Good news! The Union of Concerned Scientist has weighed in with a Guide to Climate-Friendly Gardening [pdf] and it's terrific. Author Karen Perry Stillerman knows that gardeners are already in tune with nature and contributing positively to the environment. Her guide helps us go beyond adapting to climate change to actually reducing the problem – by making sure our gardens are storing more heat-trapping gasses than they're generating.
1. Minimize the use of herbicides and carbon-emitting products and devices (synthetic fertilizers, gas-powered tools, and overfertilization, both organic and synthetic).
2. Keep soil covered.
3. Plant trees and shrubs, especially long-lived ones and trees that shade our homes.
4. Make compost rather than adding to methane-emitting landfills.
5. "Rethink the lawn" – which begins a surprisingly complicated discussion of both the good and the bad about lawn. First, lawns clearly store lots of carbon, but there's new research showing that when they're well watered and fertilized, they also emit nitrous oxide. So the jury's still out but in the meantime, leave clippings in place, mow high, and use minimal amounts of fertilizer and water.
All very sensible, and I especially appreciate the balanced assessment of lawn and the admission that we don't yet know enough about it. By phone I got a chance to ask Stillerman where to find the best research aimed at solving the many lawn issues, and she cited Cornell, Colorado State and several places in Australia.
I then asked if the Scientists might also be planning to address water conservation and Stillerman answered that climate change practices generally match water-saving practices. And now that she mentions it, they DO. Interesting, and oh so helpful for us earnest liberal arts majors trying to figure it all out.
I was also curious where she came down on the issue of peat – a product we're
being told to avoid with increasing frequency – and she agrees with the anti-peat crowd. Even if it could be harvested "sustainably" (whatever that means), the very harvesting of peat releases greenhouse gasses.
Long-time readers may recall less favorable reviews of another guide on this topic – by the National Wildlife Federation. No need to rehash our objections here, just to say what a relief this more objective guide was to read.
Help Spread the Word
The Concerned Scientists are sending the guide to everyone who can possibly help spread the word – garden writers and bloggers, Extension Services, Master Gardener groups, garden clubs, even the nursery and garden-center industry. If you have any suggestions at all for publicizing this excellent product, just leave a comment here coz they'll be reading.