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Gardening in Times of Global Climate Change


As the Earth heats up, weather changes are starting to hit us where it hurts—our backyards. Extreme storms, heat waves, droughts and heavy rains are hitting gardens around the world, flattening some crops and making others flourish. What does climate change mean for your own yard, and how can you prepare and adjust to changing weather patterns? Too often, the answer is "we just don't know yet." Here's what we do know, and some sources that can help you find out more.

Known Effects of Climate Change

Weather patterns can fluctuate wildly, and extreme conditions will probably only get more extreme. According to NASA, it's virtually certain that we're already experiencing shorter, warmer winters and hotter summers. It's very likely that higher latitudes will see more rain and snow, while drier areas will see more drought. Heat waves will become more common and protracted everywhere, and flooding will become more common.

Climate Change and Your Garden

As awful as climate change is, some of its short-term effects on your garden can be quite pleasant. The USDA has released a new plant hardiness zone map for 2012, and as this animation from the Arbor Day Foundation shows, nearly every part of the United States now has a longer, warmer growing season with a more conducive environment to a wider array of crops.

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From the Organic Authority Files

The down sides, however, are several. First, many places will see a disruption in the normal freeze-thaw cycle, followed by an intensely wet spring that can rot and drown perennials. Next, pests will start early and continue late as the number of freezing days decreases. Your plants can start early too, confused by freak heat waves, only to freeze at their most tender when the spring turns out to be a farce. Later, high temperatures and low rainfall can destroy your harvest if you're not exceedingly careful about water.

How to Adjust

  • A little foresight and preparation can help you keep a handle on things, no matter what the weather's doing.
  • The best thing you can do is to switch to drip irrigation, which lets you control the precise amount of water you use and make sure it gets directly to your plants' roots, without wasting water by sprinkling or overwatering areas that don't need it. Also, check out these other water-saving garden ideas.
  • Extend your growing season by planting cold-hardy greens, peas and other veggies early in the spring, and again in the fall. If you live in a cold area, experiment with perennials; some plants that traditionally can't make it through the winter might now be able to survive through to spring.
  • If you live in the West, plant heat- and drought-tolerant varieties to avoid having to overwater in the middle of a dry spell. Add more compost to your soil to make it rich; this will help it hang on to moisture so you can water less frequently.
  • If you live in a rainy area, plant varieties that are resistant to rot, mildew and fungus. Lighten your soil with sand and vermiculite to help it drain more thoroughly.
  • Plant perennials in containers, so you can move them out of danger areas when extreme weather arrives.
  • Plant shade and wind breaks—trees, sunflowers or any tall plant—to protect your garden from extreme conditions.
  • If you do plant trees and other long-term plants, make sure they can handle the changing conditions in your area.
  • Look into water catchment if you live in a moderate climate; collect rainwater during the deluge so you can use it during the drought.

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Image: M. Dolly

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