A home's well-manicured landscape is about more than just curb appeal. There are two important factors to consider: sustainability and energy use. Landscape architect Sue Reed, author of Energy-Wise Landscape Design (New Society Publishers, $29.95), specializes in helping customers create beautiful and sustainable energy-saving landscapes. Here are some of her suggestions:
Mow less lawn to conserve energy
"If you have lawn, pick an area that you stop mowing, or only mow once a year. It may turn into a meadow. Or you may want to mow that area once or twice a year for a more relaxed look," Reed said. About one billion dollars is spent annually on gasoline to mow lawns in America, she said. "You also spend less personal time taking care of the lawn. Let nature do some of the work for us. You can also replace your lawn with wildflowers, berry bushes, a vegetable or flower garden, or even moss in some areas," Reed said.
Use trees to your advantage
If you already have trees on your property, instead of spending money on wood chips or mulches, just use the leaves the tree drops to mulch around the base. "You can chop the leaves or just leave them whole and leave them for a year or two. It's the best possible mulch for your trees. That's how nature takes care of them," Reed said. She added that using the tree's own leaves saves trips to the garden center. "This is really easy to do with no investment."
Having shade trees on your property also has advantages. Reed said that shade trees can make your home up to 10 degrees cooler, allowing for cooling-cost savings. The placement of the trees to the southeast and southwest of your house is key to their effectiveness. "Shade trees work even better planted by the side of your home when you have windows also facing southeast or southwest," she said.
Reed noted that it is best to plant deciduous as opposed to evergreen trees, so you can reap the solar heating benefit in the winter when the leaves fall.
Cool the ground
"Lush gardens absorb the heat, cooling the area around your home," Reed said. "When I say 'lush foliage,' I mean plants such as ferns, not lawn," she said. Reed said that lush foliage cools the air by means of "evapotranspiration" — the plants absorb heat and moisture from the air, leaving the surrounding air cooler. "They take the heat from the air to power their own life process," she said.
If you have non-permeable surfaces such as patios or driveways, the more trees and foliage you plant in proximity to them keeps them and you cooler. "That way, they can't absorb so much heat," Reed said. She added that if you have the option of deciding where the driveway or patio is placed, it is best to incorporate plenty of vegetation.
Use native plants
"I try to use native plants (plants that would normally grow in one's region) as often as possible. The energy and ecological savings are indirect. But in the larger picture of the regional eco-system, native plants tend to be more self-sustaining," Reed said.
Be aware of water
Reed said that how much you water your landscape impacts both energy and ecological savings. "We have to remember that it takes electricity to pump the water out of the ground," Reed said. Besides energy costs associated with pumping water, most homeowners in urban areas pay for water from the city or town, regardless of whether it ends up in the ground or the sewer system.
Read more about landscaping and energy costs at Sue Reed's website: energywiselandscape.com.