It can be overwhelming to think of how to deal with climate change, and its impacts on our world. Where does one begin? While it may seem futile, one person can make a difference with something they may already enjoy doing, and that’s gardening!
Growing flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other greenery is a wonderful way to add oxygen to atmosphere, while reducing harmful carbon dioxide. There are many benefits to local wild life and pollinators, as well. Here’s how you can fight the climate crisis with your garden.
1. Plant Native Species
Whether you have an existing garden space or are looking to start one, focus on growing native species. These are the types of plants that will naturally grow and thrive in the conditions of your specific region. Try letting your garden grow what it wants to: where does moss pop up instinctively? What ground cover thrives? Is that really a weed?
Watch what comes up effortlessly, and if it isn’t an invasive species, perhaps it has a place in your yard. Allow native species to grow alongside each other to ensure a healthy, low-maintenance garden, that won’t need extra water or fertilizing, and will be a valuable refuge for birds and insects.
2. Lure Pollinators
A third of our food is dependent on pollinators like hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, bats, flies, and bees. They also support and balance ecosystems, which is essential to fighting climate change through a healthy and vibrant environment. Fill your garden with plants that will draw these hard-working creatures and provide them with food sources.
Sunflowers and cup plants are tall, beautifully flowering plants that lure bees and provide water and food sources. Other species like milkweed, echinacea (or coneflower), goldenrod, and asters are wonderfully alluring plants, many of which grow well in containers if you don’t have garden space.
3. Don’t Cut Back Until Early Winter
Leaving seeds, stems, and grasses for birds and other species to feed on and use as shelter can be essential to their sustainability. “Bird-friendly” plants will give them material to use in the colder months, and some bee species also hibernate in protected garden areas.
Some plants do not require to be cut back at all, so make sure to check which ones will benefit and which ones would rather be left alone. On the flip side, there are certain plants that are susceptible to mildew or other diseases—those can be cut back and destroyed, not composted or left to rot!
4. Replace Grass with Natural Alternatives
In most regions, grass needs too much water to be environmentally-friendly, not to mention the unnecessary use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that many people treat their lawns with. Unless you live in an area that gets enough rain to sustain grass without extra watering, consider the alternatives: moss and wildflower gardens require less water, provide sanctuary for pollinators, and do not require pesticides or fertilizers. Learn more about how to grow one here.
5. Use Environmentally Friendly Practices
Switch from gas-powered mowers to hand pushed ones (extra easy if you reduce your lawn space for a garden!). Ditch the chemical fertilizers, and use organic ones instead - or start composting. Make your own biodegradable weed-killing spray out of vinegar and water, or insecticidal soap with dish soap, oil, and water.
Re-consider your view on weeds in general—are they really a nuisance, or are they plants in their own right? Dandelions are an example of so-called “weeds” that are actually beneficial. They feed pollinators, are good for compacted soil, and are edible sources of calcium, iron and other vitamins that humans can consume.
6. Don’t Use Pesticides
Pesticides seep into the ground and end up contaminating our water systems, in turn, harming wildlife, fish, and insects that we rely on for food growth. Try natural alternatives like using other “pests” to kill the unwanted ones. Plant companion species or ones that will deter unwanted bugs. Remember, not all bugs are bad! Most of them are essential to your garden and are entitled to their space. If you do have an infestation you need to take care of inside of outside the house, consider using diatomaceous earth – an all-natural powder that can penetrate the shells of most problem-insects like ants and wasps.
7. Implement Smart Watering Practices
Start using the motto, “water smarter, not harder” by deploying systems to collect rainwater like rain barrels, rain gardens, and other smart water harvesting techniques. If you do need to supplement during dry periods with hose water, do so in the early morning or evening, otherwise most of the water will evaporate in the hot, midday sun. Remember, planting native species and eliminating lawn space will reduce your overall watering needs.
8. Join Community Garden Groups
Many of your local garden communities will be amazing sources of knowledge regarding native species, healthy gardening tips, and may even offer plant swapping event information. Look for tours of native plant gardens to give you inspiration and information about your garden. Meeting some new gardening buddies along the way is a bonus.
There are many ways we can help fight the climate crisis, and planting or tending to a garden is a great example. Many of you are already at it, and that’s great! Keep up the hard work, or implement some of these new ideas to get even more sustainable in your approach. Stick to natives, ditch the chemicals, and try to reduce your watering needs to ensure you are doing your part.