Digging for low-carbon victory

January 13, 2023

80 years ago, the slogan ‘Dig for Victory’ inspired gardeners up and down the UK to transform green spaces into allotments, and grow vegetables to keep the country fed during the Second World War. But today, the RHS is re-purposing the phrase to inspire us all to take on our current biggest threat, climate change.

Gardens are an invaluable resource in tackling global warming as they can store large amounts of carbon, and getting involved might be a lot simpler than you think. By planting just one medium-sized tree each, the UK’s 30 million gardeners could store the amount of carbon produced by driving 284 billion miles. And if you’re a bit tighter for space, compost is also an easy way to make a difference; if all our gardeners could produce 190kg of compost a year, they would save the same amount of carbon as is produced in heating half a million homes for a year.

While companies and organisations rush to decarbonise their business processes the world over, it’s good to remember that a well planned garden can also make a big difference as a thriving carbon sink. A bit of thought to make your garden resilient to hot, dry summers and rainy winters, and a bit of freedom to let it grow wild without harmful chemicals, could make all the difference.

Check out some of the BBC’s top tips on making your garden a carbon sink here:

Embrace the wildness. With the ‘No Mow May’ campaign gaining traction every year, more and more gardeners are taking the pledge to let their lawns grow wild for a month each year. With 23% of urban land covered by lawns, the impact of letting them thrive naturally could be huge. As well as trapping more carbon than a well-manicured lawn, by not using petrol guzzling lawn mowers and leaf blowers you’ll reduce your pollution output as well.

Healthy soil traps carbon. As well as being better for food production, healthy soil is also great for trapping carbon in your own back garden. If we could replenish the world’s soils, we’d remove up to 5.5 billion tonnes of CO2e every year – the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by the US. This is because healthy soil soaks up carbon from dead plant matter. To keep your soil thriving, keep a good balance of water and air, and cover it loosely with biodegradable materials like plants and clover. In the same vein…

Swap out fertilisers for mulch and compost. Natural products like mulch and compost will help your plants to thrive, while keeping excess CO2 out of the atmosphere. Laying down mulch on your soil helps maintain moisture and protects the roots from extreme temperatures. Simply leaving fallen leaves and twigs to feed into your soil rather than removing them can provide an easy ‘living mulch’. Homemade compost can also enrich your soil, and provides a more eco-friendly way to dispose of your food and garden waste. If you can’t make your own compost, just be sure not to buy one with peat in it as peat is a valuable natural resource.

Grow an abundance of plants. As well as aiming for maximum plant cover, you should also aim for a wide variety of plant types. A range of plants will allow you to make full use of your garden space, and also grow plants with varying root depths which is good for spreading nutrients. If you have the space for them, trees are the best way to trap carbon, especially if growing a mix of trees which can stand drought and those which can take being waterlogged. For a smaller space, native grasses, shrubs and hedges are also great for storing carbon and providing for biodiversity. In terms of plants, perennial flowers such as peonies and sunflowers are a good choice as they don’t involve digging up the soil each year.

Introduce a water feature. If done well, a pond in your garden will act as a carbon sink, with some ponds storing a much higher rate of carbon than surrounding woodland and grassland. Just be careful to look after your pond well as poorly maintained ponds can collect sediment that releases carbon and methane back into the atmosphere. A quick sweep to remove any dead foliage from the surface will keep this under control.

You can read more about these gardening tips for storing carbon and many others on the BBC’s 21st Century Gardening webpage here.


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