What Climate Change Predictions Mean For Northwest Gardeners

By Ann Dornfeld

Northwest farmers can expect longer growing seasons, drier summers and increased risk of disease and pest outbreaks. Those are some of the predictions in the National Climate Assessment that came out today. The changing climate might affect gardeners here in the Northwest.

Most of the research about the impact of climate change on Northwest agriculture focuses on what might happen east of the Cascades, to major crops like wheat, wine grapes and irrigated potatoes. But most of us are farming on a much smaller scale.

Like John Mullen, who’s turning over the soil in his plot at this Capitol Hill P-Patch. Mullen has been gardening in the Northwest for more than three decades. He says he’s noticed higher high temperatures – and lower lows. “So the summers are definitely seeing longer periods where we’re hitting the 90s, which really helps tomatoes grow, cause that’s a notoriously difficult crop here," he says, "and it’s also good for roses.”

Mullen says one downside is the winter cold spells, like a recent one that cost him his artichoke plant.
Overall, though, Washington State University agricultural researcher Chad Kruger says Seattle-area gardeners won’t be seeing major changes anytime soon.

He was one of the authors of the Northwest portion of the National Climate Assessment. He says “I think for the intermediate future the likelihood that gardeners in Seattle experience substantial changes that would be recognizable as attributable to climate would probably be pretty lean.”

Kruger says the biggest changes are likely toward the end of this century – like significantly longer growing seasons. Still, Kruger says one short-term challenge could be drought as summers get drier. “How much water is available, at what cost is it available, are there prohibitions on the use of water in yards and gardens. That could actually be a fairly serious impact that people will experience.”

So the next time you’re at the garden store, maybe walk right past that Meyer lemon tree… and head for the succulents.

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