Reduce Your Carbon Emissions: Top 10 For Your Garden

Our August Meetup illuminated actions we can all take in our non-food gardens at home. Matthew Bailey, founder of Plant Sync, was our guest speaker. Matthew has a background in biology, plant genetics and ornamental plant breeding. In 2015, Matthew was moved to do more to combat climate change, hence Plant Sync was formed.

In our gardens there are things we can to reduce the carbon emissions inherent in gardening and things we can to do to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. 

Reduce Your Carbon Emissions - Top 10 For Your Garden

  • Use human power when possible for mowing, weeding, etc.
  • Place plants appropriately to provide your home with shade in summer and a windbreak in winter, which will ease your utility bills and reduce carbon emissions. (Conservation planting).
  • Use chemicals sparingly, if at all (e.g. manufactured fertilizer)
  • Use water conservation measures. There are embedded carbon emissions in your tap water; therefore using greywater, rain barrels or other means of capturing water is helpful (try your shower).
  • Obtain garden plants from friends and neighbors that are grown locally and in-season. There's a great Facebook group called "Free Plants Des Moines" - ask to join! 

    Here’s a common lifecycle for a commercially produced plant available at retail. Check all of the points where energy is expended. Plants sold in retail outlets often start in test tubes in countries overseas. The test tube shoots are transplanted and flown over to the US to continue growing in heated greenhouses over the winter. The plants are then shipped via trucks to sale outlets and then driven to your home in your car. 
    Grow. Share. Repeat. is one of Plant Sync’s main priorities. How can you help make this a reality in Des Moines metro?

Other garden inputs have similar life cycle carbon emissions. For example, the mulch on pallets at retail outlets is often from dedicated trees harvested thousands of miles away.

  • Don’t spend money (and carbon emissions) on mulch. Look for free mulch in your community. Can we inspire an online service like Chipdrop to set up in Des Moines?

  • Should we be shipping heavy, bulky soil amendments over long distances? Could we set up an online local manure connection like this one? There was interest in getting manure from animals that were not treated with de-worming medicine (since this kills the worms in the soil). Anyone reading this know of a manure connection near Des Moines?
  • Need some inspiration about a composting community? Check out the Compost Peddalers in Austin TX. Don’t look for compost that has traveled hundreds of miles to get to Des Moines. Check with Metro Waste Authority in your own community.
  • If you’re starting plants indoors, choose LED lamps for a more energy efficient approach. The cost has come down over the years, making LED an affordable choice.
  • Plant perennials that come back year after year and save seeds for annuals.

Sequester that Carbon!

While we have much to learn about biological carbon sequestration in the built environment, trees are usually the best plants for sequestering carbon due to their long lifespan and size.  In the face of climate change, look for trees that are resilient to extreme weather – hot, cold, drought, flood. Having plant diversity is very important to becoming climate change resilient. In addition, we should be looking to add biodiversity by intentionally bringing plants, aka assisted migration, to our region from hotter regions (like southern states). Here are some top tree picks from Matthew (also see this longer list of diverse shade trees from Iowa State University):

Bur Oak
Kentucky Coffeetree
Bald Cypress
Osage Orange
Eastern Red Cedar Juniper ‘Taylor’     


Spotlight on the Osage Orange! 

The osage orange (Maclura pomifera) has remarkable properties and a fascinating history.

With respect to climate change resilience in an urban environment it is tolerant of drought, flooding, insects, pests, and poor soils. It has the highest BTU’s of any firewood in eastern North America (offset fossil fuel heating). It’s also the most rot resistant of any wood in North America. Untreated posts of osage orange, in an ongoing study at a fence post farm(!) in Oregon, have been in the ground without rotting for 86 years and counting. Manufactured cementitious materials are carbon intensive. Could untreated osage orange wood be used to sequester carbon in urban landscapes in the form of pavers, terraces, raised beds, decks, etc.?

See also:


Valentine's Day in August?

In February, when we traditionally celebrate Valentine’s Day, roses (and other flowers) are shipped to the US in refrigerated cases from countries in South America. The carbon emissions that are produced as part of the cycle of Valentine’s Day are substantial.(and here.) What if we celebrated during a time of year that had flowers growing in season that would require few carbon emissions to procure and give to a loved one? Check out Matthew’s Facebook and website for more inspiration to change Valentine’s Day to a month-long celebration in August.

Matthew was kind enough to provide everyone who wanted one with a starter plant of Antennaria plantaginifolia. Here’s a photo from Julia who attended the meetup after she planted this in her own yard! Thanks Julia!

How will you reduce your carbon emissions or sequester more carbon in your garden?

Are you able to Grow. Share. Repeat? Reach out to Matthew to join his gardeners in action against climate change! And join us at Matthew’s garden at our September Meetup on September 13th at 6pm.
@plantsync (Twitter)