The Earth’s temperature is changing, and although there is disagreement as to why, those of us in the green industry have to figure out how to adapt to those changes.
The effects of climate change can be seen across the globe. The government’s climate website outlines an increase of nearly .75 degrees Fahrenheit(.4 °C) over the last ten years, the most significant linear jump of any decade. While that number might seem small, even the slightest changes can have substantial impacts on ecosystems.
While governments and big business work out plans to lower emissions, we need to consider what the green industry is doing to change and adjust.
Longer Growing Seasons
While we humans might complain about the temperature, plants and animals are more easily affected. Not only are temperatures rising, but seasons are lasting longer as a result. The average length of the growing season in the U.S. has increased by nearly two weeks since the beginning of the 1900s. We’ve seen evidence of this here recently in Tennessee with a much longer fall and milder winter.
While the extended leaf cleanup might have provided more work, there are still long-term effects to consider. Longer growing seasons mean more time for weeds and insects to spread.
Insect populations are controlled naturally by the changing of seasons and temperatures. A longer warm period means that multiple generations might spawn during one season. These iterations can lead to greater resistance to preventative measures like insecticides as well. The changes can also affect the good population of insects and bugs that we need negatively. Changes in the growth patterns of perennials and other plants can lead to significant pollinator disruptions.
Invasion Of Foreign Species
Another one of the effects of climate change is it’s helping the spread and establishment of many foreign species and allowing them to become invasive. These plants and animals can negatively affect the local ecosystem and even lead to species extinction by competing for resources.
The Water hyacinth is an example of one such species. Native to South America, it is now classified as a major invasive species worldwide. It can double its population in only 12 days, clogging waterways and affecting wildlife. Another example is the Emerald Ash Borer beetle. Originating in Asia, this beetle is currently decimating a potential 8 billion ash trees as it rapidly spreads in North America.
Major climatic events, such as hurricanes and floods, can transport these species to new areas. As temperatures increase, so does the frequency of such events.
The Green Industry Can Help Overcome The Effects Of Climate Change
While things might be changing, the green industry will carry on and adapt. There are some things that we can all do to help along the way.
Plant more trees
The Earth’s soil is on our side. Healthy soil stores large amounts of carbon, keeping it from releasing into the atmosphere as part of greenhouse gases. Planting trees and proper lawn maintenance can cut down on desertification where topsoil is removed rapidly by wind or erosion. Excessive tillage of soils led to desertification during the historic Dust Bowl of the 1920s and 1930s.
NASA estimates there are 40 million acres of turfgrass across the U.S., and each acre can hold up to .46 tons of carbon each year. That’s 18.4 million tons of carbon absorbed each year. Adding how much carbon urban trees can soak up more than doubles that amount, completely removing the carbon footprint of over 3 million people.
Reduce the use of gas-powered tools
The tools of the trade might be offsetting some of the efforts our green lawns are making at curbing the effects of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) estimates that Americans, both homeowners and lawn care companies combined, use 800 million gallons of gas caring for their lawns each year.
In the last few years, there have been tremendous strides made with commercial-grade electric lawn equipment. Products like the Greenworks Commercial Lithium Z and the Mean Green CXR-60 boast their quiet use and long life batteries explicitly built for the landscaping industry. The improvements in battery life over the last decade, becoming smaller and more powerful, have paved the way for a substantial reduction in gas-powered tools.
Even our friend Tony Bass over at Super Lawn Trucks has introduced a solar-powered rig with plenty of charging stations.
If you haven’t considered electric tools lately, it might be time to look again. Not only can you help the effects of climate change, but they can save you money on maintenance and the cost of gas.
Reduce water consumption
Using proper watering techniques and teaching your customers as well, can help conserve precious water resources. The EPA estimates that over 106 million gallons of water each day is dedicated to landscape irrigation.
We, as landscape professionals, have several ways that we can mitigate the wasteful use of water resources.
- Plant trees and flowers early, avoiding the hot summer months when plants require more water to take root.
- Use native plants when possible. These require less maintenance as they’re suited to live in the area already, especially drought-resistant plants.
- Be sure to water the lawns and plants at the right time of day, avoiding the hottest parts. The midday sun can dry up the water before the plants can absorb it, and damage them at the same time.
- Consider using drip irrigation systems. They can use up to 50% less water and deliver it right to the source, the roots.
Teach composting and proper management
Composting is another great way to help curb the effects of climate change. Firstly, compost can help with water conservation, allowing the soil to hold more moisture and reducing water runoff. Combining effective watering techniques with composting can be very effective in protecting plants from drought and freezes.
Secondly, compost can help reduce the need for commercial conditioners and fertilizers. Artificial fertilizers can have many adverse effects on the environment. Nitrogen and phosphate-based fertilizers can seep into groundwater and cause pollution. These fertilizers also contain large amounts of methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and nitrogen, all of which lead to increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Artificial fertilizers can lead to a depletion in the quality of soil over an extended period. They change the pH balance of the soil by increasing the acid levels, causing their overall yield to go down.
The Green Industry has flourished and grown to nearly a 100 billion dollar per year industry over the past century. We can have a considerable influence on how the world looks at lawn care maintenance and its effects on climate change. If you want to learn more and get involved with conservation efforts, you can check out sites like the Ecological Landscape Alliance(ELA). Their website lists their goals and ways you can help achieve them. Together, we can make a difference.