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Gardening in a changing climate

3 May 2022
Photo: Schulzie/Getty Images

Climate change is here and it’s definitely affecting our gardens. Look out for subtle variations across the country. Words Veronica Armstrong

Changes in our climate won’t be sudden and dramatic, but rather slow and subtle. We are unlikely to be growing subtropicals in Otago and Southland any time soon! We will still be able to grow plants such as spring bulbs and paeonies that require cold winters. Changes will be nuanced and will vary across the country.

In my own garden north of Wellington, I have noticed that the seasons are shifting subtly. Summer heat doesn’t set in reliably until January. The deciduous trees produce their autumn colours later and instead of dropping their leaves in March and April, this has happened in April and May for the past few years. Daffodils that usually appear in August popped up in July last year. Magnolias in my neighbourhood were
in bloom several weeks earlier than usual. Late summer flowers, such as asters and dahlias, appeared earlier and flowered for longer. These subtle changes are the plants responding to warming temperatures and changing rainfall. You may have noticed similar changes in your own garden.

How does climate change affect our gardens?

At first glance, some changes seem good – warmer winters sound like a nice idea! But minimum temperatures in winter are rising faster than the average winter temperatures. This allows fungal diseases and insect pests (such as caterpillars, thrips and aphids), which are normally knocked back by winter temperatures, to survive longer and spread to warmer areas – which is not so good for our
garden plants.

Warmer winters also means longergrowing seasons. Buds, blossoms and new leaves appear earlier, and plants continue flowering for longer. Again, this seems good as we can enjoy these plants for longer with increased productivity, but it can mean those tender shoots are damaged by early or late frosts...

Read the full story in our May issue – on shelves now.
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