I’ve noticed a difference for years now; we all have. Snow that comes later and later in the year, stronger and more frequent storms, and what seems to be ever-persistent wind. I remember big storms as a kid, but these have now become normality instead of anomalies. Droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods are all becoming part of our daily lives, whether experienced first-hand or through the media from other parts of the country or world. We are living in a changing climate on our troubled planet.
As growers, we have a front-row seat to climate change because gardening and farming are intrinsically tied to the weather. We need Mother Nature’s cooperation to grow our crops and plants. If we are lucky, She will provide the growing conditions we need, such as rain when it is dry and appropriate temperatures for the season. But lately, Mother Nature has grown fickle and much less predictable with climate change. This can seriously affect growers, from large-scale farms to the home gardener. So, finding ways to adapt to this changing climate, both in our home lives and the garden, is becoming increasingly important.
When I decided to turn my passion for growing into a business in June of 2022, I had no idea how important adapting to climate change would be. We had a record drought in my first season as a cut flower farmer. By August of 2022, our town was gripped by a devastating drought with a 7-inch rain deficit, leading to an instated emergency. The unrelenting heat, lack of rain, and water restrictions made my growing business difficult. That same season, we had a tornado, floods, and wildfires all within miles of our home, very unusual for the Hudson Valley of NY. But, somehow, we managed, and I was proud of what I could accomplish given these circumstances.
The weather continued to be unusual after the growing season. Our winter came with above-average temperatures and very little precipitation. I worried about the lack of water the snow usually provides and the lack of chilling days for the tulips, daffodils, and flowering shrubs, such as our lilacs that rely on a cold period to have the best blooms—a period of cold which typically our winter adequately provides.
This past week, we experienced a record heatwave in mid-April. Our average temperature in NY for this time of year is 62 degrees, with nighttime temperatures averaging around 44 degrees. This week we had consistent temperatures in the upper 80s for several days, with two days reaching 91 degrees. For several days, there were 30-degree temperature swings within 24 hours. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but farmers and gardeners deeply feel the effects. Suddenly, flower farmers all over the region had their tulips and daffodils bloom at once rather than on the typical cycle of several weeks.
Other temperature-sensitive plants, such as ranunculus, had to be covered in shade cloth and doused with cool water to keep them from going dormant. Farmers were left scrambling to keep their crops from being lost, which would create financial hardship.
Extreme weather has other dire consequences. In warm winters, fruit trees and nut trees may not get the chill hours they need to produce fruit, and with warm spells, plants may start to leaf out, only to be destroyed by frost. Plants also may not get enough rest in the dormant season because warmer temperatures wake them up earlier. Pollinators will feel these effects as well. Flowers that provide essential pollen are now blooming at different times and for shorter periods, which could lead pollinators to desperately look for food sources. Pollinators will struggle with being out of sync with flowering plants. Climate change will also affect soil structure and nutrient availability as the soil dries in drought conditions. Also, our USDA Plant Hardiness Zones are migrating, and eventually, we will be two to three zones warmer than before. These zone changes will bring about shifts in wildlife, invasive species, pests, and unpredictable growing seasons.
It’s a lot of doom and gloom; honestly, as a grower, it is challenging to stay positive. There’s no doubt that climate change will affect the way we garden. But, as gardeners, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference. We are already doing many things, such as composting, creating diverse habitats in our gardens for wildlife, and planting trees and natives, all of which will help make a difference. Pair that with proper plant selection, water conservation practices, and being mindful of energy consumption, and we can be part of the solution.
The predictions for climate change may be dire, but we can help lessen the impact if we take steps now. Steps that will help humans and nature adapt to the changes to come. Gardeners, as stewards of our environment, can lead the way.
Source: Climate Change in the Garden