Helping Your Garden Transition with Climate Change
by Lindsay Jane
As our world changes with the current climate crisis, you may be worrying about how this will affect your garden and the nature around you. Fret not! Gardeners have long been the stewards of nature and there are ways that you can help the ecosystem under your fingertips. No matter whether you’re working from an apartment balcony or a large homestead, these tips can be done to help you and the living world around you adapt to the changes that are already starting to happen.
Look at the Climate Change Predictions for your Local Area
Understanding what your environment is going to look like in the next 50 years is instrumental to making sure that your garden can continue to thrive through adversity. What are the predicted temperature increases? Is the rainfall expected to increase or decrease? What other environmental changes are predicted to happen? Having access to this information will help you plan what species will be able to better survive and what other adaptations need to be created. [Note: for this kind of information, check out websites such as the IPCC’s WGI Interactive Atlas, which is global in scope, or national websites such as The Climate Atlas of Canada, the US Forest Service’s Climate Change Atlas, or the websites in Climate Link’s collection for selected countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America.]
Your gardening choices can have an enormous impact on the natural world, and this means you can help heal the environment. Gardening is sometimes seen as a “battle for control against Mother Nature”, but what if instead of working against her, we work with her? Helping our environment to heal from erosion, human activity, unpredictable climate.
When you think regeneratively in your garden, the goal is to mimic nature
much as possible. Although this can conflict somewhat with attempts to plant for climate change, this means choosing native and non-invasive species when planting, working with the amount of natural rainfall, and promoting helpful wildlife. Here is a good resource to get started. If you yourself don’t have the time to be able to research what plants are native to your area, reach out to someone in your community who is a regenerative landscape designer.
Even if the only space you have available to you is a balcony and you can’t work with a full landscape, you can have a garden that increases biodiversity and benefits many living things around you. When there is a greater number of species within an area, there’s a greater chance that some will have the right skills and features to survive a changing climate. Likewise, if there is a disease or pest that is impacting a particular species, it is less likely to devastate an area if there are more species.
When choosing plants for your area, if you want to support what remains of the native birds, insects and other invertebrates, and small mammals, the best bet are plants that are native and non-invasive. Local environment groups often have lists of the species suited to your area. Planting a garden full of plants that feed local pollinators and provide safe spaces for native wildlife will help them survive into the future. If appropriate, look at providing a home for threatened or endangered native plant species in your garden to help increase their population.
Improve Gardening Practice
Your gardening practices can have an incredible impact on the health of the environment. Common practices like raking up leaves in the autumn can have negative effects on soil health, life cycles of local wildlife and the nutrients present in the soil for your plants to use. Here are some gardening practices that you can use to help your backyard ecosystem thrive. Links with further information will be included in each section.
A well-known classic, composting is the process of turning organic matter into fertilizer for your garden. Composting provides a myriad of benefits, such as improving soil health, lessening erosion (when used as a cover over topsoil), and keeping your food waste out of landfill. You can even compost indoors, with processes such as vermiculture–using earthworms. Two guides to get started are this general guide and one on vermiculture. [Note from bitter experience: compost is great, but be careful about feeding compost that includes wood to trees, lest you infect them with a fatal case of honey fungus. Also, if you live in a hot, dry climate, be careful about keeping the compost pile uniformly moist to diminish the chances of the compost pile spontaneously combusting.]
Plants need nutrients to grow, and up until the invention of synthetic fertilizers in the 19th century, this was done with natural methods. While synthetic fertilizers are fast acting, they do little to stimulate soil health or improve the longevity of your soil. Natural fertilizers benefit not only the plants but microorganisms in the soil, along with providing micronutrients that are not present in synthetic. Using natural fertilizers keeps your entire garden healthy, not just the plants.
Don’t Rake Leaves
Countless species use leaf litter as part of their natural lifecycle. Fallen leaves shelter pollinators over the winter and help small creatures to hide. If you are not able to leave them lying where they’ve fallen, then there are other solutions like raking them into your planted beds. Another possible compromise is to leave them alone until the spring and rake them up then. Being conscious of disturbing natural cycles as little as possible will help other creatures survive and your piece of nature to thrive.
Fungal Networks are your Friends
A secret world hides just beneath our feet in the soil. Networks of mycorrhizae (fungi that associate symbiotically with plant roots) help plants take up water and nutrients, increasing the plants’ uptake of this critical resources. In return, the plants feed the fungal networks with sugars the plants have produced via photosynthesis. There can often be hundreds of miles of mycorrhizal network naturally within a single square meter of soil, which represents a lot of support for plants that can be wiped out if you don’t protect your soil. This means practicing no-till methods with your garden and trying to not disturb the soil. However, if the soil is barren or sterile potted soil, then mycorrhizae will need to be added, perhaps from a neighboring garden.
Avoid Harmful Pest Management
The issue of insecticides and pesticides is complex, as at times there are harmful invasive species that can only be controlled through their use. However, there are numerous other methods that can be used when the situation does not quite require the “nuclear option,” since pesticides and insecticides should be used with caution and sparingly, as they can lead to a plethora of problems. Issues such as runoff of these toxic chemicals into local waterways can lead to the poisoning of entire ecosystems. Only use these out of complete necessity and look for other solutions for pest management.
Save Seeds & Pollinate by Hand
An essential gardening skill that is often overlooked, seed saving, when deployed with informed diligence and on a large scale could be a life saver in terms of agricultural biodiversity. Collecting seeds from the most robust and healthy plants will select for the traits that will help the strain adapt over time to shifting climatic conditions. Become familiar with the species in your area and garden, and figure out if they need a helping hand with producing seeds or if they simply need spreading.
Change the Game with Indoor Gardening
Something that humans have become skilled at is creating a comfortable controlled environment for ourselves. This can be beneficial to the species around us, including our leafy companions. Through modern technology, we can take the centuries-old practice of keeping house plants and take it a step further. By using tools such as energy efficient grow lights and‒if you get really into it‒hydroponic or aquaponic systems, you can bring your cultivation practice indoors. You can even grow food indoors, and, with a controlled environment, have a stronger guarantee of your plants surviving. [Note: just be careful about mold and pests, which can be added challenges indoors.]
Local Government and Community
The fight against the climate crisis and the health of our planet lies not solely on the shoulders of any one individual. While the suggestions above are all important ways to help your garden weather the coming future, our strength lies in numbers and community. Petitioning your government to make good choices for our ecosystems, and creating systemic change is essential to helping nature and our gardens survive. Organize with your community to use these tips to help a greater area thrive despite the coming changes to local conditions, and to benefit everyone. Some ideas to get started are to get your local hot pepper aficionado to grow their own, encourage your neighbour to have native flowers in their garden, vote for officials that prioritize climate, green spaces, and environmental sustainability, or sneak a palm into your friends’ apartment. We’re all in this together.
Our close relationship with nature has been integral throughout history, following through the rise and fall of different civilizations. The power that is held within gardens and our choices with them can have a larger impact than you would initially believe. This article is hopefully a helpful start to finding the path you need to take care of your garden and face the future with strength in your heart.
Lindsay Jane (she/her) is a horticulturist who helps fellow plant lovers find ways to restore nature around them and create a better future.
After studying horticulture at the University of Guelph with a focus on ecological restoration, Lindsay has been planting a more biodiverse world with various companies in Canada. She runs a YouTube channel called the Solarpunk Scene where she shows various aspects of Solarpunk and different projects around the world.
Lindsay Jane loves crafting and making new things, along with finding new adventures.Lindsay is available for Solarpunk and horticulture projects. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.