms that are found naturally in the wild, or cultivars, plants that have been produced by horticulturists through selective breeding for certain ornamental traits.
Studies have shown that the particular selections gardeners make can have a tremendous impact on the diversity of life in our yards. Years of observations and research by University of Delaware entomologist Dr. Douglas Tallamy and his assistants have revealed that certain species of native plants, which he terms “keystone plants,” are especially supportive of a garden’s food web.
In preceding posts in this series, we have considered gardening approaches that can reduce homeowners’ carbon footprints and presented adaptive techniques to assist in dealing with the challenges posed by climate change. Another area of concern is making informed choices about the plants we choose for our gardens
Learn about adaptive approaches necessary as response to climate change for home vegetable gardening. These include general steps for reducing the garden’s carbon footprint, such as minimizing the use of power equipment and purchased fertilizers, building soil health, and conserving water.]
The care of our lawns takes a heavy toll on our time and money as homeowners try to meet the unattainable goal of the perfect, unblemished expanse of green. The average household spends $1,200 and 70 hours annually on lawn care, although many individuals consider mowing to be an onerous chore. Learn about the number of actions that climate-conscious gardeners can take to make their lawns more environmentally friendly.
Learn about adaptive strategies that gardeners can take to improve their soil.
Maintaining the health of our soil is the primary strategy for climate resilience. As the second largest ecosystem after the world’s oceans, soil not only provides physical support of our plants, but also is crucial in the cycling of water and nutrients. In addition, it provides habitat for a multitude of living things, including beneficial microbes that develop special relationships with plants.
Second in our series on Climate-Conscious Gardening, this article has suggestions for science-based techniques individuals can implement to directly reduce the sources of greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of further climate change.
Climate-Conscious Gardening To quote David W. Wolfe, Professor of Plant & Soil Ecology at Cornell University, “We are in the unfortunate situation of being the first generation of gardeners, ever, …
What’s Happening to the Oak Trees?
Urban and suburban trees also deal with urban heat islands, competition with turfgrass, pollution, and construction. Combined with the mature age of many of our oaks and the extreme weather conditions, we are seeing the decline of our tree canopy.
Recent studies are documenting dramatic declines in the number and diversity of insects around the world. Entomologists, ecologists, and other scientists are expressing shock at the speed and scope of these losses, and they are pointing to these steep declines as a sign of broader ecosystem collapse.
Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia manage the Organic Vegetable Garden at Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington. Each year, this demonstration garden produces hundreds of pounds of produce which it donates to the Arlington Food Assistance Center. These Notes from the Field, compiled by Judy Johnson and Judy Salveson, highlight some of the challenges the garden faced in 2018 due to record-breaking weather.
What can we as gardeners do to adapt to climate change? While predictions about climate change and its impacts appear nothing short of apocalyptic, adapting to the changes to come will require a return to gardening fundamentals.
In 2018, local gardeners contacted the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia Help Desk, Plant Clinics and Demonstration Gardens with hundreds of weather-related plant questions. Are these signs of climate change? Probably.