A less predictable climate means B.C. growers need to adapt

Plant nurseries are educating customers on plants for a changing environment


Reported by Austin Everett

Local plant nurseries and gardeners are having to adapt to extreme temperature fluctuations and earlier springs due to climate change.

Thomas Hobbs, owner of one of the few remaining nurseries in Vancouver, said that in his experience of over 30 years, he has noticed a difference in temperatures. It has changed the way his business is run. Previously in January, the nursery used to be closed, but now it’s open and in full bloom.

“We’ve had to expand our staff, and all the expenses that go with being open. We have the full availability [to make sure] everything looks yummy,” Hobbs said.

Spring hasn’t always come this early. Past years have shown that while the average temperature is going up and precipitation is going down, winter can still hang on with spring arriving later or barely at all.

Environment Canada has estimated that between 2010 and 2039, 16 per cent of inhabited regions in B.C. will have at least 170 days as a growing season. This is a nine per cent spike from before 2000.

Liz Ehebald, a Langara nursing student who has lived in Vancouver all her life and has enjoyed gardening in her backyard, said her roses and rhododendrons are terribly confused and will likely not bloom this year.

“I have definitely seen some [plants] coming out of nowhere, which is confusing,” she said.

Thomas Hobbs’s personal collection of plants starts to bloom indoors in the greenhouse of Southlands Nursery. Hobbs puts his experience of over 30 years into his collection. Photo: Austin Everett
‘Tremble with terror’

While early springs do give way to new growth in January, this can be extremely detrimental to the plants themselves. February can surprise with wind chills and even snow. With the snow that fell last weekend, Hobbs said his flowers are in danger.

In response to the recent change in weather, the nursery has moved all colourful plants and herbs indoors, perennials have been placed inside the greenhouse and all other plants are under blankets.

“We have to actually gather everything up and shelter it, even though a lot of the plants are hearty,” Hobbs said. “We tremble with terror.”

Evan Perkins, who has worked for Southlands Nursery for nine years, admitted that climate change has a huge impact on plants and their gardeners, how they grow and when people garden. With milder weather, planting enthusiasts, much like the plants themselves, get confused and assume it’s time to start gardening because the ground is no longer frozen and has no snow.

However, a sudden shift to a winter weather pattern and the damage is done.  A cold strike and wind chill can burn the leaves of tender growth, leaving a garden empty and dead.

“We’ve got to educate people on what to bring inside and what to put outside right now,” Perkins said.

While educating customers in the nursery, Hobbs admitted that you really have to “fly by the seat of your pants,” and work with the weather and be smart.

Murray Powers waits patiently to help customers with their plant and planting needs. Education is essential in preparing customers to new climate realities. Photo: Austin Everett
‘We no longer live in a rainy place’

Surprisingly, according to Hobbs, the summer is when Vancouverites need to adapt the most. With June to September producing little rain, xeriscaping, also known as dry gardening, is a necessity. People need plants that are drought tolerant and can withstand a Mediterranean-like summer.

“With a simple drive around Vancouver, you can point out all the dead hedges and other greenery because we no longer live in a rainy place,” Hobbs said.

Austin Everett reports from Southlands Nursery.


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