Gardening for Health

Perennials native to the East Coast and Midwest. 

What is Carbon Gardening? 

By Maria Price 

Your garden can help slow global warming. We can all do our small part to help the environment that we depend on.  

Carbon gardening is a backyard technique for taming the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that we release into the atmosphere. CO2 is the principal gas most responsible for an increase in temperatures throughout the world and an increase in the number of droughts that we experience. Remember the devastating fires in Australia and California? 

Carbon gardening encourages plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deposit it in the soil, where it is stored as humus in organic matter. 

Besides helping to restore pollinators and bird populations, locally indigenous native plants are of great help in this matter.  

If you plant species native to your area, they tend to form communities of connected and mutually beneficial organisms, rather than operating as a collection of competitors. That community enhances growth and allows you to cultivate your plants sustainably without the use of chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers contribute to water pollution and greenhouse gases. Minimize the use of pesticides which release greenhouse gases and injure organisms in the soil that play a crucial role in sequestration of carbon. 

Once your native plants are established, they will thrive without much irrigation, so saving water is an added bonus. I always remember my stand of Maximilian sunflowers, a perennial native plant that I once had planted between the driveway and main road in a narrow strip of soil. My garden hose never reached them so they went without water. Every fall they would bloom gloriously in blazing heat on 6-foot stems. I marveled at how they sustained themselves with no water or fertilizer. 

Reducing your reliance on tilling is also a key to carbon gardening—which should be welcomed as it means less work for you. Deep digging encourages decomposition of organic matter which helps to release more carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Spreading compost over the surface of your beds and letting the worms carry it down into the soil is much better.  

Sowing cover crops over vegetable beds can help to reduce carbon loss from soil. Carbon gardening celebrates regional diversity but there is also room for some of our beloved exotic plants. 

For more information, Adrian Ayres Fisher, who previously served as the Sustainability Coordinator for Triton College in River Grove, Ill., is an articulate proponent of carbon gardening and addresses the techniques in a podcast called Growing Greener and, on her website,

If carbon-sequestration styles of cultivation were adopted by the gardening public and agriculture, it has been estimated that this could reduce our nation’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide by up to a third.