Thursday, April 11, 2024

Spilling the Secrets to Early Literacy

For young children, learning to read is a critical step in their educational journeys, as literacy helps build cognitive abilities and language proficiency and has a direct impact on later academic achievement.

While there are no shortcuts to early literacy, there are steps parents can take to promote the development of children’s reading abilities. Dr. Lauren Loquasto, senior vice president and chief academic officer at The Goddard School, and Steve Metzger, award-winning author of more than 70 children’s books, share this guidance for parents.

Get Started Early
It’s never too early to start reading with children. In fact, they respond to being read to prenatally. One of the best ways to encourage early literacy is modeling the act of reading. Young children love to imitate, and if they see their parents reading, they are more likely to want to read themselves. Instead of scrolling on your phone or watching television while your children play, pick up a book or magazine.

Use Conversation to Build Literacy
To help build their vocabularies, consistently engage children in conversation. Literacy is more than reading and writing; it’s also listening and speaking. Children understand words before they can articulate them, so don’t be discouraged if it feels like a one-way conversation.

Expose Children to More Than Books
Make your home environment print-rich, as the more exposure children have to letters and words, the better. For example, keep magnetic letters and words on the fridge, put labels on your toy containers and position books and magazines in different rooms. Also remember reading isn’t limited to books. Words are everywhere, from street signs to restaurant menus. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with your children through words throughout your day.

Let Them Take the Lead
Children engage with books in different, developmentally appropriate ways. Some children quickly flip through pages or only look at pictures while others might make up stories or their own words or songs. Some only want to read the same book over and over and some want to read a new book every time. Embrace and encourage their interest in books, no matter how they choose to use them.

Establish a Routine
Parents of young children often have busy and hectic lives, so it isn’t always easy to find time to read. Consistency is key, so be intentional about setting aside time for reading every day – perhaps it’s after dinner or before bedtime – and stick to it.

Select the Right Books
Helping young children choose books is an important part of their learning-to-read process. Developmental appropriateness is critical. For infants and toddlers, start with nursery rhymes, which are mini-stories that grasp children’s attention through repetition, rhythm and rhyming. Visuals are also important because they aren’t yet pulling words off the page. For emerging readers, choose books that align with their interests. Focus on books that are printed with text that goes from left to right and top to bottom.

Expose children to both fiction and non-fiction books. Non-fiction provides real-world knowledge children crave and helps them make sense of what they read in fictional stories. For example, the learnings about the life cycle of a bat they read in “Bat Loves the Night,” a non-fiction book, can help them better understand what’s happening in “Stellaluna,” a fiction book about a young bat.

If you’re in doubt about book choices, consult with a teacher or librarian, who can make recommendations based on your children’s interests and reading levels.

Foster a Love of Reading
Children’s early exposure to books can set the stage for a lifetime of reading. Make reading a time for discovery. Take children to a library or bookstore and encourage them to explore and find books on their own. Display genuine interest in their selections and use books as a tool for engaging and connecting with them. Don’t pressure children to learn how to read. Accept, validate and encourage them as they progress on their unique literacy journeys.

To watch a webinar recording featuring Loquasto and Metzger providing additional literacy guidance and recommendations, and access a wealth of actionable parenting insights and resources, visit the Parent Resource Center at

The Goddard School

Why Wild Bird Lovers Should Choose Top-of-the-Crop Natural Feed: If you can't read it, don't feed it

(Joan Casanova) Have you ever wondered what’s in your favorite packaged foods, grabbed a box from your pantry, read the ingredients and realized you still didn’t know what you’re eating? The ingredients in some processed foods can read like a chemist’s shopping list. Now imagine if backyard birds could read. What would they say about the ingredients in the food you feed them?

A growing number of Americans are choosing natural foods for their pets; nearly one-third say they prefer natural products, according to People who feed wild birds also want to know they’re feeding the most natural and nutritious options. It’s hard to be confident when reading the mystifying ingredient list on feed bags makes you feel like a bird brain.

With an abundance of options, ranging from commercial bird feeds to small-batch varieties, understanding the differences can help bird lovers make informed choices to meet wild birds’ nutritional needs while considering factors like sustainability and quality.

The wild bird experts at Cole’s Wild Bird Products, Co. offer these tips to ensure you’re feeding your feathered friends a healthy, natural diet.

While commercial bird feeds aim to provide basic nutrition for birds, the quality and nutritional content can vary. Some mixes contain a high proportion of less desirable seeds and fillers, offering limited nutritional value.

Small batch bird feeds prioritize nutritional content, using premium ingredients rich in essential nutrients, fats and proteins. This can provide birds with a more balanced diet, promoting overall health and vitality.

Avoid commercial bird feeds that are full of cheap fillers, such as red milo, millet, cracked corn, oats and wheat. Fillers lack nutritional value and birds will kick them right out of the feeder.

Instead, select small batch, natural feed comprised of top-of-the-crop seeds which contain no chemicals or mineral oil like Cole’s and bypass seed coated with them. Some commercial bird feeds are coated with mineral oil and mixed with crushed rock to add “vitamins.” Current regulations allow manufacturers to list nutritional components of mineral oil (iron, zinc) and crushed rock (vitamin A, calcium carbonate) separately, which can make the ingredients look more impressive. Mineral oil makes birdseed shiny and helps hide dirt and dust, and crushed rock adds weight to the product.

Take note of ingredients you can’t read; often it’s an indication the ingredient is synthetic or lab engineered. Ingredients like menadione sodium bisulfite complex and thiamine mononitrate aren’t found in natural foods; they’re man-made versions of vitamins. The rule of thumb for buying all-natural is “If you can't read it, don't feed it.”  

Focus on serving feed with an ingredient list you can read and understand. For instance, Cole’s Sunflower Meats contains nothing but shelled sunflower seeds and White Millet contains 100% white millet. Super simple, right?

Study birds visiting your feeders and research feed they prefer or buy feed from a reputable company that’s done that work for you. For example, Cole’s offers select natural seed choices developed and based on research about what birds actually eat. Feed is specifically formulated to attract certain species of birds as well as the largest number of birds. No cheap filler seeds are used and seed is cleaned to ensure quality – no sticks and dirt. When you know and serve what backyard birds prefer, they’ll keep coming back for more.

Supplement seed with natural foods you have at home. For example, woodpeckers love raw peanuts, mockingbirds love fruit and chickadees savor suet. Soak raisins and currants in water overnight then serve or purchase blends with a dried fruit and nut mixture, like Nutberry suet. To attract orioles, skewer halved oranges on a spike near feeders.

Buy feed from companies specializing in wild bird food. Some offer bird feed as a side product of pet products or grass seed producers. Conversely, Cole’s exclusively produces and sells products for feeding backyard birds. Seeds are packaged like human food in “Harvest Fresh Lock” packaging so seeds don’t lose nutritional content or dry out and spoil.

To learn more about all-natural feed options with ingredients even birds could understand, visit

Photos courtesy of Cole’s Wild Bird Products

Cole’s Wild Bird Seed

Friday, April 5, 2024

Turn Your Tax Refund Into a New Ride

Make a major purchase more manageable

With tax refunds starting to flow in, many people are considering ways to invest their money.

If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, putting your tax refund toward a down payment on a used car can be a smart financial decision for several reasons – from reduced interest rates on your loan and shortened loan terms to lower monthly payments – and the timing is right to take advantage of improving market conditions. Consider this information to help make an informed buying decision.

Lower Your Monthly Payment
The more you can invest in the down payment of a vehicle, the lower your monthly cost will typically be and the less interest you will typically pay over the length of the loan. This can lead to smaller, more manageable monthly payments.

A significant down payment can also help offset higher-than-average interest payments and could lead to a shorter term, meaning less total accrued interest. An auto loan calculator can show you how a down payment can affect interest charges.

More Affordable Vehicle Options
Used car prices have been trending downward month-over-month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index. These decreases in used car prices are helping offset higher than normal interest rates. The average sales price for a pre-owned vehicle through Enterprise Car Sales, for example, is approximately $21,000 right now, compared to average new car prices, which are hovering around $44,000.

Vehicle inventory is improving along with an increase in consumer demand for cars, which makes now an attractive time to buy. Many used car sellers feature inventory that is readily available so you can select from options you know are in stock, including different makes and models with a wide range of different features that can offer more affordable options.

“We have a large inventory of vehicles across the country currently priced under $20,000,” said Mike Bystrom, vice president of Enterprise Car Sales. “There are several considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a vehicle, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Consumers should weigh their options, but the one thing they shouldn’t compromise on is receiving great customer service.”

Protect Your Purchase
Ensuring your purchase is protected is also a smart financial decision. Take advantage of dealers that offer additional benefits to help protect your purchase and provide peace of mind that your tax refund has been well spent.

Look for a used vehicle that has passed an inspection by an ASE-certified technician and comes with a limited powertrain warranty, as well as extra coverage options such as roadside assistance and a return policy up to a certain amount of days or mileage.

With a little research and careful planning, you can find a reliable used car that meets your needs and puts your tax refund to good use. Visit for more information.

Enterprise Car Sales

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Schools can close summer learning gaps with these 4 strategies

Rhea Almeida, New York University

When it comes to summer learning, the benefits are well documented. Students who consistently attend well-planned, high-quality programs achieve higher scores on math and language arts testing. They also earn higher ratings from teachers on their social and emotional skills, research shows. Unfortunately, research also shows that students from low-income and minority backgrounds are less likely to attend – and benefit from – summer learning programs than their affluent and white peers.

Summer learning can play a crucial role in helping these students – and all kids – recover learning lost during the pandemic. The federal government has also acknowledged the importance of summer learning through its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. The fund infused states with nearly US$190.5 billion, with 20% allocated to academic recovery, including summer programs.

So how can school districts capitalize on the crucial summer months and make learning more equitable?

In partnership with the Wallace Foundation and the District Summer Learning Network implemented by the nonprofit development organization FHI 360, our team at the Center for Policy, Research, and Evaluation at New York University is studying how districts implement high-quality summer programs with an eye toward equity. We analyzed 2022 summer planning documents from 26 districts and identified four strategies they’re using to make the programs more equitable.

1. Strategically target students

Of the summer learning plans we analyzed, we found that half prioritized students who need academic or behavioral support. Additionally, 42% mentioned English-language learners, and 35% mentioned students with disabilities.

Other distinct groups included low-income students, migrants, racial and ethnic minorities and gifted and talented students. Among districts that prioritized special groups, almost all of them included more than one group in their strategic outreach.

Which students get served in summer learning programs, and how they are served, has implications for equity. For instance, research has found that middle-income students often benefit more from summer learning programs than lower-income students.

This could be because high-quality programs tend to serve higher-income students, which raises concerns that summer learning programs may actually increase the summer gap if they are not targeted. High-quality programs that target lower-income students and other minority students can move the needle toward equity.

2. Reduce barriers to access

For students to access programs outside of the regular school day in an equitable way, simple accommodations, such as transportation, are key.

Several district summer learning plans we analyzed went above and beyond academics. They provided not just transportation but also free and nutritious meals, outreach material in different languages and extended day care services to support working families.

3. Design courses for specific student populations

Students learn best when they feel a sense of safety and belonging. By affirming and nurturing the unique identities of students, districts can make summer programming more equitable and accelerate learning. Research shows, for instance, that summer supports for English-language learners are key for their overall academic development.

Some districts tailored their programming to the individual interests and cultural needs of their students. For example, three districts – in both urban and rural communities – provided language classes for English-language learners, including adults.

Another district designed an arts program for students to explore and celebrate their culture. The program featured programming around ethnic and racial identities.

Despite a shortage of teacher applicants across the country, some districts also made efforts to hire teachers who are not only effective and well credentialed but also reflect the demographics of the student body they serve.

4. Engage families in planning and programming

Some districts held regular family education sessions to provide updates about student needs and progress. Some also engaged families by offering information sessions on topics such as immigration and health.

Programs that include the whole family or community are particularly helpful for racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse populations and families in rural areas, where young people have limited access to adults other than their caregivers.

When parents are included in the planning process, programs can be designed to better fit their schedules. This might mean districts offer full-day, six-week camps to support children throughout the summer while their parents work. This type of arrangement makes it more likely that kids will be able to attend summer programs – and stave off summer learning loss.

These four approaches help make summer learning programs more culturally responsive, accessible and inclusive. Over the next two years, our research will dive deeper into how districts strengthen equity-based practices and strategies to sustain them long term.The Conversation

Rhea Almeida, Research Project Manager, NYU Metro Center, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

4 Emotionally Intelligent Phrases to Improve Your Workplace Relationships

by Leah Jackson

Illustration of woman balancing emotions on see-saw

Working on a college campus is arguably one of the biggest exercises in collaboration and teamwork. There are multiple stakeholders in every decision made on campus -- from students and parents to alumni to various departments (or even specific employees) who may be impacted. We don't operate in a vacuum. Collaboration is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that building relationships and exercising emotional intelligence (or EQ) play a key role in one's success in the higher ed workspace.

"Anyone in higher education will tell you that your ability to be successful in your role (regardless of the department or division) is related to your ability to build relationships and collaborate with your intercampus colleagues," confirms Eric Mochnacz of Red Clover, a strategic HR and change management consulting firm based in New Jersey.

In fact, some employers even interview for emotional intelligence, and according to a Lee Hecht Harrison Penna survey of 500 people managers, 75% said it is a determining factor in promotions and salary increases.

Mochnacz, who worked in university housing for 15 years at different levels (live-in and mid-level management), says "EQ is your ability to know your own emotions and manage them, understand the emotions of others, and use that knowledge to navigate relationships and inevitable campus politics."

Emotional intelligence isn't something you gain overnight, though. So, how can you boost your EQ, and what phrases frequently used by people with high EQ could you incorporate into your daily workplace interactions?

Tap into Your Natural Curiosity

The Cambridge Dictionary defines curiosity as "an eager desire to know or learn about something." This characteristic is a hallmark of emotional intelligence. Curiosity drives us to learn more about our own emotional responses and motivations, as well as seek information about that of others. Fostering your own sense of curiosity about what drives human behavior -- specifically your own and your colleagues' and boss's -- is a great place to start.

The next time a colleague responds in a way that is unexpected, consider their motivations or what they are possibly feeling. Inquire if you're unsure, so you can get a better understanding of their point of view. Knowing this can help you work through any conflicts and build a foundation for stronger collaboration in the future.

Take time to analyze your own responses as well -- did you have a knee-jerk reaction to something? If so, why? Was something particularly triggering to you? Seeking to understand your own emotional responses in the workplace can help you recognize trigger points and eventually better self-regulate in future situations.

4 Phrases Demonstrating High EQ to Start Using

So, what exactly does emotional intelligence look like in practice? It's about asking the right questions and then using the information you glean to respond effectively and kindly. Here are four emotionally intelligent phrases you can start incorporating into your daily interactions at work to lay the foundation for better relationships.

1. "What do you think?" or "How do you feel about this?"

Again, collaboration is key in the higher ed workspace. No matter how good you think your idea or solution might be, it can't be a one-sided conversation.

These questions, in particular, create a safe space, encouraging others to share their opinions and raise any concerns they may have. While they may seem like simple questions, they are some of the most important ones you can ask on a regular basis. Not every person is comfortable raising their voice without being prompted. You may be working with introverts, young professionals who may be afraid of 'rocking the boat,' or people who have been burned before by voicing a difference of opinion. Asking for feedback is a clear and direct way to show that you are truly open to collaboration and value your colleagues' opinions. Showing empathy for their thoughts and working to find solutions if they have concerns helps to build a foundation for more fruitful collaboration in the future.

"When it comes to others, your level of social awareness and social regulation plays a key part in building bonds across campus to drive mutual success," Mochnacz says. "Social awareness is your ability to read a room and social regulation is your ability to recognize the importance of the emotions around you and be able to facilitate understanding to build relationships and networks. Someone who is not developed in these areas will struggle to be successful on a college campus, but those environments tend to be incredibly collaborative."

2. "Let me see if I understand."

This phrase signals a desire to understand another person's point of view. Clarifying how a person feels ensures that you are avoiding assumptions, have a full picture of their concerns or feelings, and can address them effectively. Everyone wants to be understood, and taking the time to rephrase what you're hearing from them and confirming understanding shows that you're making an effort.

3. "I feel (X, Y, Z)…"

Recognizing your own emotions is key to building and maintaining effective relationships. Before you can ask someone else how they feel about something, it's important to be able to recognize your own emotions at any given point -- and be able to manage them.

"Do you know and understand your feelings, and can you articulate them effectively?," Mochnacz asks. "And can you regulate yourself so your emotions don't adversely impact others?"

Additionally, being open about your feelings can build trust and encourage others to speak up.

4. "How can I help you?"

This question is commonly asked by emotionally intelligent people because they have a knack for noticing others' emotions (or as Mochnacz says, they have social awareness). In this case, they may sense a colleague is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Part of being a team is pitching in when and where you can. If you notice someone struggling, see if there's something you can do for them. Lending a hand is a great way to build bridges and strengthen your relationships across campus.

Final Words

These phrases aren't silver bullets by any means, but incorporating some of them into your daily interactions at work can have a tremendous impact on your relationships. They serve as powerful building blocks for better understanding your colleagues, collaborating with them in the future, and ultimately working together effectively to further your institution's mission.


This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Why probation and parole don’t work as advertised

The current system of supervised release in lieu of imprisonment may do more harm than good, some experts say. How can society do a better job of rehabilitating law-breakers while keeping them from re-offending?

Marcella Soto had four children by the time she was 22 and was on and off welfare during the years they were growing up. By 2018, she was working a government job in California when she was charged with six counts of welfare fraud. Unable to prove that she had not misreported her income many years earlier, she pleaded guilty to a single felony count.

Soto was sentenced to the maximum probation term — five years — and was required to check in with a supervisor every month. Because of the conviction, she lost her job; because of the conditions of her probation, she was unable to travel to Texas to attend the birth of her first grandchild.

Being sentenced to probation put Soto in the largest group of people in America’s criminal justice system. About 1.9 million US residents are behind bars, and 3.7 million are being monitored while they are on probation in lieu of incarceration or on parole after being let out of lockup.

Probation and parole — collectively known as community supervision — were originally conceived as alternatives to incarceration, allowing convicted criminals to be rehabilitated under supervision. But criminal justice leaders say the practices have strayed from that original mission and become so ineffective that, ironically, they contribute to America’s overcrowded prisons. These critics call for an overhaul of community supervision, including shorter terms and more support for rehabilitation. In some states, new laws are making headway.

“Nearly half of the people going into jails and prisons are coming in from a failed and broken probation and parole system,” says Robert Rooks, chief executive officer of Reform Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group. “So if you want to address mass incarceration in this country, you have to address the phase of probation and parole.”

Changing goals

Parole and probation were originally intended as opportunities to rehabilitate offenders through support, such as help finding jobs or housing. This focus on rehabilitation began to recede in the 1970s when a tough-on-crime public sentiment emerged. Parole and probation morphed instead into systems of surveillance — intense scrutiny over long periods of time — supposedly in support of public safety.

With this shift, critics say, community supervision became a form of “net-widening,” keeping people in the criminal justice system rather than easing them back into society. “In many people’s minds, this is a good thing you get instead of going to prison,” says Vincent Schiraldi, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. “But this is a bad thing. It’s got a lot of bad outcomes for a lot of people.”

For instance, probationers must comply with a growing, often complex list of conditions — which typically number 18 to 20 — that can be difficult to meet, Schiraldi says. Avoiding contact with anyone who has a criminal conviction is hard if an offender’s family or support network includes convicts; returning home by curfew can interfere with keeping a job. In Pennsylvania, where a released prisoner could be on parole for the rest of their life, probationers are prohibited from leaving the state, which means an Uber driver on probation in Philadelphia cannot drive into the suburbs that spill into Delaware.

“That right there shows you that our current policies are arbitrary, unnecessary and hinder people’s ability to do the things they need to do to become stable, get back to work and provide for their families,” Rooks says. “And that’s the opposite of what probation and parole should be doing.”

Indeed, a 1993 survey of people imprisoned in Texas found that 66 percent said they would choose incarceration over a 10-year probation sentence. When Schiraldi was New York City’s probation commissioner in 2010, he saw a woman give up her probation, choosing instead to go to Rikers Island jail, because she was unable to find childcare that she needed for her probation check-ins, where children were not allowed.

All these problems might be acceptable if probation and parole were meeting the goal of reducing incarceration without leading to more crime. Schiraldi and two colleagues examined that proposition in the 2023 Annual Review of Criminology — and concluded that they are not.

Community supervision clearly fails at reducing incarceration. The more people living under probation and parole in one year, the higher the incarceration rate the following year, according to work by Schiraldi and his coauthors. That reflects, in part, the fact that failing to comply with terms of supervision can mean a ticket to jail. In 2017, revocation of parole or probation accounted for 45 percent of prison admissions, and in 20 states, more than half of those revocations were not for new crimes, but for violating the terms of supervision.

The evidence on public safety is more equivocal. If releasing people on parole and probation poses a risk of further crime, then the more people released on supervision in a given year, the higher the crime rate would be in the following year. But that isn’t the case. Overall, a state’s probation, parole and total supervision rate in one year does not predict the state’s rate of index crime — a term that includes violent crime plus several kinds of property crimes — in the following year.

For parole alone, however, the researchers found that the more parolees in a given year, the more violent crime the next year. That implies that parole could be risky.

But looking at the issue in a different way, Urban Institute researchers showed no clear risk, as well as no benefits, from parole. The team reviewed long-term Bureau of Justice Statistics data on 38,624 prisoners from 14 states released from prison in 1994 and found that parole supervision does not substantially affect recidivism or public safety. People simply released from prison without supervision were no more likely to be rearrested than those who were required to complete a term of parole after their sentence, they found — though people paroled before the end of their prison sentences did have lower rearrest rates.

Other evidence also suggests that recidivism may arise early, so long supervision terms may not be helpful in reducing crime. For example, among felony probationers in Oregon who were rearrested within three years of their probation, 69 percent were arrested in the first year, according to data from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. That suggests that the early months of probation and parole may be a critical period for helping offenders change their behavior and connecting them with community services.

In addition, making community supervision less punitive has been shown to work. One in-depth study of 283 offenders in an intensive supervision program in Wyoming compared the effect of rewards, such as praise or removal of electronic monitoring, to punishments, such as reprimands or tightened curfew. The offenders were most likely to complete their supervision successfully if they received at least four times as many rewards as sanctions.

Several studies show that employment for people under supervision helps to reduce recidivism. A transitional job program in New York City for people leaving prison led to a 9 percentage-point reduction in any type of recidivism (arrest, conviction or jail) over the three-year follow-up period compared to results with parolees not in the program. That suggests that supporting employment — rather than making it difficult by travel restrictions — is a good idea.

Evidence like this led Schiraldi and Barbara Broderick, former chief probation officer for Maricopa County in Arizona, to launch Exit, a group made up of current and former community supervision leaders, victims, prosecutors and others who want to see probation and parole downsized and returned to their original purpose of rehabilitation.

Among other aims, they want people on probation to be able to earn time off supervision if they maintain good behavior and achieve milestones like graduating from high school or keeping a job. They want the money saved from reduced supervision to be invested in community-based services that support people on probation or parole. They want incarceration for technical violations to be eliminated in favor of more and better supportive services that help people on parole and probation reintegrate into their communities.

A better way

Some of the greatest progress has been in California, where a series of reform laws since 2007 has transformed the incarceration and community supervision landscape, Rooks says. The reforms reduced prison sentences and supervision periods for many offenses and encouraged the use of evidence-based supervision strategies such as needs assessments, tailoring the intensity of supervision to a probationer’s risk of recidivism, and increased referrals to counseling, substance abuse treatment and employment services.

In many people’s minds, [probation] is a good thing you get instead of going to prison. But this is a bad thing.”


Because of these and other reforms, the number of Californians under community supervision fell from 477,733 in 2006 to 306,500 in 2020, a decrease of 42 percent. Meanwhile, reported crime declined by 7.4 percent during those years — and a study found the reforms had no measurable effect on violent crime, suggesting that less-punitive treatment did not increase crime.

Another California reform, passed in 2020, limits most probation sentences for misdemeanors to one year and most probation sentences for felonies to two. The change is projected to reduce the number of people on probation by a third, avert more than 48,000 prison stays because of technical violations and save the state $2.1 billion over five years, according to calculations by Recidiviz, a nonprofit organization that compiles and analyzes data to support criminal justice reform.

The saved money could be used to address the root causes of criminal behavior. For example, in early 2021 the El Dorado County Probation Department opened a house where probationers experiencing or at risk of homelessness can live and receive support services. “It allows you to free up the resources to give people the help that they need, which is what probation really should be about,” Rooks says.

When Soto learned about California’s new probation term limits in 2021, her probation officer did not support reducing her probation sentence, so Soto went to court. “The judge right away said, ‘You know what? I got her report. She’s never been in trouble and she’s working,’” she recalls. “And they let me off three years early.”

Now living in Oklahoma, where she works as a warehouse manager and lives with her daughter and the grandson whose birth she missed, Soto remembers that day. “I could travel and be free, and I didn’t have to worry about the visitation from the officer,” she said. “I was able to get my life back.”

The Power of Pets

NYC Sightseeing Pass

Love. Community. Belonging. Pets offer people the chance to explore friendships and connections they didn’t always think were possible.

Pets provide companionship and help bring people together. In fact, according to Mars’ “Pets Connect Us” report 73% of pet parents have made connections despite generational, cultural or ethnic differences because of their four-legged pals.

Learn more about the report, which leveraged consumer insights to shed light on the future of pet parenthood in the U.S. and Canada, at

Mars Petcare 


Saturday, March 23, 2024

Nuclear’s role in a net-zero world

Is nuclear power a necessary part of the energy transition away from fossil fuels? As the debate rages on, new technologies and smaller reactors may be shifting the balance.

In an online video from Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, a cartoon simulation shows a tsunami wiping out one of their future nuclear power stations and cutting off power. What happens next? Not much: The reactor quietly shuts itself down. “It cools off just by sitting there, no moving parts or fluids, no operator actions,” says the reassuring video. “We’ve designed a reactor that is inherently safe no matter the events.”

The Seattle-based Ultra Safe and dozens of other companies like it are at the forefront of a global nuclear energy revival. As the world urgently needs to wean itself off fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get the planet’s temperature under control, policymakers, companies and researchers are reexamining nuclear energy as a green alternative that can help bolster the power produced by renewables like wind and solar. Today the industry is emerging from a period of stagnation, with a promise to double or triple its capacity by 2050.

That revival is undergirded by two hot technology trends. Companies like Ultra Safe are aiming to build small modular reactors (SMRs) designed to be just a fraction of the size of former plants, to reduce both building costs and the scope of possible disasters. And many are aiming to utilize new technologies designed to make meltdown accidents impossible and to create less long-lived waste.

This video (from Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, a nuclear power company) shows the safety features built into a design for a small modular reactor.


But the surge in interest is not without controversy. As with everything in the nuclear landscape, debate rages about whether society actually needs nuclear to tackle climate change, and whether the new systems are as shiny as they seem — with reasonable arguments for and against every promise and risk. Some say the new technologies could offer a fantastic solution to our energy woes; others say nuclear is beset with so many environmental, social and economic problems that it is best abandoned in favor of other ways to meet the globe’s energy demands.

The next few years will decide what course nuclear power takes in the world’s energy future. “This is a moment of truth,” says Francesca Giovannini, a nuclear policy expert at the Harvard Kennedy School. Over the next few decades, nuclear power is “either going to make it, or that industry is fundamentally done for. ... It’s 50/50 how this goes.”

Ups and downs in nuclear power output

Nuclear power poses some obvious risks — meltdown accidents, nuclear fuel being diverted to weapons programs, environmental issues posed by mining for uranium, the problems of storing nuclear waste. Against a backdrop of such concerns, alongside shifting economics of energy production, nuclear power production started to level off in the early 2000s and even dipped briefly after the Fukushima power plant accident of 2011. Some nations, most notably Germany, decided to shutter their nuclear programs entirely. But global nuclear power production is now starting to inch upward again.

Today, nuclear plants produce about 10 percent of global electricity, making nuclear the second largest source of non-fossil-fuel energy after hydropower. There are about 440 nuclear power plants in operation globally; another 60 or so are now being built, and around 100 are on order or planned.

Most Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios for keeping the world below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming include some kind of increase in nuclear power capacity. In the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) pathway to net zero, global nuclear power production doubles over 2022 levels by 2050. A key reason for this is that nuclear is seen as a good way to provide consistent baseload power to prop up more variable renewable sources of energy like wind or solar. Without nuclear, advocates say, we would need to build far more wind and solar power plants to ensure reliable supplies, doubling or tripling costs over power networks that include nuclear.

Nuclear has plenty of advantages: It produces no carbon emissions (and, counterintuitively, releases less radioactive uranium and other elements into the environment than burning coal does). It takes up a lot less land than renewables, a not insignificant consideration. If the goal is to decarbonize quickly and with as little social pain as possible, “nuclear is essential,” says Kai Vetter, a nuclear physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

At the UN’s Convention on Climate Change meeting in Dubai in December 2023, more than 20 nations signed a declaration to triple nuclear capacity by 2050. And cash is flowing into this effort. In 2020, the US Department of Energy (DOE) notably gave $160 million for two demonstration plants to get up and running by 2027. And in 2022, the European Union declared that some nuclear projects could call themselves “green” in the same way as renewables, opening the door to environmental financing mechanisms.

But as with almost every issue relating to nuclear power, the arguments in favor of nuclear have their detractors. Public policy expert M.V. Ramana at the University of British Columbia is one of many, for example, who say that baseload power is an outdated concept. A smart, diverse and flexible electric grid, they argue, can assure a reliable power supply by shunting power among sources and storage facilities.

And with the cost of renewables falling fast, today’s economic estimates about the relative costs of power sources may not mean much in the future.

Then there’s the question of safety. The grand total of lives lost from all nuclear power generation to date, while hard to quantify, is certainly far lower than the number of people killed by air pollution related to the burning of fossil fuels; a recent paper by NASA scientists concluded that nuclear power saved roughly 1.8 million lives from 1971 to 2009 thanks to avoided air pollution. By some accounts nuclear power has also proved less deadly than wind power, which has been linked to drownings at offshore wind farm sites and helicopter collisions with turbines.

But fatality is arguably a blunt way to measure the impacts of the nuclear industry, which also include the risk of accidents contaminating large tracts of land, plus numerous other effects related to such things as mining and waste storage. Ramana has documented how the burden of these last issues falls disproportionately on Indigenous and disempowered communities, working against the goals of social justice. Nuclear power, he writes, “does not fit with any idea of a responsible and cleaner energy system.”

Small and shiny: New nuclear technologies

If we are to pursue nuclear power at the scale called for by the IEA, it will take a herculean effort. The IEA’s pathway requires the world to ramp up from building five big nuclear plants per year to 20 per year over the next decade. Big plants typically cost billions of dollars and come with big financial risks. Westinghouse Electric Company, for example, recently filed for bankruptcy in the face of billions of dollars of cost overruns during the construction of four nuclear plants in the United States.

One plan for reducing those epic and prohibitive costs is to build small modular reactors, ranging from reactors that can be shipped on a truck and produce a couple of hundred megawatts, to tiny single-megawatt sizes that are more akin to hefty diesel generators. The modules could be pre-built in a factory and shipped to a site for installation. All this should make these reactors less frightening prospects for investors (though the end price per unit of electricity might wind up higher than that from a larger nuclear power plant).

A handful of SMRs are already in operation in Russia, China and India. Dozens more are in development. Canada has a national SMR action plan, and as of 2021 there were 10 SMR proposals under review (including one from Ultra Safe).

But so far, the promise of enticingly low costs for SMR builds hasn’t materialized, says Granger Morgan, a physicist and codirector of the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making at Carnegie Mellon. Morgan has crunched the numbers for nuclear in the US and was disappointed. “I thought SMRs were going to hold much more promise, but we can’t make the numbers wash,” he says.

That message was hammered home in November 2023 when the company NuScale scrapped its high-profile advanced plans to build an underground SMR in Idaho in the face of cost hikes. “Would it be nice to have nuclear? Yes absolutely,” says Morgan. “Will it be affordable? That’s very much an open question.”

Others argue that small isn’t always beautiful. While smaller plants present a smaller risk from smaller potential accidents, this strategy also means more plants overall, which means more facilities to protect against theft and terrorism. “You have way more fissile material dispersed; you will have to secure way more infrastructure,” says Giovannini. “I mean, that becomes a mess.”

Next generation nuclear

While some are focusing on making nuclear plants smaller, there’s a parallel movement to make them safer and more efficient. The next generation of reactor designs — Generation IV, in the industry’s lingo — includes a suite of six major reactor families, all very different from today’s standard, each with many possible variants under development. Much of the attention (particularly in the US) has been focused on three of these: high-temperature gas-cooled, molten salt and sodium-cooled.

The ideas behind these technologies, and even some early-stage power plants, have been around for decades. But the new variants of these old ideas combine novel fuels and designs, promising to be safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly. “They’re doing all kinds of whizz-bang, high-tech stuff,” says Morgan, who has no doubt that newer reactors can be made safer than old ones.

Most existing reactors are water-cooled uranium systems, which were chosen as the dominant technology largely as a quirk of history. Like all reactor types, they have their pros and cons. They need high pressures to stop their coolant waters from boiling off at typical operating temperatures around 300 degrees Celsius. And they are designed to work with relatively slow-moving neutrons — the subatomic particles that collide with nuclear fuel to initiate nuclear fission. Slow-moving neutrons are more likely to interact with fuel particles, but systems that use them are also limited in the kinds of fuels they can use. Catastrophe can strike if the fission reaction runs amok or the reactor gets too hot and the core “melts down,” as happened at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, spewing radiation into the environment.

The latest models of water-cooled reactors (sometimes called Gen III Plus, including many SMRs) use new design tricks to reduce the number of safety systems that require human intervention, aiming to stop accidents in their tracks automatically. Gen IV reactors, though, use entirely different coolant materials, are usually designed to operate at higher, more efficient temperatures, and often use faster-speed neutrons that can convert the most prevalent natural isotopes of uranium into usable fuel, or even feed on nuclear waste.

High-temperature gas-cooled reactors, for example, run at temperatures up to 950°C, making them 20 to 33 percent more thermally efficient than water-cooled reactors. Since the core materials used in these reactors are typically stable up to 1,600°C, which is hotter than lava, there’s a large margin of safety. The reactor in Ultra Safe’s video is an SMR that falls into this category; its small size helps, too, with passive cooling. Ultra Safe also makes their own fuel pellets, encased in a bespoke material that they say retains radioactive materials even in extreme conditions. They’re hoping to build their first commercial micro-reactor in Canada.

In molten salt reactors, both fuel and coolant are already liquid. So meltdowns, in the traditional sense, are impossible. And liquid-sodium-cooled reactors have a built-in safety feature: If they heat up, the liquid sodium expands and allows more neutrons to escape through the gaps between atoms, so the reaction (which is driven by neutrons) naturally winds down. The US Department of Energy has funded the US company TerraPower (which has Bill Gates as a major investor) to build a demonstration plant of its sodium-cooled Natrium reactor in Wyoming by 2030.

Nuclear waste not, want not

Waste is one area where the new designs really see some significant improvements, says Giovannini. “None of the reactors have entirely solved the problem of nuclear waste, but they do provide some significant solutions in terms of quantity,” she says. The spent fuel from traditional light water reactors needs to be buried in special repositories for hundreds of thousands of years, because of the production of long-lived radioactive byproducts. Some Gen IV reactors, on the other hand, can transform spent fuel into more fissile isotopes and use it for further fission reactions. This can improve efficiency and produce waste that need only be stored for hundreds of years.

Not everyone, though, thinks all these systems are as shiny as they seem. In 2021, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report entitled “‘Advanced’ Isn’t Always Better,” in which they highlighted issues with safety, sustainability and nuclear proliferation. They concluded that nearly all the Gen IV reactor types “fail to provide significant enough improvements over [light water reactors] to justify their considerable risks.”

The report was criticized by some for being ideologically antinuclear, says Giovannini. But, she says, “it was very fair” to point out that new tech comes with new worries. Liquid salt, the report pointed out, is corrosive; liquid sodium metal can burst into flame when in contact with water or air. High-temperature gas-cooled reactors, the report concluded, while tolerant of high temperatures, are “far from meltdown-proof, as some claim.”

Hot idea

Many of these Gen IV systems offer another key benefit: Their higher temperatures can provide not just electricity but also useful heat. This could be used in many industrial processes, such as the production of steel, cement and fertilizer, which currently burn a lot of fossil fuels in their furnaces.

“That heat is pretty much for free,” says Vetter, who sees a particular utility for nuclear heat in desalination, getting clean drinking water out of saltwater as is done at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California. Indeed, X-energy, a leading US Gen IV nuclear company funded by the DOE, has partnered with Dow chemical company to build its first high-temperature gas-cooled reactor at a Dow chemical production site by 2030. Morgan, though, thinks that most industries will balk at the set-up costs.

Even if Gen IV reactors turn out to be technically superior, though, it may be decades before they can be thoroughly tested, passed by regulators and built at commercial scale. With little time to spare in the fight against climate change, the world might be better off simply ramping up old reactor designs that are already proven, says Esam Hussein, a retired nuclear engineer from the University of Regina, Canada. “We have the operating experience, we have the regulatory framework,” he says. “If the goal is to fight climate change, why don’t you go with the devil you know?”

In response to why we need a devil at all, many are quick to point out that no energy solution is problem-free, including renewables. Giovannini says she agrees with the nuclear industry’s criticism that we have “jumped on renewables in a very uncritical way.” Wind and solar require electronics and battery banks to store their energy; these in turn need elements like lithium and cobalt that can come with environmental and social justice issues from mining. “Nothing is 100 percent safe,” says Vetter.

It is hard for many to swallow data, assurances and statistics about nuclear, given its history and the huge amounts of money at stake. “I think the nuclear industry is selling a bunch of bullshit most of the time,” says Giovannini, who has been critical of how the industry deals with public concerns. But her own main worry about nuclear is “they’re moving too slow.” If companies like Ultra Safe, X-Energy, TerraPower and others are going to help fight climate change with Gen IV technologies and fleets of small reactors, she and others say, they’re going to have to ramp up fast.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 20, 2024, to change a name: Granger Morgan was referred to as Granger instead of Morgan in one reference. It was updated on March 21, 2024, to correct the specialty of Esam Hussein. He is a retired nuclear engineer, not a retired nuclear physicist.

Knowable Magazine

How to Write Better Emails: Communicating with Clarity and Kindness

by Casey McCormick, PhD

Closeup of woman's hands using laptop with email icon
NATA FUANGKAEW/ Shutterstock

Wherever you work in higher education, email probably takes up a huge part of your daily routine. An overflowing inbox causes anxiety, a rude email can ruin your day, and that message-you've-been meaning-to-send takes up vastly more mental space than it should.

Despite email's omnipresence in our lives, there are very few hard-and-fast rules about how to do it, and differing communication styles can lead to misunderstanding, email bloat, and hurt feelings. So, if you're looking to establish some best practices and improve your digital communication acumen, read on to learn how to write better emails.

Formatting and Basic Etiquette

The most important aspect of any email is clarity -- ensuring that the recipient knows exactly what you want to convey. In addition to clear and direct language, simple formatting choices can improve the readability and flow of your email. Use line breaks to separate the greeting, body paragraph(s), and sign-off, and bold key dates or numbers to make them stand out. Keep your email as concise as possible: short sentences, 1-3 sentences per paragraph, and an overall length of no more than 150 words.

As for which salutations to use, follow the advice of journalist Victoria Turk in her 2019 TED talk. She recommends using "Hi" rather than "Dear," unless it's a particularly formal context, like an event invitation or job application. Turk also insists that "there is a correct way to sign off an email. It is 'Best wishes.' 'Best' and 'All the best' are also acceptable." Importantly, she urges email writers never to use "thanks in advance" as a sign-off: "You can't thank someone for doing something before they've agreed to do it -- that's not how gratitude works." If you're dealing with an email chain or thread, Turk notes that it isn't necessary to repeat salutations with each new message, as that could ruin the conversational flow. But if it's a new day, feel free to say "hi" again.

The subject line is a useful tool for bringing specificity to your email communication. A detailed (but succinct) subject description signals to your recipient exactly what to expect in the message so they are prepared to extract the appropriate information. It also makes the email easy to find later if anyone needs to search their inbox for the thread. Finally, when dealing with group email communication, make sure you follow "the CC rule," as Turk calls it: "Primary recipients of an email, who are expected to respond, should go in the 'To' field. Other recipients of an email, who are not expected to respond, and who are included as a courtesy or for their information, should go in the 'CC' field." "BCC" should only be used to safeguard sensitive information in a large group or to avoid a "reply-all-pocalypse."

Tone and Style

While it can be tempting to use five-dollar words and descriptive detail to convey your knowledge and excitement about a subject, this type of writing is not conducive to a clear and concise email. Remember that the goal is to make reading your message as easy as possible for the recipient -- that means no extraneous information, no flowery language, and no jargon. As Turk argues, "good etiquette is not about the fancy flourishes, it's about respecting other people's time." One useful trick for ensuring your email flows clearly and conveys its point succinctly is to read the message aloud to yourself before sending it. Would you want to receive that email? If not, revise and try again.

Clarity and concision are the primary goals of any email, but Turk warns that it is also possible to be too concise. "There's a line where brevity crosses over into rudeness," she says. "A single word is not a sufficient message" and "no one is too busy for please and thank you." Remember that you're having a conversation with a human being -- use full sentences and a friendly tone. That's why Turk is "pro-emoji" in most email contexts: "Emoji are great at communicating sentiment; they're basically a digital stand-in for facial expression." Of course, be careful never to overuse emoji (or exclamation points!), but a few small punctuation choices or emoji gestures can make all the difference in how your messages come across to readers.

Kindness Saves the Day

Higher education can be a stressful place, and unfortunately, lots of folks are overworked and underpaid. Emailing requires serious physical and emotional labor, and a never-ending inbox -- especially if it's loaded with unnecessary or poorly written messages -- can contribute to symptoms of burnout. Make your number one goal "reducing the burden of email," as Turk puts it. Model clear, succinct communication, and keep your emails to business hours unless the matter is truly urgent. If you tend to work at off hours, use the "schedule send" function as a courtesy to your recipient.

Lastly, think about a time when you received an email that made your day better. Maybe they are few and far between, but there are no doubt moments where a kind message can change your mood and pull you out of an inbox slump. When digital communication feels natural and sincere, it becomes easier to write and takes less mental energy. With some practice and intention, you will be writing better emails and, by example, helping those in your network do the same.


This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license.

Climate change is shifting the zones where plants grow – here’s what that could mean for your garden

Climate change complicates plant choices and care. Early flowering and late freezes can kill flowers like these magnolia blossoms. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Matt Kasson, West Virginia University

With the arrival of spring in North America, many people are gravitating to the gardening and landscaping section of home improvement stores, where displays are overstocked with eye-catching seed packs and benches are filled with potted annuals and perennials.

But some plants that once thrived in your yard may not flourish there now. To understand why, look to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent update of its plant hardiness zone map, which has long helped gardeners and growers figure out which plants are most likely to thrive in a given location.

A U.S. map divided into colored geographic zones with a numbered key.
The 2023 USDA plant hardiness zone map shows the areas where plants can be expected to grow, based on extreme winter temperatures. Darker shades (purple to blue) denote colder zones, phasing southward into temperate (green) and warm zones (yellow and orange). USDA

Comparing the 2023 map to the previous version from 2012 clearly shows that as climate change warms the Earth, plant hardiness zones are shifting northward. On average, the coldest days of winter in our current climate, based on temperature records from 1991 through 2020, are 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 Celsius) warmer than they were between 1976 and 2005.

In some areas, including the central Appalachians, northern New England and north central Idaho, winter temperatures have warmed by 1.5 hardiness zones – 15 degrees F (8.3 C) – over the same 30-year window. This warming changes the zones in which plants, whether annual or perennial, will ultimately succeed in a climate on the move.

U.S. map showing large areas colored tan, denoting a 5-degree increase in average winter minimum temperatures.
This map shows how plant hardiness zones have shifted northward from the 2012 to the 2023 USDA maps. A half-zone change corresponds to a tan area. Areas in white indicate zones that experienced minimal change. Prism Climate Group, Oregon State University, CC BY-ND

As a plant pathologist, I have devoted my career to understanding and addressing plant health issues. Many stresses not only shorten the lives of plants, but also affect their growth and productivity.

I am also a gardener who has seen firsthand how warming temperatures, pests and disease affect my annual harvest. By understanding climate change impacts on plant communities, you can help your garden reach its full potential in a warming world.

Hotter summers, warmer winters

There’s no question that the temperature trend is upward. From 2014 through 2023, the world experienced the 10 hottest summers ever recorded in 174 years of climate data. Just a few months of sweltering, unrelenting heat can significantly affect plant health, especially cool-season garden crops like broccoli, carrots, radishes and kale.

Radishes sprouting in a garden bed.
Radishes are cool-season garden crops that cannot withstand the hottest days of summer. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND

Winters are also warming, and this matters for plants. The USDA defines plant hardiness zones based on the coldest average annual temperature in winter at a given location. Each zone represents a 10-degree F range, with zones numbered from 1 (coldest) to 13 (warmest). Zones are divided into 5-degree F half zones, which are lettered “a” (northern) or “b” (southern).

For example, the coldest hardiness zone in the lower 48 states on the new map, 3a, covers small pockets in the northernmost parts of Minnesota and has winter extreme temperatures of -40 F to -35 F. The warmest zone, 11b, is in Key West, Florida, where the coldest annual lows range from 45 F to 50 F.

On the 2012 map, northern Minnesota had a much more extensive and continuous zone 3a. North Dakota also had areas designated in this same zone, but those regions now have shifted completely into Canada. Zone 10b once covered the southern tip of mainland Florida, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but has now been pushed northward by a rapidly encroaching zone 11a.

Many people buy seeds or seedlings without thinking about hardiness zones, planting dates or disease risks. But when plants have to contend with temperature shifts, heat stress and disease, they will eventually struggle to survive in areas where they once thrived.

Successful gardening is still possible, though. Here are some things to consider before you plant:

Annuals versus perennials

Hardiness zones matter far less for annual plants, which germinate, flower and die in a single growing season, than for perennial plants that last for several years. Annuals typically avoid the lethal winter temperatures that define plant hardiness zones.

In fact, most annual seed packs don’t even list the plants’ hardiness zones. Instead, they provide sowing date guidelines by geographic region. It’s still important to follow those dates, which help ensure that frost-tender crops are not planted too early and that cool-season crops are not harvested too late in the year.

Orange flowers blooming with other plants and grasses.
California poppies are typically grown as annuals in cool areas, but can survive for several years in hardiness zones 8-10. The Marmot/Flickr, CC BY

User-friendly perennials have broad hardiness zones

Many perennials can grow across wide temperature ranges. For example, hardy fig and hardy kiwifruit grow well in zones 4-8, an area that includes most of the Northeast, Midwest and Plains states. Raspberries are hardy in zones 3-9, and blackberries are hardy in zones 5-9. This eliminates a lot of guesswork for most gardeners, since a majority of U.S. states are dominated by two or more of these zones.

Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to plant tags to avoid selecting a variety or cultivar with a restricted hardiness zone over another with greater flexibility. Also, pay attention to instructions about proper sun exposure and planting dates after the last frost in your area.

Fruit trees are sensitive to temperature fluctuations

Fruit trees have two parts, the rootstock and the scion wood, that are grafted together to form a single tree. Rootstocks, which consist mainly of a root system, determine the tree’s size, timing of flowering and tolerance of soil-dwelling pests and pathogens. Scion wood, which supports the flowers and fruit, determines the fruit variety.

Most commercially available fruit trees can tolerate a wide range of hardiness zones. However, stone fruits like peaches, plums and cherries are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations within those zones – particularly abrupt swings in winter temperatures that create unpredictable freeze-thaw events.

Packages for hardy fig and kiwi seedlings.
Following planting instructions carefully can maximize plants’ chances of success. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND

These seesaw weather episodes affect all types of fruit trees, but stone fruits appear to be more susceptible, possibly because they flower earlier in spring, have fewer hardy rootstock options, or have bark characteristics that make them more vulnerable to winter injury.

Perennial plants’ hardiness increases through the seasons in a process called hardening off, which conditions them for harsher temperatures, moisture loss in sun and wind, and full sun exposure. But a too-sudden autumn temperature drop can cause plants to die back in winter, an event known as winter kill. Similarly, a sudden spring temperature spike can lead to premature flowering and subsequent frost kill.

Pests are moving north too

Plants aren’t the only organisms constrained by temperature. With milder winters, southern insect pests and plant pathogens are expanding their ranges northward.

One example is Southern blight, a stem and root rot disease that affects 500 plant species and is caused by a fungus, Agroathelia rolfsii. It’s often thought of as affecting hot Southern gardens, but has become more commonplace recently in the Northeast U.S. on tomatoes, pumpkins and squash, and other crops, including apples in Pennsylvania.

A stem dotted with small round growths.
Southern blight (small round fungal structures) at the base of a tomato plant. Purdue University, CC BY-ND

Other plant pathogens may take advantage of milder winter temperatures, which leads to prolonged saturation of soils instead of freezing. Both plants and microbes are less active when soil is frozen, but in wet soil, microbes have an opportunity to colonize dormant perennial plant roots, leading to more disease.

It can be challenging to accept that climate change is stressing some of your garden favorites, but there are thousands of varieties of plants to suit both your interests and your hardiness zone. Growing plants is an opportunity to admire their flexibility and the features that enable many of them to thrive in a world of change.The Conversation

Matt Kasson, Associate Professor of Mycology and Plant Pathology, West Virginia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.