Gardening and landscaping for a cooler climate

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions is Energy from heating and cooling our homes and offices.

Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (World Resources Institute, 2017)

Therefore, it would behoove us to reduce our reliance on the addictive thermostats hanging on the walls of our homes.

The region I live in experiences four distinct seasons, with spring and autumn providing the most comfortable temperatures, arid winters being mild to harsh, ranging from the negative to 35F° (wind gusts can plummet those numbers), and summers that are usually very hot and arid with at least 6+ weeks of 90-115F° temperatures. Homes in this region have furnaces and air conditioners built in. We use our heat in the winter and AC in the summer and we are looking for ways to reduce their use.

What are some methods we can utilize to reduce our reliance on energy to heat and cool our homes?   

1. Grow trees and plants, like a food forest, to create a cooler micro climate around your home. The bonus is that a food forest also increases carbon sequestering as suggested by plant biologist and Professor, Bernhard Schmidt,

“With increased species richness, more carbon is stored both above and below ground – in trunks, roots, deadwood, mould and soil. You can roughly say that a diverse forest stores twice the amount of carbon as the average monoculture.”

Which means having diversity in your trees, not an orchard of a single species. Therefore, a food forest makes perfect sense. Trees not only provide cooling shade, they also aid with evapotranspiration which can help remove significant heat from around your home, especially if you have a lot of exposed concrete. You could see a reduction in temps by 2% to 9%F, and shading a home’s wall could see reductions of 9%-36%.

2. Keep the soil covered with natural mulches like leaves, straw, or wood shavings. Mulching covers the soil not allowing the sun to dry it out (or cook the life out of it.) It keeps the soil, plants, and all the microbial life cool and enables the soil to thrive. Think of it as a living organism. Natural ‘ Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon. But it isn’t just the manufacturing of plastics that is concerning, recent studies have shown that degrading plastics are continuing to emit these gases. I will not use it around my garden or food.

3. Plant trees on the west, east, and North sides of the house. Shading the house’s walls, exposed windows, and surrounding sidewalks will minimize heat absorption allowing the AC to run less.

4. Plant species that do well in your climate. It is not helpful to have plants that are diseased or stressed, which invites pests, taking up space in your micro climate. Do your research. Contact your local extension office and find plants that like direct sun, partial sun, and shade. Start with trees, then work on the understory. Use vines, bushes, and a variety of perennials and annuals. You should have them all if  you are layering a food forest.

To find out more about starting a food forest, check out these two you tube channels; Geoff Lawton: Permacuture Online and The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni. Both contain a great number of videos about this subject.

Arbor Day Foundation. How to Plant Trees to Conserve Energy For Summer Shade. https://www.arborday.org/trees/climatechange/summershade.cfm

Daisy Dunne. Planting a Mix of Tree Species could Double Forest Carbon Storage. Plants and Forests. August 22, 2018. https://www.carbonbrief.org/planting-a-mix-of-tree-species-could-double-forest-carbon-storage

Global Emissions. Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (World Resources Institute, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/

Shannon Waters. New Study shows Plastics Release Greenhouse Gases, Contributing to Climate Change. Surfrider Foundation. August 10, 2018. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/new-study-shows-plastic-as-source-of-greenhouse-gases-potentially-contribut

Gardening for a better ecosystem and cooler climate


I’ve been on a mission to grow most of our food in our garden/backyard area. I am also on a mission to increase our soil quality and improve the ecosystem. The more I learn, the more I am aware of the state of our environment, and the more I am concerned about the American lifestyle that endangers it.  Climate change, global warming, deforestation, salinization, toxic runoff and emissions, pollution, extinctions, hazardous waste, and all the other words that provoke us to respond but instead leaves us feeling defeated at the enormity of the problem. I do not think I am much different than the average American, therefore if I feel this way, I’m sure others do as well. The good news is that there IS something we can do to help and we can start now with the smallest habit change.

  1. Make conscious choices. Be more mindful and less impulsive with our purchases, this includes food. Stuff that we accumulate is the largest contributor to global warming (see footprint).
  2. Make a shopping list before going to the store. Keep a list of items or food that you could potentially produce at home for yourself or get second hand. Earmark the ones that are transported the farthest and look to buy local.
  3. Use biodegradable. Consider what the product is made of and how it was produced. Is manufacturing of the item a major pollutant?
“How Bad are Bananas?” The Carbon Footprint of Everything

Keep in mind, we are not going to be able to cut out everything that increases carbon because just living generates carbon, but we can reduce our footprint by focusing on those things or activities that are the worst offenders, or even the ones that are the easiest for us to replace.

  • Make a little time for researching. Don’t rely on hearsay, even this article. When reading advice and tips, check to see who is sponsoring the advice (bias) and if there is factual support (citations or references). For example, if  you want to quit using plastic in the kitchen, look for other products that are cleaner for the environment when manufactured. Therefore, research which industries are the worst air quality offenders.
  • Plant trees. Grow a food forest with fruit and nut trees then layer the undergrowth with fruit bushes, vines and edible plants. Trees take carbon from the atmosphere so plant as many as you can. Trees also provide shade which can lower air conditioning consumption.
  • Keep the ground covered. Mulch with woodchips or straw, something natural that will breakdown and help your soil.
  • Avoid chemicals that harm your ecosystem. Why use sprays when you can pull out, dig up, or cut and cover (smother). It may be more time consuming initially, but your worms and bees will thank you. You may also consider what products you use that get flushed down the drain because they too can be harmful to life. But don’t get overwhelmed with too much. Do what you can until it becomes a new habit, then tackle other areas.
  • Be aware of your carbon footprint. A typical modern consumer that I found in this book, “How Bad are Bananas?” by Mike Berners-Lee. The book is a great read, by the way, and it does not use guilt as a motivator, instead he lets the reader make their own conclusions and decisions.

Ecology Center. Pollution and hazards from Manufacturing. PTF: Environmental Impacts.https://ecologycenter.org/plastics/ptf/report3/

Joshua Mayer. Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find. E360 Digest. February 20, 2019.