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Green your landscape for energy conservation.

There are two essential ways in which your landscape can save energy. The first is to plant and develop the landscape around your home in a way that increases its energy efficiency. The second way is to simply shrink your lawn and replace it with a variety of low maintenance plant-scapes. The key to landscaping for increased energy savings around your home is understanding how seasonal sun and wind patterns interact with your landscape. Sunlight, and the lack of it, creates distinct microclimates that can be enhanced through appropriately placed plantings and additions to your landscape.

The process of photosynthesis causes trees and plants to transpire, cooling the surrounding air in the day and warming it at night. A tree that casts shade on west-facing walls and windows and protects them from the hot afternoon sun is particularly advantageous. Groupings of trees placed upwind from your home will also have a moderating effect. A shady, vine-trellised courtyard with a water feature cools the air as it passes across the water's surface, greatly decreasing the surrounding temperature and creating a pleasant sanctuary from midday heat.

In winter, the sun's warmth can be trapped and stored in a number of ways. A body of water that cools in the summer will collect and store heat in the winter, raising the nearby temperature. Evergreen trees and shrubs are very efficient at collecting and storing heat, maintaining a temperature fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than the surrounding air, even in winter months. Knowing this, you can plant heat traps around your home by placing a variety of evergreens with dense foliage on the north side and around your home. Windows can be framed with taller varieties on the sides and compact bush varieties underneath. Make sure not to place evergreens where they will block any winter sun from penetrating your windows. The ideal scenario for increasing the temperature around your home is to develop a south facing stone patio courtyard surrounded by a stone or masonry wall. The south side of the wall shouldn't be higher than three feet tall to allow for maximum solar gain when the sun drops low in the winter. The combined mass of the stone, house, and plantings will store heat throughout the day and slowly release it through the night.

Spaces like this create a microclimate suitable for growing plants from warmer zones and assist season-extension within their walls. Deciduous trees should be placed to shade the mass of the stone and the wall, maintaining cooler ambient temperatures in summer.

Lawns ha America waste enormous amounts of resources. One of the most significant ways to "green" your landscape is by shrinking your lawn and replacing it with multi-storied groupings of plants, trees, shrubs, and ground covers. This simple act helps to reduce the startling amount of chemicals, water, fuel, and labor that go into the maintenance of lawns.

First you must decide where you want to begin. You can expand the edges of existing beds or around trees, places where the grass grows poorly, a property border, or you may expand forest edge with native plantings. Sunny areas that require the most water or are furthest away from your water source are also good candidates. The method known as "sheet mulching" is a cost-effective and labor-saving way to create instant planting beds. Sheet mulching is a no till, no dig technique using combined layers of cardboard, newspaper, compost, leaves, grass clippings or raw manure that breaks down the grass and cardboard creating instant garden beds.

To begin, outline the areas for your new beds using a rope or garden hose, then soak the space with water and add lime, an organic phosphate that lowers acidity and jump starts the aerobic process, breaking down the layers. Then evenly lay out the cardboard or newspaper, leaving eighteen inches around the trunks of newly planted and existing trees. Overlap the joints of the cardboard or newspaper, making it difficult for weeds to grow through the mulch. When using raw manure you must wait a few months until it breaks down and cools before planting. You can also use the old fashioned method of removing the sod by hand, raking the soil evenly and adding a layer of lime, organic nutrients and topsoil, till the soil (if necessary), and you're ready to plant!

You can plant your new beds in many different styles with a diversity of colorful, edible, aromatic, and medicinal species. Plantings should be arranged in symbiotic guilds that support and encourage their beneficial relationships. Living mulch plants such as chamomile, valerian, comfrey, lemon balm, and mustards prefer shady niches under most trees. They can be harvested for teas, food, and medicine, and can be cut back and applied directly as mulch or added to your compost, returning high levels of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium to the soil. Trees and shrubs thrive in these mixed herbaceous ground covers, and once established, will not require the need for additional mulch.

By cutting back the size of your lawn and planning your landscape with a little forethought, you will not only decrease your use of natural resources, you'll decrease the time and money you put into it yourself. That you'll have a beautiful productive and sustainable landscape is just icing on the cake.

Peter is co-founder of SouthEast Ecological Design, a green design/build and ecological landscape contracting firm in Asheville NC. He is available for landscape and permaculture consultations, design, and installation serving the community of western North Carolina.
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Title Annotation:DEPT. > digging in
Author:Waskiewicz, Peter
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:919
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