Climate Witness: Cheryl Aldrich, USA
My name is Cheryl Aldrich and I am 46 years old. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Michigan State University where I grew up, but have been living in Atlanta, Georgia for the past 25 years. I have been in the horticultural industry ever since I moved here in the 1980’s. Though climate change hasn’t been totally detrimental to the business I am involved with, I have definitely noticed some big changes in the winter temperatures and the plant life we can now grow here.
Observations - Oleanders in Atlanta
One of the main things I have noticed over the past several years is what a lot of people around the world are noticing as well—winters are much milder here in Atlanta. I remember the winters here in the 80’s when temperatures would occasionally dip below zero degrees (F). One winter it was 7 degrees below zero. But in the last 15 years, there has not been a really cold winter. I have not seen temperatures in the single digits in a long time.
There are natural drought cycles here and we are currently in one, though it started early this year. Late winter and early spring are usually associated with a fair amount of rain, but we did not get much of the early rain that we should have gotten. Because this past winter was dry, many people lost a lot of plants because they are not used to watering in the winter time.
Some of the changes I’ve noticed are related to the more tender plants that are now over wintering here. Some of these (ones we used to consider risky to plant, such as gardenias, jasmine, and angel trumpet) have been coming back every year and are doing quite well. These species used to be considered marginal and not likely to survive the cold winter temperatures. Who would have guessed that even oleander would make it through the winter now? We’ve had one at the nursery which has over wintered for 5 years in a row.
Long drought impacting the dogwood
Overall, there is probably an increase in the number and variety of plants that we can grow here, so the effects of climate change are not necessarily all negative from a gardener’s perspective. With the drought, however, people are more concerned now about purchasing drought tolerant plants, because don’t want plants that have to be watered all the time. During the summer drought period plant sales slow considerably, but we have actually had an increase in our landscaping/ installation business.
The Atlanta Dogwood Festival has been in existence for 70 years—it’s a huge deal here. For decades the city had a program of planting dogwoods all throughout the city. The sad thing is that, not only are a lot of the dogwoods doing quite poorly now, the annual festival is no longer in time with the blooming of the trees. By the beginning of April, which is when the festival takes place, most of the dogwoods are done blooming. These emblematic and beautiful trees have been ailing for the last 15 years, mostly due to the drought. An increase in air pollution is also a factor.
People are aware of climate change here and I think that they are starting to get more tuned into this. The fact that we can grow oleander year round now and that we’ve changed from a zone 7 designation to zone 8 (United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone based in annual temperatures) has forced people to connect the dots.
Even though it has not negatively affected me personally, I believe that climate change is a very serious problem. If it keeps on going like it is, I think it will begin to impact this industry more and more. We all have a responsibility to do something about it.
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