Low Carbon Gardening Tips from Union of Concerned Scientists

Union of Concerned ScientistsGreentips: April 2011:

Americans with lawns and gardens are already dealing with the effects of global warming, even if they don’t realize it. Climate change is shifting plant hardiness zones and, if left unchecked, will also force gardeners to confront more droughts, floods, weeds, and pests. Fortunately, gardeners can do more than just adapt—they can reduce their contribution to global warming by adopting the practices described below.

Use low-emissions tools and practices. Every gallon of gasoline burned in lawn and garden equipment emits 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main contributor to global warming. The manufacture and transport of synthetic fertilizers also generates CO2 emissions, and the over-application of these fertilizers can release heat-trapping nitrous oxide—which has more than 300 times the global warming potential of CO2. To avoid these emissions, use electric or hand-powered tools and organic fertilizer (e.g., composted manure), and apply sparingly.

Blanket bare soil. Planting cover crops like grasses, cereal grains, or legumes (peas, beans, clover) between flower and vegetable growing seasons helps prevent erosion and weeds, and returns carbon and nutrients to the soil when the crop is turned under. Legumes also work with friendly soil bacteria to add nitrogen naturally.

Plant trees and shrubs. Their longevity and size allow them to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere, and store it longer, than other plants. Well-positioned trees also provide shade from the summer sun and shield against winter winds, helping to reduce your heating and air conditioning needs. Choose long-lived species adapted to your local climate.

Waste not, want not. Tossing yard and kitchen waste into a compost bin instead of the trash reduces your contribution to municipal waste—as much as 25 percent—and the heat-trapping methane emitted by landfills. Composting also generates a natural fertilizer that improves your soil’s ability to store carbon.

Grow “greener” grass. Lawns can help absorb carbon from the atmosphere, but overfertilizing and overwatering can undermine that benefit by generating nitrous oxide emissions. To minimize this risk, choose drought-tolerant grasses or ground covers, water during the coolest part of the day (to reduce evaporation), mow high (to encourage deeper roots that require less water), and leave grass clippings on the lawn (to provide natural fertilizer and increase carbon storage as much as 59 percent).


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