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Action Steps to Build Climate Resilience

To address Climate Adaptation & Risk Management requires a thorough understanding of where your garden is most vulnerable to climate stressors and how you plan to address that.

Rare and historic plant collections may need to be prioritized for protection in anticipation of future disaster events. It’s important to be prepared and take steps that safeguard plant collections, reinforce or build more resilient infrastructure above and below ground, and coordinate at all levels of governance, to ensure that your garden can adapt to predictable or unpredictable climate patterns. This document outlines some key steps your garden needs to consider to adapt to our changing climate. 

"Capture the sequence of milestones necessary to complete your project, and then assign roles, responsibilities, and sufficient resources (time, money, expertise, etc.) to complete them. Ensure that those who have responsibility also have the authority to make and implement decisions."

~US Climate Resilience Toolkit


  • Review and update your plant collections policy with climate change as a main consideration. 
  • Establish a list of climate-induced stressors relevant to your region that you need to plan for (e.g., salt water intrusion, fire).
  • Identify and adopt your local or regional government emergency preparedness documents (e.g., Office of Sustainability). 
  • Ensure that your garden assets are appraised and covered by an insurance plan:
  • Determine which stakeholders and staff will be involved in short and long term monitoring. Be sure that those involved are able to participate in tracking areas of specific concern to them and can commit to the amount of time and energy needed to follow through in the process. Following a specific risk or vulnerability from the project conception through completion will enhance meaning and satisfaction for staff.
    • Create teams and team leaders for each department that are in charge of leading aspects of your emergency disaster plan and can meet annually to discuss revisions. Assign duties in case of emergencies (e.g. storm team).
  • Put together a list of actions that were taken from previous severe weather events and identify important lessons learned and what climate adaptation strategies need to be prioritized in the future to better protect people, plants, and infrastructure. If your garden hasn’t experienced a natural disaster, adopt and conform aspects of other gardens or cultural institutions natural disaster preparedness plans and climate adaptation strategies to formulate your plan of action. 
  • Collaborate with outside experts, relevant plant societies, and other public gardens to adopt effective climate adaptation strategies. Do not reinvent the wheel, there is a lot of information, tools, and resources at your disposal. 


  • Be aware of all the invasive plant species in your area, what’s on the watch list, and what’s in surrounding states. Create a monitoring checklist with photo clues so your garden can easily recognize when there is an invasive plant species breakout on your property. If invasive plant species are identified, use this as an opportunity to educate your visitors about how climate change is causing these species to migrate out of their normal range and what implications that could have at your garden and the surrounding community.
  • Seed banking and collections networking is an excellent long-term conservation method for plant species that are susceptible to climate change. Compile information for rare plant species in threatened natural communities and develop adaptation plans that include seed bank repository collection and registry of living collections for documentation in the Plant Collections Network (PCN) and BGCI's initiative. The PCN now requires a Disaster Preparedness Plan for accreditation. 
  • Build, maintain, and design plant collections and infrastructure with climate adaptation in mind. Start by ranking the sensitivity of your assets as high, medium, or low. This could include a rare and historic plant collection that’s irreplaceable or an historic sculpture or building that cannot be restored if damaged. Evaluate the risk climate poses to your most vulnerable assets. Consider the magnitude of the potential loss, financial and otherwise and include this in your plan of action.
  • Establish a tracking system for records and documents of all existing plant collections, keeping data and information stored on and off site (accession numbers, herbarium, DNA tissue, germplasm, GPS locations). This should include routinely photographing plants in anticipation of extreme weather events. Ensure you have paper and electronic versions of your data, research, and important records, reports, and documents. This should also include tracking every single expense and the categorization of those expenses. FEMA requires very detailed paperwork of expenses so it's crucial to not lose track of those financial accounts. 
  • Take soil samples in different areas of your garden to establish baseline data and to compare to post-natural disaster events (salinity, biology). Have a detailed map and biological inventory (especially for gardens with natural land holdings) as part of generating historical records for documentation of all infrastructure and plant collections for post natural disaster assessment.
  • Consider implementing in vitro conservation of germplasm such as cryo-preservation and micro-propagation. There are several advantages associated with in-vitro germplasm conservation:
    • Large quantities of materials can be preserved in small space.
    • The germplasm preserved can be maintained in an environment, free from pathogens.
    • It can be protected against nature’s hazards.
    • From the germplasm stock, large number of plants can be obtained whenever needed.
    • Obstacles for their transport through national and international borders are minimal. 
  • Work with utility companies, consultants, operations, maintenance, and design and planning staff to redesign or build greener infrastructure that is more climate resilient: green walls, permeable surfaces, green roofs, stronger and more efficient pipelines, living shorelines, and other engineering strategies designed to slow down or mitigate threats like hurricanes or increased precipitation. 
  • For gardens in a coastal region, conduct a sea level rise audit for your plant collections, think about which plants and infrastructure occupy space that could be inundated more regularly over time, and ultimately completely inundated, and what the time horizon would be for that. The plan of action should focus on protecting and potentially replacing those collections.
  • For gardens in fire prone states or areas: Establish and maintain fire breaks, identify water supply points, select fire tolerant tree species, identify monitoring points on elevated land, and be prepared with communication equipment to prevent catastrophic fire spread. Train staff members on fire suppression tactics. Follow fire-wise landscape and development guidelines. There are several resources for different applications. 


  • Provide interpretative components at your garden that educate the public on adaptive plant research, phenology, and USDA zone changes relevant to your state.
  • If your garden has the resources and part of your mission is outwardly focused (ex situ conservation), play a leadership role in your community (municipal landscapes, urban trees, establishing native plants in parks).
  • Become a host site for further public and collaborative discussion on climate change: events, symposium, workshops that focus on climate adaptation strategies and safety protocols.
  • Monitor phenology (timing of life cycle events such as first leaf and first flower) of targeted plant species for protection against climate stressors. Collect data for visual modeling purposes and analysis and inform the public about the effects of climate change on plants. Collecting data on phenology also serves an inclusive and educational purpose engaging those in your region to participate in citizen science projects such as the USA National Phenology Network. 
  • Utilize historical records (land surveys, plats), photos (landscape, aerial), and other forms of reference data and information. Historical records and data from previous natural disturbances and events can show how your landscape has changed overtime and can provide valuable information. Install climate change panels or displays that are informational on what to expect in 2030, 2050, or beyond. Panels should include detailed information such as: number of days over 90 degrees, days of rainfall over one inch, an increase in the frequency and duration of heat waves, annual temperature rises, average annual precipitation increases, etc.  
  • Designated staff members should begin recording weather data for educational and research purposes. There are a variety of methods to collect informative weather pattern data: installing weather stations, micro-stations, sensors, working with NOAA and your state climatologist on utilizing the latest technology, partnering with climate science departments at your local universities, etc. This data can inform horticultural management strategies, enhance record keeping, and facilitate comparisons with field observations. This information is highly valuable for both mapping climate patterns over time and for locating areas of the landscape where planting specific plant species improves their chances of survival.
  • Document through photography, video and other media platforms natural disaster impacts to your garden to create an archive of what has been damaged historically and to share with the public so they can see visually what has happened and what may continue to occur. For future public engagement this will allow your garden to create a timeline of various events that have changed the way your landscape and garden functions.


  • There should be designated staff that are assigned the role of communicating to other staff and visitors when the garden is not open and severe weather is too hazardous. This could be an internal severe weather plan where leadership staff prepare the garden and safeguard assets as fast as possible, but ensure safety is primary concern. 
  • Gardens in regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change can provide valuable information on Climate Adaptation and Risk Management (e.g. gardens on the coast or on islands). These gardens can educate the public and other institutions that may face similar adversities in the short or long term future. Public gardens have a profound impact on the way visitors perceive climate as a threat to their natural environment. Reporting, communicating and educating on climate adaptation strategies plays an instrumental role in preparing people and protecting valuable ecosystems on a variety of climate stressors across the world. 
  • Report achievement(s) in garden publications, social media, and on your online website regarding climate adaptation projects for living collections and infrastructure.
  • Communicate pledges, plans, or movements your garden has joined. Publicly report progress and actions through various platforms and share updates and progress from your city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, if such a plan exists. 
  • Document adverse impacts from natural disasters through photos, videos, and other media platforms. Reporting loss of plant life and infrastructure is just as valuable as reporting moments of achievement in your gardens history. This is a way for your garden to convey the seriousness of climate change and the ways the public can help build a more sustainable future with you.
  • Collaborate with other gardens and partner organizations to share lessons learned from natural disaster events and to highlight significant elements to consider in emergency preparedness documents.