Climate change impacts everyone, there’s no escaping this global crisis. While change must come at the macro level, each of us can also make individual changes starting in our own backyards. Regenerative gardening is one way to improve our local resiliency and restore nature’s capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Traditional gardening and lawn maintenance contribute to the climate crisis and regional water shortages. Between 15% and 30% of residential water consumption in the U.S. goes to water lawns and gardens, according to the EPA. We also send about 10.5 million tons of yard waste to landfills each year, which accounts for 7.2% of all municipal solid waste; it decomposes anaerobically and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And Americans apply roughly 59 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides to lawns and gardens annually that often end up in local water sources, according to a 2012 EPA report.
We can reduce our impact on the planet by employing regenerative agriculture practices in our gardens. Regenerative landscaping and gardening use natural methods to restore the water cycle, build healthy soil, and establish functional plant communities. The result is ecological resilience that helps protect against floods, droughts, and forest fires — and even captures carbon from the atmosphere. From water use to composting to natural pest control and beyond, the changes we make as individuals can have a beneficial impact on the planet. Here are a few ways to get started on creating a regenerative garden.
Water Cisterns and Rain Gardens
Slowing down water by capturing water in cisterns or infiltrating water into the ground through rain gardens, can help protect against flooding and droughts long-term. The water collected in cisterns can be used for irrigation — or with proper filtration or treatment even as drinking water.
Essentially puddles that grow plants, rain gardens capture and absorb overland water flow and runoff from impervious surfaces in your yard. They also relieve overwhelmed stormwater systems, helping to reduce nonpoint source pollution.
To build a rain garden, find a place away from your house where the water can overflow and run downhill; dig a basin at least 6 inches deep. Plant water-loving plants that can also withstand drought, such as bluestem grass, marsh hibiscus, and liatris.
Compost and Building Healthy Soil
Healthy soil can capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the ground. It can also absorb and retain water, which reduces runoff as well as the need for irrigation while increasing the garden’s resilience during the dry season.
Compost kitchen scraps and yard debris to add organic matter back into your yard. Keep your leaves and use them to cover planting beds. Recycle your cardboard as “sheet mulching” to establish a new bed, suppress weeds, and maintain soil moisture. Consider adding azomite soil supplements to increase the carbon capture capacity of your yard.
Native Plants and Plant Diversity
Try diversifying your plant selections to prevent disease and pest infestations. A wider variety of plant species can promote more resilient root systems that require less water. Plant diversity also supports pollinators, which have been decimated by herbicides, insecticides, and climate change.
Native plants specifically adapted to your bioregional climate can thrive with minimal care, reducing your dependence on chemical lawn supplements. If you don’t know where to start, we suggest working with locally-owned nurseries to source the right plants for your area.
Incorporate Edible Plants
In addition to eating locally grown food, consider raising your own greens and vegetables. Some call this approach “eating hyper-local.” When we focus on eating food that is grown nearby, we create relationships – with farmers, with local growers, and with the microclimates in our own garden. In addition to reducing your food’s transportation carbon footprint, you can also rebuild a relationship with the earth – one built on observation and reciprocity.
Nature-based solutions and resource-efficient, ecologically intelligent outdoor spaces do more than help alleviate the effects of climate change. They provide sustenance and joy, which we’ve seen for years through our regenerative landscaping work at Shades of Green Permaculture. Integrating human activity with natural surroundings is key to environmental health and our future on planet Earth.
About the Author
Brandy Hall, founder and managing director of Shades of Green Permaculture, has been helping clients build regenerative landscapes for over 20 years. Shades of Green Permaculture is a Woman-Owned, Certified B Corporation, and member of the Sustainable Sites Initiative and Real Leaders Women in Impact. Learn more at shadesofgreenpermaculture.com.