Earth, as we know, is warming at an alarming rate due to human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. While our window for mitigation is narrowing, we have a low-risk, low-tech, natural way to reverse warming: land stewardship!
Every landscape has the potential to sequester and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, turning the soil into what’s known as a “carbon sink.” By maximizing these potentials AND reducing emissions, we might stand a chance at reversing global climate change before our planet is altered forever.
How To Make Your Landscape a Carbon Sink:
Soil microbes are the critical workforce for sequestering carbon into the soil. They attach themselves to plant roots to form a symbiotic exchange: microbes break down soil nutrients into a plant-available form and trade them for a bit of sugar water from the plant. This sugar (glucose) is actually converted carbon dioxide, pulled from the atmosphere and converted into glucose through photosynthesis. The microbes then secrete the byproduct glomalin, an incredibly stable form of carbon that also helps to bind soil particles together in the formation of humus, a key component of topsoil.
Some soil microbes are generalists (partner with many plants) and some are specialists (partner with only specific plants). The more diverse and robust the soil microbial community, the greater capacity to sequester carbon at every plant’s roots.
To cultivate soil microbes, we apply organic, natural source compost with biochar and compost tea. This organic material hosts and feeds soil microbes and is the foundation of successful ecological gardening.
Once you have inoculated your soil microbes, it is critical to maintain your landscape organically. As the saying goes, synthetic fertilizers feed the plant, organic fertilizers feed the soil. When synthetic fertilizers are applied, the symbiotic relationship between plant and microbe is disrupted. Instead of trading sugar for nutrients, the plant is supplied with easy, cheap nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, and the microbes, in turn, look elsewhere for food; the sequestration of stable carbon into the soil is skipped entirely.
Research shows that traditionally managed landscapes have only a 1-2% carbon holding capacity, while on sustainably stewarded land that number can reach 3-5%. If applied at a global scale, we could reduce total carbon emissions by 30-40%.
Deeply rooted plants, like native prairie grasses, are particularly adept at sequestering carbon. The microbes attached to their roots can access and breakdown deep soil nutrients that most plants cannot; the glomalin is then stored at these lower soil depths, where it is at less risk for being exposed to the air and released back into the atmosphere. Planting a diversity of plants with a range of root depths ensures that all strata of the soil are being utilized for carbon storage.
Woody plants like trees and shrubs have an additional ability to store carbon in their tissues. Since trees have much larger biomass than herbaceous plants like grasses, they can store more carbon in their tissues. Unfortunately, when forests burn, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere. However, by planting a diversity of plants – perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees, we can diversify our avenues for carbon sequestration and storage, becoming more resilient in our climate mitigation.
To truly create a carbon sink – one that sequesters more carbon than it emits – we need to dramatically reduce the emissions associated with landscape maintenance and construction. Fortunately, nowadays there are many options for electric leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and of course, good old-fashioned hand tools. Not only are these machines blissfully quiet, they are zero-emission and in many cases more ecologically beneficial. For example, electric leaf blowers do not blow nearly as strong, reducing the risk for soil disruption and erosion. Electric, autonomous lawn mowers mow a tiny bit every day, dropping lawn clippings and the nutrients they hold back into the soil (also reducing the need for added fertilizer). By making smart land stewardship and management decisions, we can make every landscape a carbon sink that actively sequesters greenhouse gases.
Green Jay Landscape Design employs the principals of low-impact development (LID) and Sustainable Site Initiative (SSI) during all projects, especially in ecologically-sensitive areas.
We also use state-of-the-art site protection methods during our construction and restoration practices, such as stream bank stabilization, tree protection, and erosion control devices to improve and maintain water quality.
Let’s discuss your goals and determine if we are a good fit for your project.
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