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Gardening in Changing Climate, Part I: The Big Picture

By: Sierra Laverty, Assistant Horticulture Director | 11/05/2018

Rising sea levels. Extreme drought. Storms and hurricanes like we’ve never seen before. The effects of climate change can seem like the work of legend, but they are far from myth. It’s easy to wonder if an unexpectedly hot day in November (or the rainiest day in October in 18 years) is the fault of “climate change.” However, climatic shifts are long-lived and not represented by the weather of a day or even the climate of a single year. Long-term historical data and predictive modeling can help us understand how the earth will be different when our grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) are our age.

 Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Climate Explorer tool, we can zoom in on the future of Southwestern Idaho. The year is 2090. Summers are brutal, with 30-50 days above 100° F each year. Winters are warm—freezing days are uncommon, causing rain to take the place of snow.

 Let’s retreat back to 2018. The future is overwhelming. Most folks choose to either throw in the towel (at a loss for what to do in the face of this extreme challenge), or simply shrug off the drama to explain that “everything will be OK.” These responses are normal and very understandable. The road less traveled is harder, but ultimately more impactful.

Your garden is within your locus of control. It’s a place of connection between you and the natural world. It’s also a great place to see phenology or the study of how living beings change over time. Begin by learning about that old tree in your front yard. To ID it, bring several photos and some leaves to your county extension office. Keep a “tree journal” and learn how to observe a plant as it changes. If it’s a deciduous tree, when does it start to push buds in the springtime? Is it earlier or later than last year? If it’s an evergreen, learn the difference between male and female cones, and when they start to develop. Research shows that the start of spring is moving earlier and earlier in our area.

 From that basic place of knowledge, a home gardener can contribute to international data collection from their own yard! Join thousands of citizen scientists through applications like Project Budburst, Nature’s Notebook, or e-Bird. The future is uncertain, but the present offers us an opportunity to contribute to the greater body of science through collective observation. Resilience is built by universal knowledge.

This is the first article of a three-part series. Next month look for Gardening in Changing Climate, Part II: A Horde of Locusts.


1 U.S.A. Phenology Network, Extended Spring Indices (https://www.usanpn.org/data/spring_indices)