By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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By Stephanie Woodard
Many Americans are now experiencing an erratic food supply for the first time. Among COVID-19's disruptions are bare supermarket shelves and items available yesterday but nowhere to be found today. As you seek ways to replace them, you can look to Native gardens for ideas and inspiration.
Aubrey Skye, Standing Rock Sioux tribal member, tills gardens for himself and other tribal members. He does some by hand, and others with this tractor. Photo by Stephanie Woodard.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
It will be warmer in Fairbanks, Alaska, than it will be in New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland and even Atlanta this weekend, AccuWeather predicted Wednesday.
By Jennifer Atkinson
The coronavirus pandemic has set off a global gardening boom.
Why Americans Garden<p>Prior to industrialization, most Americans were <a href="https://www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus/" target="_blank">farmers</a> and would have considered it odd to grow food as a leisure activity. But as they moved into cities and suburbs to take factory and office jobs, coming home to putter around in one's potato beds took on a kind of novelty. Gardening also appealed to nostalgia for the passing of traditional farm life.</p><p>For black Americans denied the opportunity to abandon subsistence work, Jim Crow-era gardening reflected a different set of desires.</p><p>In her essay "<a href="https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxhbWVyaWNhbmxpdDE0MTV8Z3g6NWRlMGUyYzc5NDJjMTRmNA" target="_blank">In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens</a>," Alice Walker recalls her mother tending an extravagant flower garden late at night after finishing brutal days of field labor. As a child, she wondered why anyone would voluntarily add one more task to such a difficult life. Later, Walker understood that gardening wasn't just another form of labor; it was an act of artistic expression.</p><p>Particularly for black women relegated to society's least desirable jobs, gardening offered the chance to reshape a small piece of the world in, as Walker put it, one's "personal image of Beauty."</p><p>This isn't to say that food is always a secondary factor in gardening passions. Convenience cuisine in the 1950s spawned its <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt5hh1rm" target="_blank">own generation</a> of home-growers and <a href="https://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/4372.htm" target="_blank">back-to-the-land</a> movements rebelling against a <a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520250352/meals-to-come" target="_blank">mid-century diet</a> now infamous for Jell-O mold salads, canned-food casseroles, TV dinner and Tang.</p><p><span></span>For millennial-era growers, gardens have responded to longings for <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329483674_The_Earth_Knows_My_Name_Food_Culture_and_Sustainability_in_the_Gardens_of_Ethnic_Americans" target="_blank">community and inclusion</a>, especially among <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/09/doing-whatever-it-takes-to-create-a-prison-garden" target="_blank">marginalized groups</a>. Immigrants and inner-city residents lacking access to green space and fresh produce have taken up "<a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520277779/paradise-transplanted" target="_blank">guerrilla gardening</a>" in vacant lots to revitalize their communities.</p>
Gardening in the Age of Screens<p>In 2011, Ron Finley – a resident of South Central L.A. and self-identified "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-fo-ron-finley-project-20170503-story.html" target="_blank">gangsta gardener</a>" – was even threatened with arrest for installing vegetable plots along sidewalks.</p><p>Such appropriations of public space for community use are often seen as threats to existing power structures. Moreover, many people can't wrap their heads around the idea that someone would spend time cultivating a garden but not reap all of the rewards.</p><p>When reporters asked Finley if he were concerned that people would steal the food, <a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerrilla_gardener_in_south_central_la" target="_blank">he replied</a>, "Hell no I ain't afraid they're gonna steal it, that's why it's on the street!"</p>
Filling the Void<p>Page's observation suggests a final reason why the coronavirus pandemic has ignited such a flurry of gardening. Our era is one of profound <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010" target="_blank">loneliness</a>, and the proliferation of <a href="https://www.upmc.com/media/news/012219-primack-sidani-posneg" target="_blank">digital devices</a> is only one of the causes. That emptiness also proceeds from the staggering <a href="https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/" target="_blank">retreat of nature</a>, a process underway well before screen addiction. The people coming of age during the COVID-19 pandemic have already witnessed oceans die and glaciers disappear, watched Australia and the Amazon burn and mourned the astonishing <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/wwf-report-reveals-staggering-extent-of-human-impact-on-planet" target="_blank">loss of global wildlife</a>.</p><p>Perhaps this explains why <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/magazine/quarantine-animal-videos-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">stories of nature's "comeback"</a> are continually <a href="https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2020-04-21/wildlife-thrives-amid-coronavirus-lockdown" target="_blank">popping up</a> alongside those gardening headlines. We cheer at images of animals <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/science/coronavirus-animals-wildlife-goats.html" target="_blank">reclaiming</a> abandoned spaces and birds filling skies cleared of pollution. Some of these accounts are credible, others <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-fake-animal-viral-social-media-posts/" target="_blank">dubious</a>. What matters, I think, is that they offer a glimpse of the world as we wish it could be: In a time of immense suffering and climate breakdown, we are desperate for signs of life's resilience.</p><p>My final conversation with Wallace offered a clue as to how this desire is also fueling today's gardening craze. She marveled at how life in the garden continues to "spring forth in our absence, or even because of our absence." Then she closed with an insight at once "liberating" and "humiliating" that touches on hopes reaching far beyond the nation's backyards: "No matter what we do, or how the conference call goes, the garden will carry on, with or without us."</p>
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By Courtney Lindwall
If you're one of those people cooped up safely at home, with creative energy and free time to spare—count yourself lucky. Here, we've rounded up a list of two dozen environmental projects that can make your time indoors, or right outside, a little brighter. Whether you're ready to start rescuing more of your kitchen scraps, sewing your own cloth napkins, or documenting those backyard butterflies, we hope these simple green ideas will provide a calming means of coping during these unprecedented times. Have fun and stay safe.
Experiment in the Kitchen<p><strong>Spice up mealtime with recipes from </strong><a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/" target="_blank">Save the Food</a> that will also help prevent your food from going to waste. Make a fromage fort to spread on your crackers, or "scraps falafel" to use up wrinkly onions and wilted herbs. And for dessert, how about some <a href="https://savethefood.com/recipes/leftover-mashed-potato-apple-cider-donuts" target="_blank">leftover mashed potato apple cider donuts</a>? </p><p><strong>Rescue wilting herbs.</strong> Make <a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank">herb oil ice cubes</a><a href="https://savethefood.com/storage" target="_blank"> by </a>packing diced herbs into an ice cube tray, covering with olive oil, and freezing. Thaw for ready-made flavor in your next dish. You can also transform less-than-fresh herbs into sauces, like chimichurri or pesto, or roast them and mix with salt to create longer-lasting seasonings. </p><p><strong>Start a windowsill herb garden. </strong>You'll need some seeds or a small plant, an upcycled container like a coffee canister that leaves room for growth and drainage, and a sunny ledge. (The Herb Society of America can help you determine <a href="https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/intro-to-herbs/hsa-gardening-for-kids/light-indoor-gardens.html" target="_blank">the right dose of light and water for each species</a>.) In a few weeks' time, you'll be ready to add a sprig of fresh basil to your bowl of pasta or diced cilantro to your batch of guac.</p><p><strong>Arrange a plant-based recipe swap</strong> with friends and family, which will reduce your diet's climate impacts while creating some virtual community. (Remember: If <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sujatha-bergen/saving-planet-starts-our-plates" target="_blank">every American cut just one hamburger</a> or about a quarter pound of beef out of their diet each week, we could reduce emissions by as much as taking about 10 million cars off the road each year.)</p>
Enjoy a Dose of Nature<p><strong></strong><strong>Make your own basic bird feeder</strong> using pine cones, twine, nut butter, and birdseed. <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-rxsVfAvaa/" target="_blank">This video from the Feminist Bird Club shows you one way to do it.</a> Hang it on a nearby tree you can spot through your window, then grab a pair of binoculars and do some armchair birding!</p><p><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-and-why-be-seed-savior" target="_blank"><strong>Create an herbarium</strong></a>—a scrapbook of pressed, dried flowers or other plants. To prepare your samples, press the plant matter in a large book or between sheets of newspaper and place a weight on top. When the leaves are dry, mount them on acid-free paper to preserve them, and label each specimen on the page. You can also include illustrations, photographs, seed packets, and notes.</p><p><strong>Sharpen your naturalist ID skills.</strong> Try to identify every species of plant in your backyard or on a neighborhood walk. You can do the same for wildlife—and share your findings through <a href="https://www.projectnoah.org/" target="_blank">Project Noah</a>, a citizen science platform to discover, share, and identify wildlife.</p><p><strong>Grow new indoor plants</strong> with the use of stems and leaves, rather than seeds. Though it <a href="https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/how_to_propagate_houseplants" target="_blank">depends on your individual plant</a> species, propagating houseplants is often as easy as cutting off a stem or leaf from an existing plant and sticking it in soil or fresh water. If it takes, a new root system should form within a few weeks—leaving you with a hearty second plant within a few more months. (Pro tip: This works for green onions too! Nearly submerge their sliced-off roots, end down, into a glass of water that you change every few days. Voilà: a nearly endless supply of scallions.)</p><p><strong>Observe monarch butterflies</strong> in your backyard and share your findings with Monarch Watch, an organization devoted to their <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/monarch-butterflies-get-head-start-schoolyard" target="_blank">conservation</a>. Each year, monarchs make a remarkable 3,000-mile trek from as far north as the southern parts of Canada to the mountains of Mexico and back—but these pollinators are <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sylvia-fallon/monarch-butterfly-numbers-fall-again" target="_blank">in danger</a>. Register as one of Monarch Watch's citizen scientists to <a href="https://monarchwatch.org/calendar/?fbclid=IwAR1bawlAoraeMokwdiZa_GVONQqtDnqQxc_EM_UwzbO0zhq733PT6CQIgLc" target="_blank">help track the population's health</a>.</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank">Boost your backyard biodiversity</a>. </strong>Plant some milkweed—the main food source for monarch caterpillars and egg-laying habitat for the butterflies. Hang a bee nesting box somewhere it can get sunlight and warmth. Add a barn owl box or attach a simple roosting perch to a pole. For reptile enthusiasts, set up a small wood pile, using brush or old logs as shelter for lizards and snakes (plus fungi).</p>
Do Some Handiwork and Art Projects<p><strong>Make face masks </strong>for your friends, family, and workers on the frontlines. This <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/DIY-cloth-face-covering-instructions.pdf" target="_blank">Center for Disease Control guide</a> breaks down different techniques. If you're comfortable sewing, you'll just need two 10-by-6-inch rectangles of fabric, two pieces of elastic, and a needle and thread for each mask. The no-sew option only requires a T-shirt and scissors. Remember: Cloth masks should be cleaned regularly (the CDC says a washing machine is sufficient) in order to remain effective.<strong></strong></p><p><strong>Get your crayons out </strong>and do some therapeutic coloring. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and as part of a collaboration with NRDC, Studio Number One and its creative director, artist Shepard Fairey, have converted some of its archival activist artwork into <a href="http://www.studionumberone.com/free-downloads" target="_blank">black-and-white printouts for at-home coloring.</a></p><p><strong>Tackle your plastic bag stash</strong>, especially if your city or town is among those that recently banned the bag. Since current conditions may eliminate collection and recycling programs for plastic bags in your area, consider upcycling them instead. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to make outdoor pillow cushions stuffed with plastic bags, weave bags into <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-basket-out-of-plastic-bags/" target="_blank">sturdy baskets</a>, or wind them into jump ropes.</p>
Build Your Community<p><strong></strong><strong>Start an environmental movie club.</strong> Various apps let you host movie nights with friends online, so you can chat while you watch. You can find our recs for standout environmental films on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/B-QNBxqJAUR/" target="_blank">Instagram</a>—including <em>Poisoning Paradise</em>, <em>Virunga</em>, and <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-turn-your-patch-earth-barren-bountiful" target="_blank"><em>The Biggest Little Farm</em></a>—with short summaries and tips on where you can find them online.</p><p>Document the environmental changes in your community<strong>, as they relate to climate change, through the </strong><a href="https://earthchallenge2020.earthday.org/" target="_blank"><strong>Earth Challenge </strong>2020's online portal</a>. The project will collect billions of observations in air quality, plastic pollution, and insect populations, and your insights will help promote policy change to address our warming world.</p><p><strong>Tune in to a new podcast</strong>. We recommend <a href="https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/range/hot-take-4#/" target="_blank"><em>Hot Take</em></a>, featuring NRDC's own Mary Heglar and her cohost Amy Westervelt, which takes a critical but constructive, intersectional look at how climates issues are being covered in the media. And despite the weighty content of the podcast, laughter is one of its defining sounds.</p><p><strong>Connect with climate justice activists</strong> by following along with <a href="http://thisiszerohour.org/our-actions/#actions" target="_blank">Zero Hour's Getting to the Roots digital series</a>. Each week, it focuses on a different theme that is a root cause of the climate crisis as well as ways to solve it—through digital leadership training, webinars, virtual open mics on Instagram and Twitter, art competitions, and podcast releases.</p><p><strong>Write a </strong><a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-write-successful-letter-editor" target="_blank"><strong>letter to the editor</strong></a> that tackles one of the environmental issues facing your community that's close to your heart. The letter can be written in response to a piece that's already been published by a given media outlet, or it can be a proactive statement of support for or opposition against a particular issue that affects fellow readers. It's the perfect way to reach thousands of individuals and still remain publicly engaged without having to leave the comfort of your home.</p>
By April M. Short
The world's wildlife is in danger of dying off, and inevitably taking humanity out with it. Humans have destroyed enormous portions of the planet's natural spaces, and caused a climate disaster as well as the unprecedented acceleration of mass extinction events. Among the many species struggling to stay afloat are the butterflies, birds, bats, bees and other pollinators we depend upon in order to grow basic food crops. People cannot live without the earth's diverse wild plants and animals.
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By Rina Chandran
This story was originally published on Reuters on April 7, 2020. Data and statistics reflect numbers at that time.
Coronavirus lockdowns are pushing more city dwellers to grow fruit and vegetables in their homes, providing a potentially lasting boost to urban farming, architects and food experts said on Tuesday.
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With springtime in the air and the days getting longer, you may well be daydreaming about your garden or flower bed and the quiet weekend hours you hope to spend there in the weeks to come. But knowing what to plant as temperatures climb and precipitation patterns change around the world can be a challenge.
Drought-Tolerant Plants<p>When it comes to our changing climate, it's fairly safe to "<a href="http://climateandlife.columbia.edu/2017/05/31/expect-the-wet-to-get-wetter-and-the-dry-drier/" target="_blank">expect the wet to get wetter, and the dry, drier</a>."</p><p>If the region you live in is already a fairly dry one — like, say, the American West, Middle East and North Africa, and much of Australia — you're likely to experience even drier conditions and occasional drought as the world continues to warm.</p><p>These concerns, of course, have far larger implications than what you plant in the beds around your front porch or in your backyard. But that's not to say picking the right plants for your particular changing climate has no role at all in making you a better steward of natural resources at a time when it matters more than ever.</p><p>As just one example, <a href="https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water" target="_blank">according to the EPA</a>, outdoor water use, including the watering of lawns and gardens, accounts for about 30 percent of all residential water use in the U.S., and that number "can be much higher in drier parts of the country and in more water-intensive landscapes." So it makes sense that opting for plants that are able to thrive in drier conditions can also help rein in your home water use at a time when water resources can become strained.</p><p>But which plants are less thirsty and more resilient during periods of drought?</p><p>Lavender is a particularly popular — and wonderfully fragrant — common plant that "<a href="https://www.thespruce.com/water-wise-plants-drought-tolerant-gardens-2736715" target="_blank">has evolved to subsist on little water</a>."</p><p>Cushion spurge (Euphorbia), with its pale green leaves and yellow bracts, is an especially good <a href="http://www.perennialresource.com/photo_essay.php?ID=311" target="_blank">drought-tolerant plant</a> for gardens in cooler climes. And <a href="https://www.countryliving.com/gardening/garden-ideas/g26122002/drought-resistant-plants/?slide=12" target="_blank">ornamental grasses</a> tend to be both aesthetically pleasing and drought tolerant, more generally. Feather reed grass, blue fescue, fountain grass, and big bluestem (called "Monarch of the Prairie" by some), in particular, <a href="http://www.perennialresource.com/photo_essay.php?ID=311" target="_blank">will all survive periods of water shortage while still looking great</a>.</p><p>If more conventional flowers are your thing, consider peonies, geraniums, butterfly weed, baby's breath, sedum, and coneflower, all of which require a bit less water than many other common garden flowers.</p><p>It's important to note that the perennials above are only truly drought-tolerant once they have been fully established. This means that in their first and sometimes second years, they will require a little more water and care. And as with all plants, if you are in the U.S., you should check to make sure it is a good fit for <a href="https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/" target="_blank">your USDA Hardiness Zone</a>.</p>
Heat-Tolerant Plants<p>"Worldwide, since 1880 the average surface temperature [on Earth] has risen about 1° C (about 2° F), relative to the mid-20th-century baseline (of 1951-1980)," <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/faq/12/whats-the-difference-between-climate-change-and-global-warming/" target="_blank">according to NASA</a>.</p><p>It's important to remember that's a worldwide average; many regions have experienced more warming than this on the ground. But any change in temperatures can and will change where a plant can be grown — and some plants are better able to deal with periods of extreme heat than others.</p><p>A few of the plants mentioned above as being drought-tolerant can also deal pretty well with higher temperatures, including butterfly weed and purple coneflower. </p><p>Celosia, with its bright, feathery orange, purple, yellow, red, and white plumes, is a favorite for many American gardeners — and is well-known to "<a href="https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/14-plants-that-thrive-even-when-temperatures-rise-52220#celosia" target="_blank">remain upright and strong even in sizzling heat</a>."</p><p>And zinnias, gaillardia, purslane, and cosmos are all <a href="https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/14-plants-that-thrive-even-when-temperatures-rise-52220#purslane" target="_blank">prolific, heat-loving annuals</a>.</p><p>When it comes to perennials and other shrubs, if you live in a largely temperate area that experiences occasional periods of high heat, consider adding viburnum to your landscape. Its fragrant clusters of delicate white blossoms arrive fairly early in the season, often in May and June, and it does a famously good job of standing up to late-summer heat, providing birds and other wildlife refuge in the shade created by its eight-to-10-foot average height and broad, leafy boughs.</p><p>Yucca, a broadleaf evergreen, is native to some of the warmest and driest parts of North America, so it's no surprise that, <a href="https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/14-plants-that-thrive-even-when-temperatures-rise-52220#yucca-yucca-elephantipes" target="_blank">according to Bob Vila</a>, "When other plants begin to wilt in the heat, yucca stands tall and strong."</p><p>For a smaller shrub that does particularly well with higher humidity (it is a longtime stalwart in gardens across the American South), consider lantana.</p>
Rain Gardens<p>Like we said earlier, "<a href="http://climateandlife.columbia.edu/2017/05/31/expect-the-wet-to-get-wetter-and-the-dry-drier/" target="_blank">expect the wet to get wetter, and the dry, drier</a>."</p><p>Put as simply as possible, climate change impacts our weather largely by putting <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/climate-change-impacting-water-cycle" target="_blank">our water cycle</a> into overdrive. As temperatures around the globe climb, water from land and sea is evaporating faster. Making matters worse: Warmer air can hold more water vapor.</p><p>More water in our atmosphere means more intense precipitation and more intense storms. It's called a cycle for a reason.</p><p>So, if you are in a region experiencing more and more precipitation, and are looking for a great way to soak up some of the extra rain while keeping your landscape looking great, consider a "rain garden."</p><p>But wait. What's a "rain garden"?</p><p>"A rain garden is a garden of native shrubs, perennials, and flowers planted in a small depression, which is generally formed on a natural slope. It is designed to temporarily hold and soak in rain water runoff that flows from roofs, driveways, patios or lawns," <a href="https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens.html" target="_blank">according to Groundwater.org</a>. "Rain gardens are effective in removing up to 90 percent of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80 percent of sediments from the rainwater runoff. Compared to a conventional lawn, rain gardens allow for 30 percent more water to soak into the ground."</p><p>It's important to note that rain gardens are not ponds, water gardens, or wetlands. They are meant to collect and hold rainwater only during and for <a href="https://extension.psu.edu/an-introduction-to-rain-gardens" target="_blank">no more than 24 or so hours max after</a> a rainfall event. Designing them this way goes a long way to keeping <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/climate-change-and-health-infectious-diseases" target="_blank">another persistent climate pest</a> at bay: mosquitos.</p><p>Rain gardens are typically placed on the downside of a slope — the best location for them to collect excess rainwater runoff — and at least 10 feet from a house or other residence. Building the garden itself is a bit of a process, one with more than a few moving parts (luckily, <a href="https://extension.psu.edu/an-introduction-to-rain-gardens" target="_blank">Penn State Extension offers a fantastic primer on getting started</a>). The good new there is that most work associated with rain gardens happens up front; once the garden is established, it typically requires <a href="https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens.html" target="_blank">minimal maintenance</a>.</p><p>Just as some plants are drought-tolerant, other vegetation can easily withstand temporary excesses of water — and these are the plants you want to seek out for your rain garden. Be sure to seek out a mix of shrubs, perennials and grasses, and flowers that are native to your region.</p><p>Some shrubs that "<a href="https://extension.psu.edu/rain-gardens-the-plants" target="_blank">are tolerant of inundated (flooded) conditions … [and] can tolerate standing water for a period of time</a>" include elderberry, silky dogwood, winterberry, and swamp azalea. American beautyberry, red-osier dogwood, and Virginia sweetspire can handle pretty wet conditions too, but don't love it when standing water hangs around quite as long.</p><p><span></span>In the perennials, grasses, and ferns department, look to marsh marigold, switchgrass, goldenrod, cinnamon fern, and blue flag iris (<a href="https://extension.psu.edu/rain-gardens-the-plants" target="_blank">among many others</a>) for the wettest areas of the rain garden, and evening primrose, threadleaf coreopsis, blue mistflower, and boltonia for the corners that get a little less swamped.</p>
What's Next<p>Here at Climate Reality, we've long had a keen interest in <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/what-regenerative-agriculture" target="_blank">climate-smart agriculture</a> and <a href="https://climaterealityproject.org/blog/regenerative-agriculture-and-municipal-climate-action-plans" target="_blank">the ways</a> farmers and gardeners can do their part to help turn the tide on climate by taking <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/content/right-under-your-feet-soil-health-and-climate-crisis" target="_blank">action to fight this crisis</a>.</p><p><span></span>It's important to remember that you don't have to manage a thousand acres to do something real for our climate. From <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/take-climate-action-transforming-your-lawn-edible-landscaping" target="_blank">edible landscaping</a> to "<a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/lasagna-gardening-grow-healthy-veggies-while-taking-climate-action" target="_blank">lasagna gardening</a>" and <a href="https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/spring-action-6-tips-climate-smart-gardening" target="_blank">so much more</a>, you can be the change you want to see. You don't even have to leave your own backyard to get started!</p><p>And when your neighbors, colleagues, or family members ask what you're up to, tell them you are taking action for the planet. <a href="https://climaterealityproject.org/blog/do-something-important-climate-talk-about-it" target="_blank">Sometimes, the most powerful climate action you can take is simply talking about the crisis and the ways we can fight it and win together</a>. </p><p>In the meantime, sign up below to join Climate Reality's email list and we'll keep you posted on the latest developments in climate policy and how you can help solve the climate crisis.</p>
- Spring Into Action: 6 Tips for Climate-Smart Gardening - EcoWatch ›
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By Tyler Wells Lynch
For years, Toni Genberg assumed a healthy garden was a healthy habitat. That's how she approached the landscaping around her home in northern Virginia. On trips to the local gardening center, she would privilege aesthetics, buying whatever looked pretty, "which was typically ornamental or invasive plants," she said. Then, in 2014, Genberg attended a talk by Doug Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware. "I learned I was actually starving our wildlife," she said.
SaSavanna Syndrome<p>In lieu of monocrops, landscapes with a larger, more diverse biomass of native species help support pollinators, sequester carbon, capture runoff, and rebuild habitats. <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190905094056.htm" target="_blank">One recent study</a> found habitats with two or three native tree species are on average 25 percent to 30 percent more productive than monocultures, meaning they contribute that much more food and energy to an ecosystem. Habitats with five native tree species were 50 percent more productive. Wildlife is drawn to lands teeming with native plants.</p><p>For individuals who'd like to live a more sustainable lifestyle, the simple message of planting more native species is both productive and rewarding — a refreshing contrast to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jul/17/neoliberalism-has-conned-us-into-fighting-climate-change-as-individuals" target="_blank">consumerist </a><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jul/17/neoliberalism-has-conned-us-into-fighting-climate-change-as-individuals" target="_blank">exhortations</a> that blame the collective problem of environmental collapse on individual shopping choices. Like anything else, real change has to happen at the macro level, especially when it comes to turfgrass — a crop with deep cultural, even evolutionary roots.</p><p>Sociobiologists refer to the preference humans have for vast swaths of low-cut grass as "Savanna Syndrome." Open grasslands allowed our primitive ancestors to keep an eye out for predators. So even today, on a deep level, we feel safer when we can see to the horizon.</p><p>Until the Industrial Age, the demands of agriculture kept lawns at bay. They were seen mostly as status symbols that said a person had enough money to brush off the territorial demands of farmland. The invention of the lawnmower democratized the lawn, and further embedded its pathological hold on our psyches.</p><p>But lawns require huge quantities of water and often chemical treatments to maintain them — not to mention the emissions produced by two-cycle lawnmowers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, running a lawnmower for one hour <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/05/010529234907.htm" target="_blank">emits as much air pollution</a> as driving a typical car 100 miles. This resource allocation becomes more and more difficult to justify as climate change continues to dry up once-productive habitats. As a monocrop, lawns displace landscapes that could benefit people, plants, animals, and insects. It's time for us to reconsider lawns on a grand scale, several researchers have concluded.</p><p>Considering how entrenched lawns are in the American imagination, to uproot them will require some give-and-take. Advocates say we need a culture shift as well as policies that support it.</p><p>"As climate change and droughts worsen, we might get to a point where there's political support to outlaw lawns," said Sarah B. Schindler, a professor of law at the University of Maine, who has written several papers about the legal authority of municipalities to ban lawns. "I do think we're seeing a change in norms, and I think part of that is tied to rising awareness of climate catastrophe."</p><p>Part of that work is simply raising awareness. Many people don't think about the possibility of their yards as anything but turfgrass. As Tallamy puts it, lawn is the default landscape, but it doesn't have to be. "People don't realize there's an alternative."</p>
Choosing Native Plants<p>Some communities are beginning to impose alternatives. In <a href="https://www.latimes.com/home/la-hm-ga-turf-removal-class-20190307-story.html" target="_blank">California</a>, <a href="https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2019/07/18/rebate-turf-replacement-water-conservation/" target="_blank">Colorado</a>, and <a href="http://cronkitenewsonline.com/2013/10/cities-offering-rebates-to-encourage-residents-to-convert-yards-to-xeriscaping/index.html" target="_blank">Arizona</a>, where water shortages are a growing crisis, cities offer rebates for each square foot of lawn replaced with native or water-saving landscapes—a process known as "xeriscaping." In wetter climes, <a href="https://doee.dc.gov/service/raingardenrebate" target="_blank">Washington, DC</a>, and cities in <a href="https://lincoln.ne.gov/city/ltu/watershed/grant/landscape.htm" target="_blank">Nebraska</a>, <a href="https://www.12000raingardens.org/about-rain-gardens/incentives/" target="_blank">Washington state</a>, <a href="https://www.cityofames.org/home/showdocument?id=3456" target="_blank">Iowa</a> and <a href="https://www.southstpaul.org/680/Rebate---Rain-Barrel-Rain-Gardens" target="_blank">Minnesota</a> have implemented rebate programs for the planting of rain gardens, which capture and infiltrate more runoff than grass. The city of <a href="https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/recreation/parks/Managed%20Meadows%20and%20Grassland%20Habitats%20in%20the%20City%20of%20Alexandria,%20Virginia.pdf" target="_blank">Alexandria, Virginia</a>, recently changed its municipal mowing to allow for the growth of meadows and glades in city parks. </p><p>Throughout the country, local groups are advocating for the planting of natives on roadsides, medians, campuses, and parks. Some, like <a href="http://www.foodnotlawns.com/" target="_blank">Food Not Lawns</a>, encourage homeowners and neighborhoods to replace lawns with edible plants to establish food sovereignty and food security within their communities. Others take a more clandestine approach by planting "guerrilla gardens" or tossing "seed bombs" into abandoned lots and properties where they don't have the legal right to garden.</p><p><span></span>"One thing that we've learned with our research is that there is room for compromise," Tallamy said. Native planting doesn't have to be all or none to make a difference. He gave the example of chickadee reproduction: If you have at least 70 percent native plant biomass in a given habitat, you can have sustainable chickadee reproduction. "That gives you 30 percent to plant perennials and exotics and other ornamental plants."</p><p>Tallamy's research into the relationship between native plants and insects has inspired gardeners to do more than just turn their yards into native oases. Many are now creating resources to empower others to do the same.</p><p>The National Wildlife Federation created a <a href="https://www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder/" target="_blank">native plant finder web tool</a>, which allows users to plug in a ZIP code to find trees, shrubs, and plants native to their region. Following her horticultural revelation, Toni Genberg created <a href="http://choosenatives.org/" target="_blank">ChooseNatives.org</a>, a resource to help users find, purchase, and learn about native plants. Since switching to natives, Genberg herself has seen all sorts of wildlife return to a property that, before, was only a suburban simulacrum.</p><p>Matt Bright founded the nonprofit charity Earth Sangha with the goal of propagating and restoring local native plant communities in the DC area. "We've set records for total plants distributed from our wild plant nursery for four years running," he said. "And overall, the trend has been towards more demand from all corners, whether that's from park managers and ecologists, homeowners, or landscaping companies."</p>
Biodiversity Among Buildings<p>But shifting away from lawns is complicated by the fact that municipalities have long adopted rules called "weed ordinances," which require short ground cover for purely aesthetic reasons. This effectively mandates the planting and maintaining of lawns, as do many local zoning laws and HOA bylaws. And these rules aren't always taken lightly. In Michigan a few years ago, a woman <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/julie-bass-may-face-jail-time-for-planting-vegetables/2011/07/08/gIQAZZOv3H_blog.html" target="_blank">faced jail time</a> for growing a vegetable garden in her front yard instead of lawn.</p><p>People don't want to be told that they can't have their lawns, but they also don't want to be told that they have to have a lawn.</p><p>The elephant in the room, of course, is property rights. Limits and requirements can inspire backlash. As Genberg points out, "Americans don't want to be told what to do, especially when it comes to their properties."</p><p>That's why Tallamy has focused on talking to the public instead of advancing top-down regulation. Laws, especially bans, need public support to pass. To even think about regulating lawns you first need to change the culture around them. As people like Toni Genberg and Matt Bright show, Tallamy's message is resonating.</p><p>"What you do on your property affects everybody," Tallamy said. Nonnative or ornamental plants may not look like pollutants, but from an ecological standpoint, they are. Tallamy's research bears this out: A new paper from his team shows just how effective nonnative plants are at destroying local habitats.</p><p>"We compared caterpillar communities in hedgerows that were invaded with non-natives versus hedgerows that were mostly native," he explained. "There's a 96% reduction in caterpillar biomass when they're nonnative, so if you're a bird and you're trying to rear your young, you just lost 96% of your food."</p><p>But there's a flip side, he said. If you take the invasive species out and put the native plants in, you've just created 96 percent more food.</p><p>And this isn't some gardening trend reserved for America's suburbs and conservation lands. In Manhattan, the most densely populated urban center in the country, officials converted an abandoned railway line into a public park called the High Line, with a policy of planting at least 50 percent native species.</p><p>"There are monarch butterflies there, there are all kinds of native bees, which really surprised me," Tallamy said. "If you can do that in Manhattan, you can do it anywhere."</p>
'This Is History in the Making': Cherokee Nation Is First U.S.-Based Tribe to Preserve Seeds in 'Doomsday Vault'
The Cherokee Nation will save seeds from the "three-sisters" crops in the Arctic "doomsday vault," making it the first Native American tribe to ensure culturally emblematic crops will be preserved for the future, as The Guardian reported.
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