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The impact of global warming on gardening

D.C. Urban Gardeners took to the airwaves yesterday in a radio discussion about the impact of global warming on gardening.

An official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stole the show, however, when she acknowledged that publication of a sophisticated new hardiness zone map based on the most recent climate reports has been delayed because some of the mappers have been in Iraq, and for longer than expected.

I was invited to appear on Pacifica Radio’s weekly “Earthbeat” segment to outline ways that we gardeners can reduce our carbon footprint and help alleviate the affects of global warming.

But ahead of me were, first, Patty Glick of the National Wildlife Federation, and author of that group’s publication, “A Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming,” along with Kim Kaplan of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The Wildlife Federation has outlined numerous steps gardeners can take to help the environment, such as eliminating use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, reducing the use of fossil-fueled power tools, planting native species and installing rain barrels.

Meanwhile, federal agriculture officials have taken some heat for falling behind in the race to keep track of the hardiness zone’s northward march as a result of global warming. Kaplan was forced to defend the agency, for instance, against the Arbor Days Foundation’s decision to publish their own hardiness zone map.

Kaplan said the USDA map will rely on more comprehensive data and will be more internet friendly–they just have to wait for their mappers to get back from the war zone in Iraq.

Also in the box was Todd Forrest of the New York Botanical Gardens, who said gardeners should be heartened that they are now at the forefront of the climate struggle. “By maintaining healthy green spaces we help mitigate the climate locally,” Forrest said.

Forrest said one effect of warming trends in New York City is that the Botanical Gardens are now able to grow camellias and crape myrtles, which until now have been typical of more southerly climes.

On the downside, hemlock trees are now more vulnerable to pests that used to be killed off during cold winters, but are now surviving because of balmier temperatures.

Adrian Higgins, garden columnist for The Washington Post, said he is particularly unsettled by summer temperatures that now fail to cool off in the evening. As a result, Higgins said he no longer recommends gardeners in our area plant lilies or Eastern White pine or Colorado spruce or certain junipers.

“The warmer temperatures definitely are forcing people to be more inventive,” Higgins said.

And what did Mr. Bruske have to say?

Compost. Compost. Compost.

It’s all about feeding the soil, people, so the soil can feed your plants. What are we thinking, spraying all that fertilizer on our gardens? Or using gas-powered machines to blow the leaves off our lawn, then pile them in plastic bags at the curb so someone can throw them in a truck and drive them to an incinerator?

And lawns? Turfbuilder? What’s that about?

This global warming thing is going to require some kind of attitude adjustment.

You can listen to the complete broadcast here.

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