By: Jo Dumbia 

FOR MILLIONS OF US, gardening is much more than a hobby—it is a passion.
Whether it is with a few potted plants on the balcony or acres of flowers, fruit trees, and water features, the garden provides solace and is a place to connect with nature and enjoy the beauty and bounty it has to offer. In many ways, our gardens are a window to the natural world around us.

Unfortunately, as many have been experimenting this Summer, that window is becoming increasingly clouded by the excessive temperatures, which scientists have linked directly to human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found global warming to be “unequivocal” and states with unprecedented certainty that this warming is due to greenhouse gas emissions largely from the burning of fossil fuels. Without action we will face more frequent and severe weather extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, and floods; the expansion of harmful invasive species, pests, and diseases; the disruption of ecosystems; and the extinction of thousands of species—all of which are disasters for nature, let alone gardeners.

As gardeners, we are both guardians and stewards of our environment, and there are many simple and thoughtful ways to work with nature to ameliorate the problem and make an enormous difference in or own backyards, in our communities, and in the way our government deals with this critical issue. In fact, we gardeners can take the lead in providing a healthy climate for our children’s future. In our gardens we can

  • Improve energy efficiency. Use more energy-efficient products and reduce household’s electricity by replacing regular outdoor light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, installing outdoor automatic light timers, and purchasing solar-powered garden products.
  • Reduce the use of gasoline-powered yard tools. Avoid using gasoline-powered tools (i. e., lawn mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers) rather use electric-powered tools and consider replacing some of your lawn with low-maintenance ground cover or a native wildflower patch.
  • Reduce the threat of invasive species. Minimize the threat of invasive species expansion by removing invasive plants from the garden and choosing native alternatives.  
  • Incorporate a diversity of native plants into your landscape. Help to maintain some of the important connections between pollinators and their hosts and ensure food sources for wildlife by incorporating a diverse range of native blooming and fruiting plants into the garden.
  • Reduce water consumption. Reduce water consumption, particularly during heat waves and droughts when water resources become scarce by using mulch, installing rain barrels, adjusting the watering schedule, using drip irrigation, and xeriscaping.
  • Establish a rain garden. Reduce the water pollution associated with heavy downpours by setting rain gardens, which capture stormwater runoff and help prevent it from entering local lakes, streams, and coastal waters.
  • Compost kitchen and garden waste. Composting kitchen and garden waste can significantly reduce our contribution to climate change, especially methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas while providing an excellent source of garden nutrients and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, which pollute water supplies and take considerable amounts of energy to produce.
  • Establish a “greenroof”. A “greenroof” is a roof covered by special soils and vegetation instead of shingles or tile. Planting a “greenroof” can significantly reduce stormwater runoff and help keep your home cooler in summer and warmer in winter, reducing energy costs.
  • Plant trees near the buildings. They can shield them from the hot sun in the summer and cold winds in the winter, reducing energy use for air conditioning and heating. As they grow to maturity, they can also absorb and store as much as a ton of CO2, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change. If every one of America’s 91 million gardening households planted just one young shade tree in their backyard or community, those trees would absorb around 2.25 million tons of CO2 each year.