Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2008
Regional Report

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This screen of arborvitae effectively blocks wind while being a beautiful addition to the landscape.

In this era of concern about the environment, one thing we can do as gardeners is design our landscapes to be as energy efficient and naturally sustainable as possible. Sustainable landscapes conserve resources by reducing labor costs and the use of chemicals, petroleum, and water. These types of landscapes minimize the environmental impact as well as maximize cost effectiveness for the homeowner.

Landscapes that are designed to conserve energy are naturally low maintenance, a good thing for us all. Of course there will always be ways to putter, but if we can concentrate that input in the vegetable and flower gardens and make the rest of the landscape less needy of our time and resources, we will be doing a good thing for ourselves and the planet.

Low Maintenance
There are several components of a sustainable landscape. The first is to design for low maintenance. Often we overlook the maintenance aspect when choosing that plant we can't do without. It might cost time and resources and require undesirable practices such as extensive pesticide use and intensive pruning.

By designing with ease of maintenance in mind, we reduce the need for fertilizers, pesticides, equipment, and water. The first step to this process is to look at specific requirements of plants. Trees, shrubs, and ground covers other than turf require the lowest maintenance of all the plants in our landscapes. Annuals, perennials, vegetables, turf, and plants that require special care, such as topiary and espalier, have the highest care requirements.

Choose Plants to Match Conditions
If we match plants to the site conditions -- soil type, moisture, and exposure to sun and wind, for example -- we will have naturally lower maintenance needs. Also looking at a plant's natural shape and siting it accordingly will lower the pruning needs. In other words, don't put tall plants under power lines or wide plants next to the sidewalk or driveway.

Choose Tolerant Plants
Choose plants that are tolerant of local pests so there is no need for chemical intervention. Also avoid planting in monocultures, which are more susceptible to insect and disease problems. Mix up your plants.

A Naturalistic Design Approach
Design with an informal, naturalistic approach that will naturally require less general maintenance like weeding and pruning. Plant windbreaks where feasible. These can reduce your heating fuel consumption by as much as 20 to 40 percent on a windy site.

Insulate with Plants
Plant around your home to create a dead air space between the house and plants. Or use vines to cover walls. This will help insulate your home and reduce both heating and cooling costs. Large shade trees will cut air conditioning costs in the summer by shading the house and transpiring cooling moisture. Trees with high canopies can channel cooling winds through the landscape. Using deciduous trees on the south and west sides allows the sun's warming rays to reach your home when the trees drop their leaves in winter, also helping with heating costs.

Windscreens Channel Winds and Snow
Windscreens of plants can effectively help channel winter winds and snow away from the north and west sides of the house. Be sure to use dense evergreens like arborvitae, yew, pine, and spruce that will tolerate the wind. Plant in staggered rows for the best effect.

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