Large trees can provide homeowners with ample shade. ATTRIBUTION: Benjamin Kouba (Flickr)

Trees, large shrubs, and other plants have the power to help you conserve energy when placed in certain areas around the home. In addition to reducing your energy bills, planting trees around your home can also help fight climate change. I have found trees to be useful all year, providing shade during the summer months and relief from the cold, harsh elements during the winter months. The right landscaping design is key to reaping the benefits of energy conservation from your plants.

Plant Large Trees for Shade

On the east, west, and northwest sides of your home, plant large deciduous trees to help block the hot summer sun. Deciduous trees also save energy during the summer by cooling the air around your home as water evaporates from leaf surfaces. Remember to plant large trees far enough away from home to allow their root systems to adequately mature without causing damage to your foundation. As a general rule of thumb, plants with mature heights of 25 feet should be planted at least 10 to 20 feet away from a house.

Use Plants to Shade the Ground and Pavement

The summer sun can cause sidewalks and other paved surfaces to become intensely hot. Cool these areas off using trees, shrubs, or groundcover plants placed along the perimeter. Many options are available, from a row of shrubs planted along a driveway to a hedge that lines either side of a sidewalk. When placed around areas of pavement, these plants reduce heat radiation and help cool the air.

Build a Trellis to Shade Patios

Patios, porches, and other outside gathering places require some protection against the elements. Build a trellis or lattice work around these areas to support climbing vines. Most types of climbing vines will have grown enough after the first growing season to provide ample shade to patios and porches.

Incorporate Windbreak Trees for Winter Winds

Cold winter winds can blow against homes and make them more difficult to heat. These chilling winds can enter through small openings around the home and carry heat from the building. The most effective windbreak trees have branches that keep their foliage in the winter (evergreens) and extend to the ground. Great windbreak trees include options like spruces, junipers, and Douglas firs. Having more than one row of trees can boost your home’s winter wind protection.

Shade Your Air Conditioner

Shading your air conditioning unit using trees or shrubs is an effective way to increase energy conservation while lowering your cooling costs. As the plants work to cool the air around the air conditioner, the unit itself doesn’t have to work as hard to cool the air being blown into your house. When planting around your AC unit, be sure to leave adequate room between the plants and the unit to maintain proper airflow around the coils. On average, plants should be two to three feet away from the air conditioner on all sides. If possible, choose a plant that won’t lose its leaves as it gets cold, such as a hedge.