Gardening, my favorite pastime, has become a challenge in the age of climate disruption. That means we need to adapt. Spring is fast approaching, so I’m including some tips in this blog to keep you safe and healthy while gardening.
Last summer, I was desperate to be in my native plant garden after four weeks of languishing indoors due to severe thunderstorms, excessive heat, and poor air quality from pollution and Canadian wildfires.
The day I decided to venture outside, air quality was code orange, so I wore an N95 mask. I was decked out in permethrin treated clothes to ward off deer ticks and a hat with netting in case any hungry adult mosquitoes were in the vicinity. (However, they are welcome to lay their eggs in my mosquito dunk bucket.)
I went outside at 7:15 AM and stopped at 8:45 AM. I normally spend at least four hours playing in my garden, but this morning I was sopping wet after weeding for only 1 ½ hours, despite the cloudy day. It was 72 degrees when I went outside, but heat index (real feel) was 86 due to moisture in the air. I knew I was safe, because heat exhaustion is not an issue until the heat index is 104 for healthy adults, and 90 for those over age 65. By 2 PM, heat index was 99. Good thing I did my gardening early.
Speaking of storms, I learned a new weather word this week—atmospheric rivers. An atmospheric river carries saturated air from the tropics, which results in a long narrow path of heavy rainfall that dumps so much rain in a short period of time that flash flooding is inevitable. I hope that never happens to my garden—or yours.
Gone are the days of care-free gardening. As you can see, we can’t enjoy the great outdoors any time we want anymore. We have to take precautions, like checking not just temperature, but heat index and air quality alerts.
But I’m not the only one who’s challenged. My poor plants are also being affected. My swamp milkweed succumbed to ground level ozone damage. My chrysanthemums start blooming in early July instead of October. Some plants that don’t like excessive moisture are rotting. Trees are dying and even healthy trees are falling over as severe thunderstorms roll through the area.
How climate disruption affects plants
Plants feel the heat too. Higher temperatures cause heat stress, and droughts make it worse. Warmer temperatures cause earlier leaf out and bloom times. Growing zones are changing. Pollinators expect nectar and pollen at a certain time in the gardening season. When bloom times change, what’s a pollinator to do?
Invasive plants are becoming even more aggressive, because higher CO2 levels promote their growth. My garden is suddenly loaded with poison ivy. According to Cornell Cooperative extension, that’s being fostered by climate disruption.
What you can do
- Treat your native plants like Goldilocks. Know their preferences. Give them just right conditions that are not too sunny, too shady, too dry, or too wet.
- Since growing zones are changing, avoid using plants that are near the southern end of their natural range.
- Some plants are on the move for better growing conditions. Help protect wild native plants by joining the effort to preserve the natural corridor areas they need for migration.
- Be an invasive plant detective. If you find invasives, remove them. Do not allow them to gain a foothold on your property.
- Check air quality before venturing out to your garden. Wear an N95 or KN95 mask if you are gardening on poor air quality days.
- Check the heat index to see if it’s safe for you to be outdoors–especially if you are over 65.
I hope this blog helps you to garden safely in the age of climate disruption.