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How to Plant Trees for Energy Savings

It’s easy, if you know your directions

By Lucie B. Amundsen
Published: March 24, 2011
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Photo by dreamstime.com
Nurturing a few trees around your cabin adds aesthetic value for sure, but with a little strategy before sinking your shovel, you can also take the pressure off your heating and cooling systems – and save some green.

How to Plant for Shade
   
While it may feel intuitive to stick a giant green sun block in a southern exposed yard to help with summer cooling bills, that may actually provide too much of a good thing. Come winter, when the sun is low in the sky, even a bare tree will limit your passive solar potential and darken a room when sun is at a premium.
   
Instead, plant tall leaf trees with wide canopies along the eastern and western sides of your cabin. That can save up to 35 percent on air conditioning bills. You can plant young trees and wait for them to grow, or – given the rising costs of energy – you just may justify that $300 (or so) purchase of a 14- to 20-foot tree. And bonus: Tall trees create cooler yards that require less watering!
   
To ensure roof shade, think species with mature heights of at least 25 feet – and then plant them about 30 feet away from your cabin.
   
With trees on both sides, you’ll also shelter walls and windows from morning sun and provide shade to the western-facing surfaces to protect them from scorching afternoon rays. But don’t be shy about trimming lower branches to preserve views.
        
Your northwest and northeast directions are where you’ll want smaller deciduous or even evergreen trees. Here you’ll want to preserve those lower limbs for late afternoon and early morning shading.
       
If, however, your lot just cries out for a tree to the south, plant it no closer than three times its mature height to the cabin’s southeast or southwest. This will keep winter shading to a minimum.
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Do you have a tough time cooling your place in the summer? Save up to 35 percent on your air conditioning bills by planting tall leaf trees with wide canopies along the eastern and western sides of your cabin.
Photo by dreamstime.com
Slow the Winter Winds
   
To cut cold weather energy consumption, a row of conifers planted one or two tree heights to the north and northwest can shield your cabin from cold gusts. Be aware that snowdrifts will accumulate downwind along the tree line, so allow ample planting room away from driveways.

Shade Your Air Conditioner
   
Another landscaping trick is to use shrubs or trees to shade outdoor air conditioner units from midday rays, but pick wisely. You don’t want trees or shrubs that will shed leaves into the fan – and be sure to trim lower branches to allow sufficient airflow into the unit’s condenser.

Plant It Right
   
Lastly, when planting trees be sure to loosen the soil well beyond the root ball diameter, loosen the rootball and add organic matter or fertilizer, if appropriate. The best information for planting in your specific region would be from your local cooperative extension system office, which offers expert advice at no cost.

Contributing editor and tree lover Lucie Amundsen hails from Maine and now lives in Minnesota.

Reader Resource: To find your nearest cooperative extension system office, go to: www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension.
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