Can You Mitigate Climate Change While you Garden? (Part 2)

By: Jessica Lehr, Director, Pollinate Collingwood

If you haven’t already… check out part 1 here

Now that we know that we can help to store carbon in our yards and urban parks, we can also look at how we can minimize our carbon emissions in these areas.  The US Environmental Protection Agency indicated that for every gallon of gas used by a gas mower, there would be 20 pounds of CO2 emitted.  Remember, a pound of CO2 measures 8.7 cubic feet (246.3L), the area of a medium chest size freezer.  A single lawnmower over a season will release 88 pounds of CO2 and 34 pounds of other pollutants, including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides.  While a battery-powered lawn mower will decrease your carbon emissions by 80 pounds, there are still costs from charging the battery.  The only 0 emission way to maintain a lawn is through the use of a reel mower, or by replacing that turfgrass lawn with native, carbon-sequestering grasses.

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As we maintain our lawns, we also often use fertilizers. These fertilizers are also associated with CO2 release, as well as other greenhouse gas releases. For example, for every ton of fertilizer manufactured, two tons of CO2 are released during the making of the product.  In 2004, Americans used 70 million tons of fertilizer on their lawns and in doing so, released 140 million tons of CO2.  In light of the changing climate, the practice of perfecting a visually perfect, full, and manicured turfgrass lawn begins to be passé.

Beyond these, there is also a carbon footprint related to irrigation practices, the manufacturing of any pesticides used, the use of gas or battery-powered leaf blowers, and more.  Several of the included references will take you to links that will provide further information on these topics.

To summarize, property owners and town planners can take a proactive step in helping to lower carbon footprints.  Simple steps like converting some of the local turf lands to native gardens and grasslands will make big changes for increasing carbon sequestration – Think of using turf grass for a specific purpose, such as on a soccer field or a lightly used pathway leading around a garden, rather than the foundation of your green spaces.  Limiting the use of fertilizers and minimizing the lawn irrigation cycle will help to lower a carbon footprint, as will switching to a battery-powered mower or reel mower.  

For an even bigger change, switch to using an eco-lawn mix, such as that offered by Wildflower Farm in Central Ontario, which can handle drought, is selected for best growth in our local area, and whose root systems can extend up to 14 inches in the sandy soil of many Collingwood residential properties.  You may even want to consider a no-mow lawn! Native plants such as Wild Strawberry, Field Pussytoes, Common selfheal, Native Violets, Silverweed, and various Sedge species are all low growing and can handle some foot traffic. 

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All of these changes, big or small, all contribute to making positive change.  When communities, like Collingwood, work together we can achieve remarkable climate and biodiversity successes – Let’s get at it! 

Field pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), Dog violet (Viola conspersa), wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

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