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Creating the Climate-Friendly Garden

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Sizzling heat and drought, unseasonal chill, and powerful storms-we Foothill gardeners are all too familiar with erratic weather.

Climate, on the other hand, is the average weather over a period of decades. The warming of our planet is believed to be caused, at least in part, by escalating levels of heat-trapping carbon and other atmospheric gases. Higher temperatures increase ocean evaporation and create surplus atmospheric water vapor. The result: unsettled weather.

If you’re looking to do your part to benefit the climate, don’t forget your own backyard.

• Focus on growing woody, long-lived shrubs and trees that store their carbon for extended periods. Some trees, such as oaks, can live for centuries.

• Reduce power plant and fireplace emissions (and your heating bill) by planting deciduous, shade-producing trees on the south and west sides of the house. Strategically-placed evergreens can soften prevailing winter winds.

• Plant natives suited to your area. They are often more drought tolerant, disease resistant, and help sustain imperiled wildlife. Diversify your plantings to enhance survival.

• Become a lawn dissident; grow drought-tolerant grasses and native ground covers, shrubs and meadows.

• To better manage an existing lawn, leave grass clippings to decompose and nourish the grass; water deeply; invest in an emissions-free, calorie-burning push mower.

• Grow your own fresh, organic food. Your own food will be energy-conserving, fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.


• Use little or no synthetic fertilizers. Excess nitrogen from fertilizer runs into and sickens our creeks, rivers, and groundwater. Synthetic fertilizers require large amounts of energy and create carbon in their manufacture, packaging, and transport.

• Supply plant nutrients instead with compost or other organic mulches, or apply modest amounts of slow-release fertilizer which are less likely to leach into waterways.

• Say no to pesticides including weed killers (herbicides). Pesticide production contributes to carbon release; herbicides especially generate more carbon emissions than other pesticides.

• Mulch, mulch, mulch, to reduce the need for herbicides.

• Create your own compost and mulch with grass and yard trimmings and kitchen waste. These organic materials make up about one quarter of our municipal solid waste and release methane, when disposed of in landfills.

• Treat your soil with respect. It can be a powerful place to store (sequester) carbon.

• Use less water. The number one use of energy in California is pumping and moving water. Plant drought-resistant plant species, mulch, use drip irrigation, and eliminate runoff. Before watering, assess moisture needs by pushing a long screwdriver into the soil.

• Use more hand tools. Power equipment burns fossil fuels and releases large amounts of heat-trapping gases.

To learn more about low-impact garden strategies visit and click on “Food and Agriculture”. Or visit

Vera Strader prepares for climate change in her garden near Sonora.