Climate Change and Its Impact on Alberta Gardens
by Jennifer Burns-Robinson
Greetings from my Zone 3 garden, 50km west of Edmonton, AB! I garden on an acreage in a rural area, so unfortunately, I don’t get the benefit of Edmonton’s heat island, which bumps up their growing zone to 4a. Winters here tend to be cold (down to -42C, two years ago) with only moderate snowfall. Summers tend to be dry and warm, but that is changing. Climate change is driving more extreme weather variations, so very variable rainfalls, more extreme rain events, hail, winds, and droughts are in our forecast. An expert climatologist, David Phillips, recently predicted that by 2050, we will be bumping our zone up by 1.5 levels. So, my 3b garden will move to almost 4b. That is a lot of change in just a few years.
So, what can an Alberta gardener do to keep on gardening despite the weather? Thankfully, there are lots of things we can do to help manage our microclimate and buffer it against extreme weather. One thing we can do right now to protect our future gardens is plant trees. Trees not only act as a carbon sink, but they create shade to cool the soil, help block damaging winds and help hold water in the soil. Deforestation is a big contributor to climate change, so if we can each plant a few trees, we may be able to offset some of that damage in the long run. We plan to add some shade trees over the next few years, including some hardy maple that we will tap for maple syrup.
A storm rolls through my zone 3 Alberta garden - Photo by Jennifer Burns-Robinson
What else can we do? Mulch, mulch, mulch! Leave no soil bare, and your plants will thank you. Mulching reduces water evaporation, and cools plant roots. Last summer, we had hot dry weather at the start of the season (no rain for almost 3 months!) and mulching helped to reduce stress on my fruit trees and reduce the amount of water I needed to use from my well - preserving my underground water. Hand-in-hand with mulching is collecting rainwater. With the looming possibility of alternating drought and extreme rainfall, collecting your rainwater for the dry times is a smart move. We are installing 2 more 1000L tanks this summer to catch rain, just in case we get another spring like last year.
My vegetable garden is already sloped to allow for drainage, and we have a small natural depression that collects runoff and creates habitat for frogs and birds. If you live in the city on a smaller lot, you can install a rain garden so that your heavy rain can collect temporarily and drain any excess from your beds.
We also plan to add some shade structures in the vegetable garden this year, to allow for a little relief from that intense prairie sun. My vegetable garden faces full south with no trees nearby, so the heat can be powerful. My brassicas did not appreciate the hot dry weather last year, and I lost all my Purple Lady Bok Choy to bolting. Shade cloth for my greens and cabbages, strung over a wooden arbour should reduce the temperatures by a few degrees.
I am also hoping to work with Mother Nature and add some more perennial vegetables to my plantings. Sorrel, dandelion, dock, asparagus, will hopefully have more resilience in the face of change and require less work on my part.
Thankfully, as an Alberta gardener I am used to adapting my practices to harsh weather. I hope these ideas can help you build a plan for your garden!
How Climate Change Impacts Gardening (18:08) https://youtu.be/h_WcT3fj1bI
How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change | Allan Savory (22:19) https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI