Updated: April 26, 2022

Warmer winters, hotter summers, flooding and droughts affect plant growth and impact the many organisms that interact with plants (pest insects, pollinators, diseases, microbes). The climate-related changes that have already occurred require that steps be taken to devise and adopt growing practices suited to a “new normal” set of environmental conditions.   

How can gardeners help combat climate change?

Home gardeners can be an important part of the solution to climate change by using climate-friendly practices in gardens and landscapes. Sustainable gardening and landscaping techniques can slow future warming by reducing carbon emissions and increasing carbon storage in the soil. These climate-friendly techniques will beautify your landscape and help you produce an abundance of healthy produce in your garden. In addition, they build the soil by adding all-important organic matter and also reduce runoff and erosion.

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 

  • Grow some of your own food, and/or buy food grown locally, to reduce emissions associated with long-distance transportation and storage.
  • Compost food scraps to reduce methane emissions in landfills. Methane is another greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
  • Plant lawn alternatives where grass does not grow well on your property. This will reduce mowing and inputs of fertilizer and herbicides (which also take energy to produce) and will provide essential spaces for wildlife habitat (pollinators, birds). For inspiration, look to these case studies from Maryland gardeners who are adding more plant diversity in place of turf.
  • Reduce your use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment. Use a rake or broom instead of a leaf blower. For small areas of lawn, use a reel mower, or use a rechargeable electric mower instead of a gas one. 

Conserve energy using green landscaping and other practices

  • Plant evergreen trees on the northwest side of the house to protect it from winter winds.
  • Deciduous trees planted on the west, east, and southwest sides block the sun during the summer and allow the sun to penetrate and warm the house during the winter.
  • Plant to provide shade over your air conditioning unit. Leave at least 3' of space to allow for good air circulation.
  • Explore other home energy topics from Maryland Energy Extension.

Increase biodiversity and add native plants

  • Landscapes with more plant diversity are more resilient when it comes to facing new pest and disease pressures in a changing climate.
  • Native plants require less water and fertilizer, provide food and shelter for wildlife, help store carbon, and help minimize soil erosion.
  • More plant diversity in your garden will support more pollinators and beneficial insects that provide essential services like pest management and decomposition.

Conserve water

  • Set up a drip irrigation system, collect rainwater in rain barrels, amend soil with compost to improve its water-holding capacity
  • Plant drought-tolerant perennial plants, and cover soil with mulch.

Protect and improve soils

  • Help store carbon by keeping soils covered with a diversity of plants. Improve soil health by adding organic matter and disturbing the soil as little as possible. Make compost from yard waste and food scraps.
  • Use cover crops to recycle nutrients and reduce erosion.

Establish stormwater management systems

  • More frequent rainfall events and floods are anticipated with climate change. Help excess water slow down, soak in, and reduce erosion by creating a rain garden, swale, or vegetated buffer. Use rain barrels to store water for later use. Learn about these and other stormwater management systems.
  • Create a Certified Bay-Wise Landscape to reduce polluted water runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Additional resources

(PDF) Practice Climate-Smart Gardening (#8 Protect the Chesapeake Bay Series) | Maryland Dept. of Agriculture/University of MD Extension

Landscaping for Resilience in a Changing Climate | University of Maryland Online Course

The Climate Conscious Gardener | Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Gardening with Climate-Smart Native Plants in the Northeast | UMASS

Gardening for Climate Change | National Wildlife Federation

(PDF) Gardening in a Warmer World Course Book | Cornell University