The Activist Gardener

If you’re concerned about global warming, but don’t know what you yourself can do to help solve the problem, take a look at your own backyard. Whether it’s a multi-acre estate or a postage-size stamp of greenery, you can turn your lawn and garden area into a one-person mission to fight climate change.

While your actions alone might not make a measurable dent in our society’s dependence on fossil fuels and oil-derived products, you can make a statement that eventually persuades others in your neighborhood and beyond to do the same. Multiplied over and over again, then, your small steps can become monster-size strides.

So how can you get started? Consider these 10 suggestions:

1) Grow some food. Whether it’s a single tomato plant in a pot, or a side yard filled end to end with cucumbers, squash, basil and strawberries, every vegetable, fruit and herb you grow yourself reduces by just a little bit your dependence on grocery-bought food. That’s significant when you consider the typical food item travels more than 1,500 miles from farm to table; that’s a lot of trucking fuel. Plus, homegrown produce tastes better because it’s fresh and was grown with care, not chemicals.

2) Plant a hedgerow. Wooden fences look nice when they’re new, but after a couple of years, they become weathered, faded and worn. That means a tedious paint or stain job for you every so often âÂ?¦ and those paints and stains are often oil-based. Instead, choose an appropriate shrub for your area, and surround your yard with a living fence. In addition to not needing paint, your hedges will contribute both natural beauty and oxygen. It’s a solution that’s worked for centuries in places like England, where some hedgerows are believed to be more than 700 years old.

3) Install solar-powered lighting. Why waste electricity and deal with the hassle of outdoor wiring when there are so many attractive solar lights to choose from these days? You can also find many other useful solar garden gadgets and ornaments, including solar-powered address numbers and solar-powered fountains.

4) Start an annual tree-planting tradition. Whether you add a new maple to your yard every Arbor Day, or plant a fir every fall to become a living Christmas tree, you boost your yard’s oxygen-producing capabilities and add beauty, privacy and wind-screening as well.

5) Add greenery to your concrete. A patio without plants not only looks dull and unwelcoming, but reflects more heat than it absorbs. By surrounding your outdoor sitting area with potted plants, you create a green space that both absorbs sun energy and gives off beneficial oxygen.

6) Try xeriscaping. Defined as landscaping that doesn’t require any irrigation besides natural groundwater and rain, xeriscaping can also be less fertilizer- and maintenance-intensive. That means both less oil-derived lawn chemicals and less lawn-mowing for you. Another alternative that requires more time and effort but can generate more rewards is the “edible lawn,” a yard that replaces non-productive sod with fruit- or vegetable-producing plants.

7) Plant strategically. A well-situated tree that shades your outdoor air-conditioning unit (without blocking air flow) can actually reduce your energy consumption by helping your air-conditioner work more efficiently. In northern climates, evergreen trees and shrubs can also provide a beneficial windbreak and insulating barrier for your house. And, if you live in hotter climes, shade trees near your south-facing window can help reduce your home’s tendency to overheat in the summer.

8) Cook out with sun power. There are many commercially produced solar cookers available, but it’s also relatively easy to make one of your own. A solar cooker might take a little longer to cook than a conventional oven, but it doesn’t require any propane or charcoal. Plus, it’s much harder to burn food cooked in solar ovens, so you can frequently just set out your food pots and forget them until it’s time to eat.

9) Consider a green roof. You need to do some homework before replacing a traditional shingled roof with a vegetative cover, and green roofs do take some effort to maintain. However, green roofs give off oxygen, reduce what is called the “urban heat island effect,” help to better insulate your home and reduce heating and cooling costs, and absorb rainwater, which cuts down on stormwater runoff that can pollute area waterways.

10) Attack garden pests naturally. Natural borax mixed with sugar can get rid of ants or roaches, while soap-and-water solutions can control pests like aphids. Other natural substances that bugs hate include red pepper, bay leaves, peppermint, citrus oil, cloves and lavender.

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