Septembers are getting warmer in most of WNY; what gardeners can do

sunchokes in Western New York
Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, bloom in September. With the warm weather most of Western New York has been having, you may have noticed other flowers are blooming longer than they used to. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

 

by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you were still running your air conditioner on Friday, you won’t be surprised to hear that so far September was 6 degrees warmer than normal in Buffalo.

That information comes from Dan Kelly, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo. While that data goes from Sept. 1 to the end of yesterday (Sept. 24), we are now in for a cooling period with more normal temperatures, he said.

changing average September temperatures
Most of Western New York has September temperatures that are on average .5 degree warmer than they were in 1895. The area near Lake Ontario is 1 degree warmer. Part of Allegany County is .5 degree cooler, probably because it is getting more rain. This data ranges from 1895 to 2017. Image courtesy NOAA Climate.gov and NCEI

But we should probably expect this as our new normal because the climate for September is changing, according to an article by Rebecca Lindsey on Climate.gov. 

In much of Western New York, the average temperature for September has gone up .5 degree Fahrenheit since 1895. See the accompanying map. (Remember that this is an average temperature for all of September; very warm temperatures early in the month can be balanced out by cooler temperatures later in the month.)

In Niagara County near Lake Ontario, the average September temperature has gone up a full degree.

An area in Allegany County is .5 degree cooler. It’s probably cooler there because that area is getting more precipitation, according to the article from Climate.gov. 

Since this is Climate Week, let’s take a quick look at how climate change impacts your garden and how you can impact climate change.

What climate change means for WNY gardeners

Our growing season is about two weeks longer than it was in 1965, said Stephen Vermette, professor of geography in the Department of Geography & Planning at Buffalo State College, in the article “Our growing season is longer: What gardeners need to know about climate change in WNY.”

Now the growing season starts about a week earlier in spring and lasts about a week longer in autumn. You can start plants earlier in spring and get perennials in the ground later in autumn.

Do keep in mind that climate change is affecting different parts of Western New York in different ways. See details here. 

Here are some ways to deal with climate change in your garden:

  • Experiment with plants that usually need warmer temperatures,suggested David Wolfe, a Cornell University professor of horticulture and a leading authority of the effects of climate change and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on plants, soils and ecosystems. The flip side to that is that plants that you used to love may not do well as our climate changes.
  • Protect plants against frost. If higher temperatures come earlier than usual, trees and shrubs may leaf out earlier, making them vulnerable to spring frost, Wolfe said. Use mulch around plants or cover these plants with reusable fabric in the case of frost.
  • Be aware of new invasive threats. Higher temperatures are predicted to bring increased weed, insect, and disease pressure. Keep up with the latest information on any new pest threats.
  • Keep your garden flexible, Wolfe said. While there are projections for climate change in the future, there are many unknowns. One way to be prepared is to include a mix of flowering plants that have a diverse range of responses to environmental conditions. For example, if the summer is especially warm, only some of your plants may experience stress, while the heat-tolerant ones can thrive in the warmer conditions. This is called “response diversity.”

How you can impact climate change

Climate change is real, and humans are the main cause of climate change.

But you can take simple steps to decrease your carbon footprint. Here are some gardening-related ways:

  • Till your garden less. Instead of tilling, let plants decompose and become part of the soil’s organic matter naturally, Wolfe said. This prevents carbon from being released into the atmosphere and keeps it in the soil, where it is an important component of soil health. By doing this, you’re making your soil a “carbon sink.”
  • Reduce or replace nitrogen fertilizer, Wolf suggested. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers such as urea and ammonium nitrate require a lot of energy to manufacture and transport (for every ton of fertilizer produced, 4-6 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted).
  • Growing your own food is one suggestion in The Climate Friendly Gardener: A Guide to Combating Global Warming from the Ground Up, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Most supermarket produce travels more than 1,500 miles (often in a refrigerated truck) to get to your dinner plate.
  • Buying food that was grown locally and didn’t travel as far by truck to get to you also helps decrease your carbon footprint, said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
  • Decrease food waste. Food waste that ends up in a landfill creates methane, another greenhouse gas, the DEC said. Make a weekly food plan so you only buy what you’ll use.
  • Compost your kitchen scraps and yard waste, or have your municipality pick it up for composting.
  • Plant trees. Trees capture carbon dioxide. In addition, they can cool your home in the summer so you don’t have to use as much air conditioning. Some trees are better than others. See page 7 of The Climate Friendly Gardener. 
  • Reduce the use of gasoline-powered yard tools. Avoid using gasoline-powered tools such as lawn mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers, suggests The Gardeners Guide to Global Warming: Challenges and Solutions. Instead, use electric-powered or, better yet, human-powered tools such as push mowers, hand clippers and rakes. If this seems daunting, you might consider replacing some of your lawn with low-maintenance groundcover or a native wildflower patch.

Click on each of those links for even more tips on simple ways to decrease your carbon footprint.

8 Comments on “Septembers are getting warmer in most of WNY; what gardeners can do

  1. There is a lot to think about here. Also thank you for verifying my perceptions. As an older person, the statistic about the length of the growing season hits home. I’ve been thinking for a long time that we have much longer enjoyment of pleasant Spring and Fall weather but was not sure if it was my imagination.

  2. Linda, yes, that’s part of the reason I did the story. It seemed that when I was a kid and teenager (’60s and ’70s), when you flipped the calendar to September, the hot weather was over. Now we have what I call “beach days” weeks after the outdoor pools and beaches are closed. There is a lot of information in the articles that I linked to; people can keep coming back to read more and find out what they need to know.

  3. Anyone who spends time out of doors has to believe that climate change is real and happening in our world and in our lifetime. The only good part is longer beautiful days to SPEND outdoors.

  4. The ARTseeds program of the University Heights Arts Association, which provides seeds to the Capen Garden Walk, NW Buffalo Tour of Gardens and at local events and some libraries, offers 2300 packets of seeds in 76 varieties along with a host of gardening art programs. If you have missed recent plant and seed exchanges, contact us at 833-6260 or email seeds@uhartsgroup.com.

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