The Climate Friendly Gardener – How do you Rate?


By Gardennia nutii

The Union of Concerned Scientists just published “The Climate Friendly Gardener: A Guide to Combating Global Warming from the Ground Up”.

This is a very educational and balanced read. In a nut shell they outline five basic areas you can work on to be a more climate friendly gardener:

Step 1: Minimize Carbon-Emitting Inputs. This relates both to gasoline-powered tools and chemicals (fertilizers of all types require a lot of energy to manufacture, transport and package). “Even organic nitrogen-based fertilizers can create additional heat-trapping gases…excess nitrogen is converted into nitrous oxide – a heat-trapping gas 320 times more potent than CO2.”

Step 2: Don’t Leave Garden Soil Naked. “There are periods of time—perhaps as much as half the year, depending on your local climate—when plants are not actively growing. During these times, bare soil is vulnerable not only to erosion and weeds, but carbon loss as well.” For this area they suggest using cover crops to develop healthy soil, fix nitrogen and store carbon.

Step 3: Plant Trees and Shrubs. Trees and shrubs remove and store heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere, and well placed trees help shade buildings thus reducing energy use. All plants absorb CO2, but since trees and shrubs live a long time and are large, they can store more CO2. “One study found that in addition to storing between 10 and 24 pounds of carbon annually, a single shade tree in Los Angeles helps residents and businesses save enough energy to avoid the release of nearly 40 pounds of carbon from power plants each year.”

Step 4: Expand Recycling to the Garden. Yard debris and food waste make up about 25% of the country’s municipal solid waste, and when these wastes break down methane gas is released (methane is 23 times more potent than CO2). No matter where this waste breaks down it is going to release methane, but composting takes place aerobically (in the presence of oxygen) which minimizes the formation of methane. Landfills lack oxygen circulation so organic materials are broken down primarily by bacteria which produce methane.

Step 5: Think Long and Hard about Your Lawn. “80% of all U.S. households have access to a private lawn, and the total area of the contiguous U.S. covered with turf grass is estimated at more than 40 million acres—three times the area devoted to our irrigated corn crop.” This isn’t about getting rid of your lawn; it’s about how you manage your lawn. Don’t water as much, leave grass clippings on the lawn, don’t fertilize as much, and mow high for healthier roots and less water need.

This publication made me realize that while I do in fact practice many sustainable actions when gardening, there are still areas where I can improve. But most of all, I now have an amazing “excuse” to use when buying yet another car load of trees and shrubs. When my husband asks what I’ll possibly do with more plants, I can say I’m saving the planet…one amazing and beautiful plant at a time!

How sustainable are you? Let us know!