gardening in a changing climate

Gardeners have been noticing changes in the climate for years.  The growing season is longer and plants that used to be considered too tender can now survive in more northern regions.  In fact, the hardiness zones have shifted northward.  The Arbor Day Foundation created new hardiness zone maps, in 2006, to reflect this change.  The USDA released new maps in 2012.

climate smart gardens

Follow the strategies below to help your garden adapt to the changing climate and to reduce the climate footprint of your garden.  Some of these practices act as adaptation and mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) strategies.  And– these practices are good, sustainable gardening techniques that build soil, conserve water and reduce synthetic chemical inputs.


soil (photo: joe mazza/brave lux)
Soil is the foundation of healthy gardens and lawns. (photo by joe mazza / brave lux)
  • test soil before adding fertilizer
  • skip synthetic fertilizers
  • feed soil, not plants
  • maintain (or add) soil organic matter
  • add compost to gardens and lawns
  • prevent erosion
  • avoid tilling
  • don’t use peat or potting soil that contains peat


rain barrel animalia project climate change garden susan ask
Rain barrels are one strategy to use water wisely. (photo by susan ask)


lawn mower human powered rotary reel ghg air pollution
Human powered equipment doesn’t pollute. (photo by joe mazza / brave lux)
  • use human-powered tools to prevent air pollution
  • minimize the use of outdoor lighting
  • use materials that have small footprints

landscape design

prairie smoke animalia project susan ask
Prairie smoke, a native prairie plant, used as a ground cover at the Chicago Botanic Garden. (photo by susan ask)
  • shrink your lawn
  • design with shade and sun to save energy at home
  • grow your own food
  • plant native flowers and grasses
  • plant trees & shrubs
  • plant perennials
  • provide habitat– for birds, pollinators, insects and other critters
  • install rain gardens
  • watch for invasive plants


garlic garden mulch susan ask
Garlic is easy to grow– and straw mulch conserves water, so it’s even easier. (photo by susan ask)

last updated April 2015