Transform your garden into a carbon sink

Climate change is the challenge of the century. You hear about it, read about it, worry about it. Rising global temperatures are caused by our overuse of fossil fuels in combination with widespread destruction of forests, grasslands, peat bogs and other flora. The average temperature of Earth is rising because our polluted atmosphere traps heat which should be radiated into space – the greenhouse effect. “Humans have increased CO2 [carbon dioxide] concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change”.

Here’s the good news: we can combat climate change in our own gardens.

All plants remove carbon dioxide from the air. It’s stored in their stems, roots and shoots. A mature tree can sequester 23 kilos of CO2 per year. They are carbon sinks and can lock up carbon for the life of the tree – decades. Filling your garden with as many plants as possible is an enjoyable and simple way to absorb carbon dioxide and provide habitat for wildlife.

Reduce the amount of CO2 you produce on your property by using hand tools instead of gasoline powered ones. Ditch the leaf blower and power mower. Save your ears, enjoy the exercise, listen to the birds.

Here is a quote from David Wolfe, Professor of Plant and Soil Ecology at Cornell University (via ” Most gardeners are surprised to learn that one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse emissions from home gardening and lawn care is the use of nitrogen fertilizers”.

This leads into the topic of soil, which also sequesters carbon. This process is the result of interactions among plants and the myriad of organisms living in it, which produce humus. Humus is 60% carbon. Leaving it undisturbed as much as possible locks the carbon into the earth, not releasing it into the atmosphere. You can leave locked up by tilling as little as possible.

Back to nitrogen fertilizers…. synthetic fertilizers cause a burst of activity by microorganisms. They use it rapidly, then gobble up organic matter which is vital for fertile soil. You want MORE organic matter, not less. Use compost, or composted leaves instead of synthetic fertilizer. Try fish emulsion or worm castings if containers need a boost.

To further transform your property into a carbon sponge, consider reducing or eliminating your lawn. You won’t need to mow, fertilize or water it. Lawns support very little wildlife, so switching to trees, shrubs and plants, especially native species, will have the two-fold benefit of providing wildlife habitat and sequestering carbon.

Learn more by exploring the resources below.
David Suzuki Foundation
E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation Garden Therapy
Home Grown National Park National Audubon Society


Darke, Rick and Tallamy, Douglas “The Living Landscape” Timber Press, Portland, 2014

Tallamy, Douglas “Bringing Nature Home” Timber Press, Portland 2019

Submitted by Leslye Glover