When most people think gardening, they have one condition: beautiful plants. However, when you're planning your landscape, there's another important condition you should consider: air conditioning. Whether you want to cool things down or create some heat, there are easy, low-cost landscaping solutions for every situation and every region.
Cool It Down
Plant Trees. Trees not only create shade, they also cool the air below—by as much as 25 degrees—through a process called transpiration, which releases water vapor. If you plant deciduous trees near your house, particularly on the south and west sides, you can reduce your energy consumption. In summer, the foliage shades the house, reducing your dependence on air conditioning. (Conversely, in winter, when trees are bare, the sun shines directly on the house, adding extra warmth.
You also can create shade by building a lath-covered structure over a patio near the house. The dappled light created by the narrowly spaced slats is ideal for growing a wide variety of plants, and the space remains cool and pleasant.
Let Water Run. Falling water cools and humidifies the air directly around it, creating a beneficial micro- climate for plants and people. So install a reflecting pool or fish pond on your property, which can create a cooling effect as well as become a delightful landscape feature.
Choose Light Materials. When it comes to your porch, patio or driveway, light-colored paving will be much cooler than a dark material, which absorbs and radiates heat. Light colors, however, reflect heat, thus keeping the area in and around your home significantly cooler.
Warm It Up
Use Passive Solar Heat. A garden or home with a southern exposure will be significantly warmer than one facing any other direction. South-facing gardens sprout sooner in the spring and last longer in autumn when chilly weather sets in. Use this fact to your advantage.
Reduce Wind Exposure. Fortunately, properly selected and placed landscaping can provide excellent wind protection. The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground. Solid options include evergreens and shrubs that have low crowns. Keep the evergreens far enough from the house so they won't cast shade in winter, but close enough to help buffer the breeze.
You'll get the best wind protection if you plant the windbreak at a distance from your home that's two to five times the mature height of the trees. Other options to screen your home from harsh winds are to take advantage of hills, rises in the ground, walls and other features on your property.
Provide Natural Insulation. The dead air between the house wall and the shrubs also serves as an extra layer of insulation between your home and the climate. As mentioned before, one foot between the plants and the house wall is optimal.
For more on this story, check the October 2005 issue of Log Home Living.
Photography by Catrina Tudor Erler