A Gardener’s Guide to Combating Climate Change

The Union of Concerned Scientists, an American non-profit making organisation working for a healthy environment and a safer world, has published a short report called The Climate-Friendly Gardener: A Guide to Combating Global Warming from the Ground Up.

Although the report, which is referenced, was written for America, it can obviously be applied by gardeners elsewhere.  Following the report’s  suggested practices will not solve climate change but it is one small way in which we can contribute to the solution.

The Climate-Friendly Gardener web page includes five tips which are shown below along with some text added by myself.

Tip 1: Choose Low-Emission Garden Products and Practices
Petrol-powered garden tools are major emitters of CO2 (not to mention being noisy and smelly) but emissions can also come from unexpected sources such as fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides plus peat-based potting mixes.  Use electric or push mowers (ideally the latter), rakes and other low- or no-emission tools plus compost along with natural pest-control methods (e.g. companion planting).
As an aside, when I was cutting my grass a while ago, a child aged about 10 asked me what I was using to cut the grass; I replied “a lawnmower”, to which he said “no you’re not”.  After I recovered from the shock of the child’s reply, I asked him why he thought I was not using a lawnmower and he said “because it does not have an electric cable”.

Tip 2: Do Not Leave Garden Soil Naked
Stabilize, build and add nutrients to garden soil that would otherwise remain bare by planting winter cover crops (also know as green manures) such as grasses, cereal grains or legumes.  In addition to preventing erosion and keeping weeds down, they add carbon to the soil when they are turned under in the spring.  Peas, beans, clovers and other legumes convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into natural fertilizer.

Tip 3: Plant Trees and Shrubs
Because of their size and long life span, trees and large shrubs remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than other plants.

CompostTip 4: Recycle Garden and Food Waste
Organic waste decomposing in oxygen-poor landfills generates methane, a heat-trapping gas 23 times more potent than CO2.  By contrast, composting this waste in the presence of oxygen minimizes methane production.  Composting also produces a nutrient-rich soil amendment that reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer while helping soil store more carbon.  Try a compost heap and a wormery.

Tip 5: Make Your Grass “Greener”
Lawns absorb carbon from the atmosphere but some studies suggest this climate benefit may be undercut by heat-trapping nitrous oxide emissions related to fertilizer use and generous watering.  Whilst there is no scientific consensus yet on the climate impact of lawns, you can make yours as climate-friendly as possible by choosing drought-tolerant species, mowing high, watering during the coolest part of the day (or just let nature water the grass) and leaving grass clippings to fertilize the soil (and add extra carbon) naturally.

David M. Davison

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