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Gardener's Guide to Global Warming

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For millions of Americans, gardening is much more than a hobby—it is a passion. In 2005 alone, an estimated 91 million households participated in lawn and garden activities, spending more than $35 billion.

Unfortunately, the view through that window is becoming increasingly clouded by global warming, which scientists have linked directly to human activities. In its most comprehensive assessment to date, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found global warming to be “unequivocal” and states with unprecedented certainty that this warming is due to greenhouse gas emissions largely from our burning fossil fuels.

Unless we take significant action to reduce this global warming pollution, we will face more frequent and severe weather extremes, including heat waves, droughts, and floods; the expansion of harmful invasive species, pests, and diseases; the disruption of ecosystems; and the extinction of thousands of species—all of which are disasters for nature, let alone gardeners.

Taking Action in Your Backyard

As gardeners, we are both guardians and stewards of our environment, and it is important for us to realize that there are many simple and thoughtful ways that we can work with nature to solve the problem. Through the following actions, we can make an enormous difference in our own backyards, in our communities, and in the way our government deals with this critical issue. In fact, we gardeners can take the lead in providing a healthy climate for our children’s future.

Here are nine things you can do to help reduce your garden's carbon footprint:

1. Improve your energy efficiency.

One of the best ways to reduce your contribution to global warming pollution is to use more energy-efficient products and reduce your household’s electricity and gasoline consumption. In your backyard alone, there are a number of actions you can take, including replacing regular outdoor light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, installing outdoor automatic light timers, and purchasing solarpowered garden products.

2. Reduce the use of gasoline-powered yard tools.

Another important change you can make is to avoid using gasoline-powered tools such as lawn mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers. Instead, use electric-powered or, better yet, human-powered tools such as push mowers, hand clippers, and rakes. If this seems daunting, you might consider replacing some of your lawn with low-maintenance groundcover or a native wildflower patch.

3. Reduce the threat of invasive species expansion.

Gardeners can play an important role in minimizing the threat of invasive species expansion by removing invasive plants from the garden and choosing an array of native alternatives. Contact your local or state native plant society to find out what plants are native to your area.

4. Incorporate a diversity of native plants into your landscape.

You can also help to maintain some of the important connections between pollinators and their hosts and ensure food sources for wildlife by incorporating a diverse range of native blooming and fruiting plants into your garden and having your yard recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat®.

5. Reduce water consumption.

There are a number of ways to reduce water consumption in your garden, which will be particularly important during heat waves and droughts when water resources become scarce. Actions can include mulching, installing rain barrels, adjusting your watering schedule, using drip irrigation, and xeriscaping.

6. Develop a rain garden.

Gardeners can also reduce water pollution associated with heavy downpours by developing rain gardens, which capture stormwater runoff and help prevent it from entering local lakes, streams and coastal waters.

7. Compost kitchen and garden waste.

Composting kitchen and garden waste can significantly reduce your contribution to global warming pollution, especially methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. It also provides an excellent source of nutrients for your garden, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, which pollute water supplies and take a considerable amount of energy to produce.

8. Establish a “greenroof” and plant trees to protect your house from the elements.

A “greenroof” is a roof that is covered by special soils and vegetation instead of shingles or tile. Planting a greenroof can significantly reduce stormwater runoff and help keep your home cooler in summer and warmer in winter, reducing energy costs. In addition, planting trees near your home can shield your home from the hot sun in the summer and cold winds in the winter, reducing energy use for air conditioning and heating.

9. Plant lots of trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

As all gardeners know, growing plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As they grow to maturity, trees can absorb and store as much as a ton of CO2, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for global warming. If every one of America’s 91 million gardening households planted just one young shade tree in their backyard or community, those trees would absorb around 2.25 million tons of CO2 each year.

Learn more about global warming's impact to gardens, and what you can do to help by downloading the Gardener's Guide to Global Warming >>

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