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Climate Change


With the warmer weather and very little snow we are all asking the questions, 'How will our gardens cope with global warming in the short and long term? What can we do? Should we be worried?'

 We are all presuming that something is amiss because, after all, this is Canada and we do expect a winter.

The answer to the big question of course is we (modern society) have to change our behaviour or we will be washed into the sea by the melting glaciers.  The more immediate concern seems to be that with warmer winters, plants may be tricked into breaking bud and responding as if it is spring.

Although there might be the odd casualty, plants are “smarter” than we think and will safely rest until the days are longer, the sun is stronger and they’ve been chilled for a while.  This process is called vernalization.  The best advice is to sit back and observe, learn and then modify our gardening practices to accommodate the shift in weather patterns.  We can hope that the changes will be gradual enough that nature itself can adjust…..with a little help from us.

I have a lot of faith in the resilience of nature and natural processes.  Biological systems have evolved over eons to cope with climatic shifts in order to survive.  Plants in a temperate climate (ours) have evolved the need for a dormancy period in order to physiologically trigger flowering, fruiting and/or seed germination.  During dormancy, growth and development are suspended for two reasons.  Number one: while dormant the plant can pull in its sails so to speak and lay low during periods of inclement weather (for example, drying winds, freezing temperatures, low light).  Number two: the rest period allows the plant to conserve energy and re-align its resources for better times ahead.  Without this rest, flowering and ultimately the livelihood of the plant will suffer.

Dormancy is closely associated with environmental conditions, among which are photoperiod and decreasing temperature.  These triggers cause a change in the metabolism of plants and the production of plant hormones that control plants’ life cycle.  The saving grace here is that it is not temperature alone that controls the growth of our plants.  Day length, the angle of the sun in the sky and the quality of light all play a role as triggers in plant hormone production and plant response.  This means that unless mankind finds a way to re-align the poles, we are safeguarded just a little bit against the potential botanical changes brought by global warming.

Some species will thrive and expand in a warmer climate whereas others, namely our native North American flora and fauna, are likely to suffer.  A large majority of our garden plants have been introduced from areas with less of a winter than we have.  The concern is usually whether deliciously ornamental horticultural specimens will be hardy enough to flower, not that the winter will be long enough or cold enough. With that in mind, milder temperatures will be a boom for the glory of the garden.  2006 was a boom year, so why won’t 2007?

I was asked a number of times during the month of December whether or not the warm weather was good for business.  “You must be getting a lot of work done in this weather.”  Well no, actually.  It generally wouldn’t occur to gardeners to be working outdoors in the winter months and this is the first time that I know of that it could even be possible.  But I wouldn’t anyway.  The garden needs the rest and so do I.

As gardeners and property managers we are wise to ask ourselves about the likely outcome of warmer temperatures since all of science points to global warming.  What we need to do to combat the effects is difficult to say because it is impossible to know how biological systems will respond.  Based on what we know, however, I can safely advise that we need to steer clear of invasive exotic plants, be vigilant in monitoring for foreign bugs or bizarre responses and do our utmost to bolster and protect North American species.

The answer to the more important part of the question of what to do is to be responsible citizens and stewards of the environment and convince others to do the same.  Hummers just have to go.


© Daisy Moore, 2007.



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© Daisy Moore 2005