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Landscape Gardening in New England:
Gardening Through Climate Change

Climate change isn’t just a global issue:
let’s think about what it means in our own back yards.

Some of the downsides of climate change for landscape gardeners in northern
New England include an increase in invasive plant species, the range migration
of native species, and changes in precipitation patterns.  But we, either as avid
gardeners or simply folks who enjoy the flowers, butterflies and birds, can take
simple and thoughtful steps to reduce the negative impacts from these changes.  

Landscape designs can play an important role in minimizing the threat of
invasive species that are crowding out native plants that support our wildlife
food chains.  

We can replace invasive  plants with an array of native alternatives, and the
University of Maine Extension Service has identified a number of plant options,
available in the publication “Gardening to Conserve Maine’s Landscape” at
Gardening (search for Bulletin #2500).

For example, we can replace the
harmful invasive English Ivy with plantain-
leaved sedge, marginal woodfern, white woodland aster, Meehan’s mint and
creeping phlox.  Similarly, purple coneflower, gayfeather or shaggy blazing star
are better native alternatives to the
invasive purple loosestrife.  And native
alternatives to the invasive
Japanese honeysuckle include American wisteria,
leatherflower, Carolina jasmine, trumpet honeysuckle, sweetbay magnolia, or
purple passionflower.

By incorporating a diversity of native plants into our landscapes with bloom
times that overlap, we can help maintain some of the important timing
connections between bird and insect pollinators with wildlife habitat and food
needs.  The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) “Certified Wildlife Habitat”
program (
Certified Wildlife Habitat) offers suggestions for turning our gardens
into true havens for birds, butterflies, amphibians and other wildlife.

On a larger scale, gardeners can plant native species that form corridors through
a community, providing important habitat basics (food, water, cover) for wildlife
to raise their young, helping them cope with the effects of climate change. Learn
more at
National Wildlife Federation.

In our own backyards, we can combat the negative effects of climate change by
giving the lawn mower a deserved rest.  By letting little-used lawn areas grow
into fields or replacing grassy lawns with native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees,
we can increase the natural beauty and provide a nurturing refuge for wildlife.
As a bonus, mowing less cuts back on emissions that contribute to climate
change and saves money on gasoline.

One likely effect of climate change is more erratic precipitation patterns --
including droughts and extreme precipitation events -- and we can make some
changes to keep our gardens green and our landscape healthy.  Xeriscaping is a
way of minimizing water use through the planting of native, drought-tolerant
plants.  In addition, by watering plants either early or late in the day, we can
ensure that they receive the maximum benefit and we don’t waste precious
water through evaporation in the midday sun.  Planting natural vegetative
buffers along stream banks to prevent erosion from heavy rain will also help
protect water quality and aquatic habitat.

Climate change may be making headlines around the world, but here at home
there are some things we can do to protect the special green places we create in
our own backyards.  

This column was submitted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's
(DEP) Bureau of Air Quality. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the DEP. E-mail
your environmental questions to infoDEP@maine.gov or send them to In Our Back Yard,
Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.
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