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Gardeners' Guide to Global Warming

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2008

These days, many of us are thinking about global warming and looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Believe it or not, you can start right in your own backyard.

Gardening can be a wonderful way to reduce your carbon footprint and combat global warming. Since plants use carbon dioxide and release oxygen, any amount of gardening can reduce your carbon footprint. Soils can hold large amounts of carbon from the air. Growing a vegetable garden has the added benefit of reducing the amount of oil used to grow and ship food. The more plants you grow, the more carbon is taken out of the air. Eating homegrown vegetables, using energy-saving garden equipment, and planting trees can all help the environment. If you can't grow your own vegetables, you can buy from a local farm or farmers market.

Using trees to shade your home and as windbreaks can significantly reduce home energy consumption. Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas. In New York City, a 10 percent increase in urban canopy translated to a reduction of peak ozone levels by around 4 parts per billion.

There are many types of trees to plant around your home. Today, Martha discussed four popular options perfect for different regions of the Unites States:

Live Oak Tree
Native to southeast United States, the live oak tree's leaves are evergreen and it has a picturesque spreading form.

Honey Locust Tree
Native to much of the United States, the honey locust tree is fast-growing and long-living. It has fine foliage, a golden fall color, and can be tolerant of heat, drought, and salt.

Sugar Maple Tree
Native to the eastern United States, the sugar maple tree has a beautiful fall color. It also needs cold winters.

River Birch Tree
Native to the eastern United States, the river birch tree is fast-growing and long-living. It has beautiful russet peeling bark, and is tolerant of moisture and even flooding; it is not for dry areas.

Gardening Tools
A great way to reduce your carbon output is to switch from gas power tools to hand or electric tools. In a single day, southern California's lawn tools spew out more pollution than all the aircraft in the Los Angeles area. The EPA estimates that 10 percent of the nation's air pollution is caused by lawn equipment such as chain saws, lawn mowers, golf carts, blowers, and weed whackers. Five percent can be contributed to lawn mowers alone. More fuel is spilled each year by Americans topping off their lawn equipment than by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

Try using energy-saving equipment when gardening -- replace your lawn mower with a manual mower; your power leaf blower with a hand rake; and your power tiller with a broadfork, digging fork, and three-tooth cultivator. Items like the no-mow lawn mix, low-growing native bunching grasses that don't need mowing, can cut out the need for lawn mowers altogether. You can also save energy by using motion-activated outdoor lights, solar outdoor lights, and compact fluorescents. By simply adding compost to your garden, you will build up the soil to a high level of organic matter, which holds carbon.

Also, water-treatment plants are huge users of energy, and precipitation patterns will continue to change with global warming, creating droughts and deluges, making it important to use water-saving devices. Soaker hoses are a great inexpensive way to water your plants. A soaker hose delivers water directly to plants' root zones, so a minimum is lost in the wind or water on wetting the foliage.

Thanks to author, vegetable farmer, and garden columnist for the Washington Post Barbara Damrosch of Four Seasons Farm for providing this information, and to Workman Publishing Company for giving a copy of her "Garden Primer" to everyone in our studio audience. Thanks to Prairie Nursery for providing the no-mow lawn mix, and to the Arbor Day Foundation for providing the trees used on today's show, and given to our studio audience. The eco-friendly tools used on today's show are from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Many local offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service hold annual seedling sales in the spring, featuring trees that grow well regionally and are very low priced. To find your local office, visit USDA Service Center Locator.

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