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Marin IJ Articles

Simple steps to a greener garden

  • Nanette Londeree
  • Does it seem like 2020 has been a year of more weather extremes? Stronger and more frequent hurricanes and once-in-a-century floods? Severe heat and drought, ferocious fires ignited by freak lightning storms? One of the most visible indicators of a warming world is an increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, which in turn can create new challenges for us gardeners.

    In addition to being a stunning focal point in the garden, trees remove CO2 from the air, store carbon in the soil, and release oxygen into the atmosp
    In addition to being a stunning focal point in the garden, trees remove CO2 from the air, store carbon in the soil, and release oxygen into the atmosp
    We know that climate change is happening and caused in large part by human activity, most significantly the production of greenhouse gases. The two most common types of greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. COaccounts for 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions and enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, solid waste, trees and wood products, and chemical reactions like making cement. Methane makes up 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions, primarily coming from livestock and other agricultural practices, and the decay of organic waste in landfills.

    Even small shifts in weather can impact our gardens. Changes in temperature minimums and maximums can determine what we can grow well.  Droughts may limit available water for irrigation, while floods can have both sudden and long-term effects on the health of soil and plants. Longer growing seasons may invite a profusion of pests and weeds. Pollinators such as hummingbirds and bees may arrive either too early or too late to feed on the flowers they rely on.

    In these challenging times, it’s easy to experience what was recently quoted in the Los Angeles Times as “climate despair," a feeling that there’s nothing one person can do about global warming. Not true! Folk singer Pete Seeger writes, “If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things.” If we all take little steps to reduce CO2 emissions, we CAN make a difference.  Here are 10 things you can do now to help combat climate change and promote a healthy garden:

    1. Protect and improve your soil. Keep it covered with plants or organic mulch. Healthy soil holds carbon and stores water.
    2. Use a low or no-till approach for your soil. When soil is turned or tilled, it speeds up the breakdown of organic matter and the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
    3. Compost kitchen and garden waste. You’ll make a nutrient-rich soil amendment that helps soil store more carbon. It also reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer that takes a lot of energy to produce, package and transport.
    4. Plant trees. They remove CO2 from the air, store carbon in the soil, and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Well-placed trees provide shade and protection from winter winds, reducing energy use for air conditioning and heating. 
    5. Grow your own fruit and vegetables. You’ll cut down on fuel used to transport food. 
    6. Conserve water. Focus on natives and low water-use plants. Irrigate using the right equipment and techniques to minimize surface water runoff.
    7. Replace impervious surfaces. Use permeable materials for walkways and driveways made with concrete, blacktop or stone, so that water can penetrate, stay in your garden and out of public storm drains.
    8. Create habitat for pollinators and beneficials. Provide them with food, water and shelter and you’ll support nature’s method for controlling pests rather than using pesticides.
    9. Replace your lawn. You’ll save water, reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers, and cut down on the energy used by maintenance equipment.
    10. Choose low-emission garden practices and tools. Swap out gasoline-powered mowers, blowers, and trimmers for rechargeable battery-operated types. Better yet, use manual tools whenever possible.

    Gardeners are an optimistic bunch and by implementing some of these relatively simple steps we can do good for our plants, our gardens, and our planet.