JoAnne Skelly: Climate change and gardening

I just read an interesting article called “How are gardeners adapting to climate change?” in the British magazine “Gardens Illustrated.” The authors interviewed head gardeners at National Trust properties across the United Kingdom. All the gardeners were seeing effects of climate change such as “floods to drier summers.”

One of the things one of the head gardeners pointed out was that they could no longer assume the traditional growing season was the norm. This is also a challenge for us in Northern Nevada with warmer falls and winters and earlier thaws in the spring. An additional challenge to the Brits is plant selection for these new seasonal norms. Another concern for the British gardeners was that “rainfall is unpredictable or unseasonal.” Unpredictable rainfall is standard here in Nevada. Now the Brits are learning the lessons we deal with on a daily basis in the growing season – how to best manage water.

The value of water has become evident even in damp rainy Britain. Amazingly, they too are experiencing drought. They are practicing techniques we have long found necessary in Nevada, such as watering when it’s cool; harvesting rainwater; and mulching beds to conserve soil moisture. On the other hand, British gardeners in low-lying areas also have to worry about floods. While not that common in Nevada, devastating floods can occur.

British gardeners are turning to native plants suitable for hotter, drier gardens. They are adapting their cultural practices to suit plants with different needs of care and water than traditional plants. They are also altering mowing practices: mowing higher and allowing “more wild grassy areas.” Of course, we here in Nevada have been planting native plants and mowing high for decades. They are using more silver and gray plants, which stay cooler and lose less water through transpiration. This too is a common water efficient planting practice in Nevada.

With warmer weather and longer seasons, the Brits and Nevadans are seeing more pests, diseases and weeds. Drier, hotter weather stresses plants making them more susceptible to pests and diseases. Lately, there has not been enough cold weather to kill overwintering pests. Weeds, a constant battle in normal weather, are running rampant as the warming trend lets them germinate sooner and grow for a longer period.

It’s the extremes, abnormal weather events and uncertainties of climate change that will deliver real challenges, not only in Britain, but also in Northern Nevada. Gardening will be interesting through the coming years.


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