Use plants to cut energy costs

Wednesday, January 31, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:53 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The cold temperatures and the cost of fuel make you start thinking of ways to reduce your energy costs. One of the ways is to add some features to your landscape to reduce the energy it takes to heat and cool your home. Some estimate that you can reduce your energy costs by 10 percent to 25 percent through landscaping. Some of the modifications may not cost very much.

First of all, windbreaks will help reduce heating costs. Our prevailing winds in the winter are from the north and northwest so windbreaks to the north and northwest of your home, in a L or U shape, will help reduce the effect of the wind on your heating costs. If you have room, they should be 50 feet from the area to be protected. Windbreaks are effective for about four to six times the height of the trees.

Another consideration on windbreaks is their effect on snow deposits. Snow will deposit in an area from one to three times the height of the trees. For example, a 20-foot tall windbreak of evergreen trees would provide the greatest wind reduction 80 to 120 feet to the south or southeast. Snow accumulation would be greatest 20 to 60 feet away in the same direction. More information on this can be found in MU Guide 6910, Landscaping for Energy Savings.

Other benefits of landscaping can include the creation of summer shade. It is most beneficial to look at where the shadows would fall with the placement of trees in the landscape. Trees to shade a one-story house would need to be within 15 to 20 feet of the house. Large trees should not be placed closer than 20 feet from the house. Vines can also be used to create shade. To provide the most benefit for summer and winter, trees and vines should be deciduous, shading the house in the summer, but allowing the sun to shine in during the winter.

Other considerations in landscaping include using plants to create air movements that will make various areas in the landscape more comfortable during the summer. Plants also create a cooling factor as water evaporates from wet leaves.

There are many considerations as you select plants for your landscape. Proper placement is very important. Consider power lines, how large the plant will eventually be and how well it fits into the landscape.

Some utility providers will provide free trees for their customers. Check with your power supplier to find out more. They may also help you with an energy audit and help evaluate where trees would be most beneficial.

For more help, you can obtain the MU Guide 6910, Landscaping for Energy Savings at your MU Extension Center online at

In addition, Columbia residents should check out the Columbia Water and Light Department’s Web site on tree power at You also can call the utility at 874-7325.

Of course, right now we can’t do any planting, but it is a good time to look at gardening catalogs and other resources for ideas on what can be planted where and when the planting season starts. For more information, contact your local MU Extension Center.

Don Day, a natural resource engineer/information technology specialist, has been an MU Extension specialist for 38 years. He works closely with the Master Gardener program. He is interested in all aspects of horticulture. He can be reached at

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