Home gardeners can do a lot to address global climate change. Options include everything from choosing self-reliant plants that need less water and fertilizer to reducing energy use by trading in mowers and blowers for rakes and hand clippers.
CLIMATE-PROOFING used to mean tossing a little mulch on the garden, hauling pots of tender plants indoors, and maybe even digging up the dahlias when a cold winter is forecast. But global warming has caused weather to grow so volatile that these traditional practices just don’t cut it anymore. Our gardens need year-’round help to deal with the new weather realities, including increasingly rainy springs and droughty summers. If you doubt the significant effects of climate change on our gardens, think about all the plants you consider hardy that probably wouldn’t have weathered winter even just a few years ago. The list varies by microclimate, but might include escallonia, abutilon, verbenas, Melianthus major, phormium and yuccas. Have you noticed birds returning earlier in the spring and lilacs blooming two weeks ahead of when they flowered 30 years ago?
We need a fresh arsenal of garden strategies, and it will help if we better understand the changing weather where we live and garden. University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass has written an engaging new book, “The Weather of the Pacific Northwest” (University of Washington Press, $29.95), to help us do just that.
Mass explains how our climate is influenced by mountain ranges and moderated by the Pacific Ocean. He reminds us that a scant eight of our annual 38.4 inches of rain falls during the summer months. While there is great year-to-year variability in our weather, Mass documents a warming trend, increased precipitation, a decrease in snowpack in the mountains and less snow in the lowlands. This seems to translate into fewer hard freezes and flood-inducing downpours alternating with drought.
Most Read Stories
- Who gets Xanadu 2.0, the Gates family mansion?
- No, Inslee's 'vaccine seating' doesn't stifle freedom — it expands it
- Did you see the 'string of pearls' in Seattle's night sky? Those were SpaceX satellites
- Inslee pauses COVID reopening plan; no Washington counties to roll back for 2 weeks
- Some relief for Seattle-area homebuyers, as more houses are listed and condo buyers find plenty to choose from
How to deal?
• Begin by choosing tough, sturdy, self-reliant plants that need less water and fertilizer. Healthy plants are naturally resistant to pests and diseases when put in the sun/shade/water situations that suit them.
• Compost-enriched soil provides the foundation for thriving plants that are more resilient to disease, drought or insect damage. Healthy soil absorbs water like a sponge and also stores carbon from the atmosphere, helping reduce greenhouse gases.
• Reduce water consumption by using drought-tolerant and native plants, and by grouping plants with like water needs. Water with drip systems or soaker hoses; use tools like watering bags to keep new trees healthy. Remember to check whether your soil is dry before irrigating, and make sure you are watering more than just the surface.
• Weed regularly so you aren’t wasting water on nuisance plants. To keep weeds down and water in, mulch garden beds at least once a year in late winter.
• Global warming is creating what climatologists call “heavier rainfall events.” This means more runoff and more stormwater problems. We can help by avoiding chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and using porous surfaces like pebbles, gravel or pavers for patios and driveways rather than solid concrete. Install rain barrels and cisterns to capture rainwater to use for irrigation. Consider taking advantage of low-lying or boggy spots in your garden to create a rain garden, planted with moisture-loving natives, to slow down the passage of rainwater through the soil.
• Nurture the birds, bees and insects in your garden that are also confused by climate change. Make your garden a healthy habitat for all living things by eschewing chemicals. Plant a diverse array of flora that blooms early and late to encourage pollinators. Add natives and plenty of berried plants to feed and attract creatures.
• And finally, a few ideas on saving energy: Solar garden lights are the smart way to go; cut energy use on other outdoor lights by putting them on a timer. If you aren’t yet lawn-free, at least get rid of your gas mower, blower and weed eater, and use rakes and hand clippers; you’ll be rewarded with blessed quiet as well as energy efficiencies. You might consider arbors and pergolas for shade in summer and rain protection in winter. And it might not be a bad idea to invest in a rain barrel.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Jacqueline Koch is a Seattle-based freelance photographer.