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By Charlie Nardozzi and Barbara Richardson
Gardeners — pick up your trowels! We have an important role to play in helping slow and moderate the effects of global warming and climate change. Many of us have already had a taste of what the future holds if we don't change our habits: extended droughts, 500-year floods, and devastating hurricanes. All the dire news makes many people feel powerless, but if we all do a little to green our yards, we can make a difference. Read on to find out how choosing the right garden tools, planting trees strategically, watering efficiently, and growing some of your own food can help you and the planet feel better about the future.
The human population is becoming ever more urban. It's estimated that by 2050, two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities. Cities are heat sinks of concrete and pavement and sources of pollution, but by adding more green to the scene we can improve our own health and the planet's. Dedicated residents create and maintain community gardens on vacant lots, and there's lots of space for container gardens on rooftops and apartment balconies. Commercial and public buildings in Chicago and New York are sprouting roofs covered with plants instead of just heat-absorbing gravel and black tar. All this plant matter creates shade, cleans the air, cools the cityscape, and reduces water pollution. To learn more about how to go green in urban environments, check out horticulturist William Moss's Moss in the City Web site.
Did you know that gas-powered lawn and garden equipment are major sources of greenhouse gasses? An hour's use of a conventional lawn mower pollutes as much as driving a car 100 miles! Consider replacing this equipment with electric-powered products or hand tools. Use mulch around buildings, under fences, and in other spots where you'd traditionally use a string trimmer — who knows, you may be able to get rid of it altogether.
Another way to cut your lawn-related carbon footprint is to replace some turf with a diversity of low-maintenance trees, shrubs, and perennial plants. You can double your payback by choosing plants that provide beauty and food - a practice known as edible landscaping. You might discover that you prefer spending time growing and enjoying kiwi fruit and cherries to walking behind a mower! Learn more by visiting Edible Landscaping with Charlie Nardozzi.
It also helps to plant a food garden, or at least buy as much food as possible from local growers. Most produce travels thousands of miles by refrigerated truck to your grocery store, so growing your own food and buying it from local farmers reduces the amount of fossil fuel devoted to your food supply.
Growing some of your own food is great, and growing it organically is even better. The method emphasizes building soil organic matter, material that not only improves the plant health and growth but sequesters carbon, too, keeping it out of the atmosphere.
Droughts, excessive heat, and heavy storms that cause flooding are becoming more frequent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts droughts to develop or continue in some Mid-Atlantic states, the Southeast, and Southwest this winter. Other regions have experienced extreme amounts of damaging rain, as happened last summer in the Northeast and parts of Texas.
To weather dry times, choose drought-resistant plants, use mulch around trees and shrubs to conserve soil moisture, and collect rainwater for use in the garden. Make the most your water supply by installing efficient sprinkler and drip irrigation systems that run on timers. This will ensure that your plants get the moisture they need at the right time without wasting this precious resource.
A beautiful and ecological way of dealing with stormwater runoff from heavy rain is to build rain gardens. These are planted in shallow depressions designed to capture and slowly absorb stormwater, reducing the volume of water and pollutants entering municipal drainage systems and natural waterways. A rain garden makes an attractive focal point in the landscape and doubles as a habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. Learn more about rain gardens on the Garden.org Web site: Build a Rain Garden
Trees capture absorb lots of carbon dioxide, keeping it from entering the atmosphere while they live and grow, so if there's room in your yard for more, plant them! It's a great opportunity to use them to solve your landscape challenges. For instance, where grass doesn't thrive, such as the north side of your house where lack of light causes the lawn to struggle, fill the area with native trees and shrubs. You won't have to mow the area and wildlife can enjoy the habitat.
Strategically planted trees can actually reduce your home heating and cooling needs, too. We've all had the experience of enjoying the cool shade of a tree in summer, and the coziness of a sunbeam entering our home in the winter. According to the EPA research in Sacramento, California showed that shade trees around homes reduced cooling costs from 7 to 40 percent! Plant tall-growing deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves), such as a maple, oak, or sycamore, on the southwest or west side of your home. The trees' leaves will provide cooling shade in summer to cut air conditioning needs, and after leaves drop in autumn, the winter sun can help warm your home. If you don't have room for shade trees, consider growing deciduous vines on your south and west facing walls for shade.
While we can all contribute in small ways in our own yard, we can also join with neighbors to support community-wide greening programs, such as tree planting, community and school gardening, and greenroof projects.
Now, let's get out to the garden and make our planet a "cooler" place to be!