Thursday, March 16, 2006

Choosing Plants and Trees for Shade

By Christina VanGinkel

If your house is hot in the summer, thinking ahead to what plants you place in and around your porch and yard, and what type and where you plant future trees, can have a significant affect on the indoor temperature of your home come the hottest parts of the day.

If you have a porch that is facing the south, consider planting climbing vines that will help block the sunlight and insulate against the hottest rays of the day. Plants and vines should be planted and maintained to both the south and both to the west and slightly east for maximum results. It may take some time to train your vines to climb and grow right specifically where you want them, but the results will be well worth the effort. If you always use an assortment of potted and hanging plants, think ahead to what type and where you place them. Big, bushy hanging plants that are hung to help black sunlight from reaching the interior part of your house can also help. The same goes for potted trees and large plants. They will all help to bring a degree of shade to your indoor space, keeping the sunlight out, and thus reducing the inside temperature.

Always keep the end goal in mind when choosing plants and trees, and that is the cooler you keep your interior to begin with, the less your cooling costs will be if you use secondary means, such as air-conditioning. If you do not have a porch, consider placing plant hangars in a way that when you use them, the sunlight will be blocked.

Before planting any tree, you should consider the size of it when it is both growing and when fully grown, how full a leaf structure it will have, keeping in mind that the bigger and fuller the leaves, the more natural shade it will provide. Planting a very young tree is better than planting none at all, but if you look for those that are already several years old, you will be reaping the benefits of their cooling much sooner. Also, a tree that is four or five years old will already have an established root structure, so transplanting it will provide you with a much better chance of it living, than if you were planting a much younger tree. Some trees grow much faster than others do too, and if your goal is creating shade, you should definitely consider the fast growers over those more slow growing types. The main difference between the two though is lifespan. The quicker a tree grows, the shorter the overall lifespan. The slower a tree grows, the longer a lifespan. Planting a variety of trees in a well-mapped design will help you keep both sets of goals, immediate shade, and future shade, in mind. Be sure to consider how the trees look together too. Different trees will have very different appearances, and this does need to be a consideration.

With this in mind, you also need to consider that if you plant trees that meet the requirements of your shade needs, but you dislike the appearance of them, you are also defeating your purpose, as you will most likely grow tired of them and end up replacing them before they grow overly large. For this reason, be sure you consider how the tree evolves throughout an average year, including the colors of the leaves, if it flowers, and if it produces any type of berry. For instance, if you choose a tree that flowers, and you find yourself sniffling, sneezing, and just plain miserable, or the tree you choose produces berries that you must rake up each year, lest they take root and cause more maintenance problems, it might end up that you are wanting to rip that tree out of the ground and start all over. All before you ever get to experience a single benefit from the shade aspect, the original reason you planted the tree in the first place. Some people will of course enjoy a tree as it flowers, but be sure you keep the maintenance aspect of it in mind when choosing one because you like the appearance. The flowers will fall off, and they will need to be cleaned up.

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