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How to Garden in a Changing Climate

Evergreen's Horticulture Lead Isaac Crosby's advice for gardening in a changing climate.

Garden spade on counter with soil around it Image: Neslihan Gunaydin via Unsplash
Image: Neslihan Gunaydin via Unsplash

Published on March 11, 2021

A changing climate can mean mild winters, ridiculously hot summers, too much rain in spring, early blossoms, and even unseasonal frosts. When any of these natural events happen, many gardeners are left not knowing what to do.  

Gardeners have firsthand experience with climate change, because they witness how it impacts their own gardens. According to Evergreen’s Former Horticulture Lead Isaac Crosby, there are certain ideas that we should take into consideration for gardening during climate change.  

Isaac leads urban agriculture programming at the Evergreen Brick Works. Having grown up in the farming community of Harrow, ON, he went on to study landscape horticulture the at Humber College. He is proud of his Ojibwa and Black Canadian heritage. Today, he incorporates his education and traditional First Nations farming into his work, and shares this knowledge with others. 

Here are his top tips for gardening in a changing climate. 

Early Blooms & Irregular Frosts 

If we are going to work with a changing climate, then we need to understand and look at the timing of planting. As gardeners, we know that the time to plant our seeds or seedlings is crucial to growing healthy plants. So, when we have early blooms and irregular frost dates, our gardens suffer. When plants bloom too early, the bees may miss their chance to pollinate them. Shifting frost dates will damage young shoots. This may change how we grow certain plants. To combat this, measure your soil temperatures and always check for frost dates in your zone. 

Choosing the Right Plants 

Changing of the plant hardiness zones will also have an effect on your gardens. A hardiness zone is a geographic area with a certain range of climatic conditions relevant to plant growth. So, it is wise for us to adhere to the new zones. You can learn more about plant hardiness across Canada by visiting the federal government’s Plant Hardiness site. We should also consider planting our gardens with the future climate in mind, and choose plants that do well in both dry and wet climates.  

Planning for Rain & Drought 

If we experience too much rain it will destroy our crops or wash away our seedlings. A great way to combat this is to dig trenches between beds to direct excess water away from plants. Please be sure to make them wide enough so people can walk safely over them.  

If there’s not enough water, consider adding more organic compost to your soil. It will help condition the soil by binding particles together and holding water and nutrients in place for the plant roots to anchor. Another great thing to do is mulching, which will help keep the soil from drying out too quickly and keeping the soil temperatures from fluctuating. Roots are protected by the mulch as well. 

Building Protection 

Another way to garden during climate change is to build cold frames (simple structures that use solar energy and insulation to create a microclimate) or mini-greenhouses over your seedlings. Since shorter spring seasons are with us, this system will help you grow plants all year long, or get a head start on plants that need a longer growing period. It also helps by protecting your seedlings from a sudden down pour or adding more heat for heat-loving plants. 

The Path Forward 

We must work with nature and not against her. By concentrating on a more holistic approach to gardening during climate change — including Indigenous gardening practices or permaculture — we can have successful gardens that will stand the test of time.  

Urban Agriculture at Evergreen 

You can learn more about Isaac’s work by visiting our Urban Agriculture page. You can also watch our Gardening with Brother Nature video series, where Isaac shares more about the gardening practices he uses at the Brick Works.