My Top Tips for Gardening in a Changing Climate

Build resilience in your garden through attention to plant choices and more.

woman inspects fresh compost in garden

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We are all by now well aware that our global climate is changing. Certain effects of that global warming are "locked in," no matter what happens next. But there is still a lot of potential variation in outcome for the next century that depends on our success in tackling our climate and biodiversity crises, and on how quickly we do so. A degree of hope, but also some realism, is required as we look to the future. In our gardens, we can do a lot to mitigate climate change—but we, too, have to adapt to a changing climate.

Identify the Ways in Which Your Climate Will Change

The best strategies and methods to adopt in your garden will vary depending on where you live. While some can expect far higher winter rainfall, for example, others can expect far less. Some will experience more droughts, others more floods. While some gardeners will battle increasing temperatures year-round, others may actually find winter weather to become colder and more severe. Many people will experience an increase in the number of extreme weather events, such as wildfires. Unpredictability in weather patterns will become more pronounced.

Before you can begin to adapt, it is important to build a clearer picture of what is expected in your area. Gardening for a changing climate means understanding in as much detail as possible how things are likely to change where you live through the course of the coming years. Whatever the changing climate looks like where you live, however, there are some key considerations to think about in order to future-proof your garden and to be able to weather whatever may come.

Protect and Enhance the Soil

Wherever you live, it is important not just to look up to the skies, at the sun and weather patterns, but also to look down. Soil is crucial in so many ways. One of the best and most important things to think about when gardening for a changing climate is protecting and enhancing the soil where you live. With a healthy, living soil ecosystem, the plants that you grow will be far more resilient.

Soil with plenty of organic matter is not only a valuable carbon sink. It also means better moisture retention in drought, and better drainage and less nutrient loss in wetter conditions. Healthy soil makes healthier roots and plants in general—which, of course, means that those plants will be less vulnerable to winds, storm damage, fire, etc.

When creating and maintaining a garden that can endure, even through climatic changes, soil care is crucial. Keeping a living root in the soil as much as possible, avoiding compaction, and mulching with plenty of organic matter can be important in maintaining this precious and crucial ecosystem below our feet.

Manage Water Wisely

Soil care and water management go hand in hand. Along with soil care, managing water wisely should be at the top of the agenda for any sustainable gardener.

Think about where your water comes from. When it rains, take steps to harvest rainwater for use when it is dry. Plan and plant your garden to catch and store water in the landscape, halting or directing its flow to meet the challenges you face as they relate to this topic.

And as you care for your plants, choose water-saving irrigation or watering strategies to reduce usage where and when it is in short supply.

Make Future-Proof Plant Choices

A resilient and sustainable garden is one where the plants are ideally suited to position and place. A garden with a holistic plan for plant choices and placement will ensure that you always choose the right plants for the right places. But it is important also to think about making the correct plant choices for the future you face.

Plants are just as vulnerable to a changing climate as we are. Some will thrive, while others will struggle. It is a good idea to choose resilient plants for your garden which are best suited to the growing conditions where you live. Native plants in your area will often be the most resilient and best able to adapt, though you might also consider nonnatives, especially where you are on the margins of their current range.

Aim for Greatest Possible Biodiversity

As the climate warms, wildlife will obviously be affected. Planting as wide a variety of different plants in your garden as possible—especially natives upon which local wildlife relies—will help make sure your garden can stand the test of time. The more biodiverse a system, the higher the number of beneficial interactions can be, and the more stability and resilience the garden will enjoy. 

Diversifying when it comes to plant choices and methods will also mean that, even when not everything thrives or goes according to plan, you can still meet with a range of successes in your garden, whatever the future may bring.