Trade in the SUV, use fluorescent light bulbs, turn down your thermostat. These are just some of the things we’re being told we can do to reduce our impact on global warming. 

But according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation, A Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming, there are also many things you can do in the garden that will help combat this serious and potentially devastating environmental problem caused by our voracious appetite for fossil fuels. And the spring gardening season is the perfect time to get started. 

“As gardeners, we are both guardians and stewards of our environment,” says Patty Glick, author of the report and global warming specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. “There are many simple and thoughtful ways we can manage our gardens that can make an enormous difference in reducing the impacts of global warming.” 

A February report from international climate scientists projects Earth’s average temperature will rise by 4–11 degrees before the end of this century if our dependency on fossil fuels continues unabated. Another report from this prestigious group says changes are happening faster than expected, and the harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already apparent. 

As any gardener knows, even just a one-degree difference between 32°F and 33°F over a period of time can make a huge difference in a garden. Scientists are now finding what many gardeners have already been noticing: earlier leaf out and bloom times, earlier emergence of butterflies and other insects, and arrival of new bird species at the backyard feeder. 

Many of the “hardiness zone maps” that gardeners rely on to identify which plants to choose for their gardens are already being adjusted to account for the impacts of global warming. The Arbor Day Foundation recently shifted Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and part of Michigan from Zone 5 to a warmer Zone 6, along with other zone changes. 

In many states, the climate change may be so intense that states may no longer have a favorable climate for their official state tree or state flower before this century is out. Imagine Virginia or North Carolina without the flowering dogwood, Louisiana without bald cypress and magnolia, Kansas without the sunflower or Ohio without the buckeye. 

Changes in climate due to global warming will no doubt create some enormous new challenges for gardeners given the strong relationship between our plants and climate variables like temperatures and rainfall. As numerous studies show, any potential benefits from a longer growing season will only be outmatched by a host of problems. 

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this story.