Eco-Landscaping To Save Energy

The first hard frost hit this week with temperatures dropping down to 28 degrees.  We’ve had a lovely, long Indian summer but beginning this weekend a coat and hat will be necessary before walking out the door.  Heating costs are on my mind today as we look at ‘battening down the hatches’ for the long, cold winter ahead.  Securing the storm windows, caulking and changing the furnace filters are on my husband’s  ‘honey do’ list. 

Landscaping can also be used to reduce energy costs at home.  The ecological landscape designer will consider multiple uses of plants  with energy conservation foremost in our climate.  Plants can be selected and placed in the landscape to  moderate the effects of sun, heat and cold on a building  saving the homeowner money while making the home a more comfortable and beautiful living space.

 The first order of business is to determine the exposure of a building.  The sun will hit hardest on the south side of a home in summer so this is where a large shade tree should be planted.  Two or three trees may be needed on the south and west sides the building.  The tree needs to be planted fairly close to the home  so the canopy overhangs and shades the roof when the summer sun is high in the sky.  A hard wood species should be selected to prevent breakage.  Depending on soil conditions this  include trees such as Little leaf Linden, Tilia cordata or some of the harder maples such as Acer saccharum the sugar maple.  Make sure to plan for the mature height and spread of trees planted especially in relation to sidewalks and driveways.  Prune the young tree for structural strength so it will grow strong branch angles as it ages.

Tress can reduce the surrounding air temperature by as much as 9 degrees. Trees also transpire and release water vapor into the air.  A large shade tree can transpire as much as 2,000 gallons of water over the summer.  This cooling effect settles underneath the tree canopy and can make the area directly underneath a tree feel as much as 25 degrees cooler.  Shading an air conditioner unit can increase its efficiency by 10%.  Shading the driveway ro parking area will make your car much more comfortable in summer

In winter the sun has more of a slant to it and the leafless deciduous tree will allow light to strike the roof warming it.  Prune the lower branches off the tree as it matures to allow light in the windows to warm walls and furniture

If large trees are not possible, or taking a long time to grow, an arbor can be used.  A leafy arbor in front of south-facing windows can be used to block the sun from entering windows or to shade a patio.  Vines are typically fast growing and good cover can be obtained in a short time perhaps while waiting for trees to grow.

  Walls on the  east and west side of the building can also be protected with shrubs or small trees that will grow large enough to provide shade in summer and protection from wind in the winter.  In our area of southeastern Wisconsin winter weather typically comes from the north-west so this is where we want to think about windbreaks.  Windbreaks are useful in blocking both wind and blowing snow. The path of the wind and snow is effected by nearby buildings or vegetation so pay attention to where snow drifts form or leaves swirl and gather in fall. 

Evergreens are often used for windbreaks on the north and west side of a home but should not be planted so close that they block the sun in winter.  Choose  evergreens that are not necessarily tall but dense at the bottom.   Arborviate ‘Techny’ is a short, fat evergreen maturing at 5-6′.  Plant windbreaks five to six times the height of the tree so a 6′ tall wind break would need to be planted  30-36′ away from the house.

If possible plant windbreaks in layers with alternating rows or arcs of trees and shrubs.  Incorporate deciduous fruit and nut bearing shrubs to attract wildlife.  Birds will gather in the evergreens for protection in winter and a food supply will keep them to nest there in spring.

Lower growing evergreens and shrubs can also be planted closer to the home to direct the wind and prevent blowing snow from building up on sidewalks, driveways and blocking doors.

Leaves collected can be shredded with the lawnmower and layered on top of planting beds to protect and improve the soil. 

Fall is also an excellent time to plant container grown plants.  The soil is still warm from summer while the air temperature is cooling and the days shortening.  This induces root growth in plants and not top growth.  Also plants are often deeply discounted at this time of year so landscape budgets are maximized.  Come to think of it while my hubby is working on that ‘honey-do’ list I think I’ll run over to Stein Gardens and Gifts an see if they have  plants marked down 90% yet.  Usually right after Halloween they drastically mark plants down and I can scoop up some real deals.  Last week I couldn’t resist and bought a lovely little Japapanese maple, Acer palmatum at 75% off.  This is not a windbreak plant but instead needs good protection from the wind!  I am so much looking forward to watching it grow!

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