This is the first in the initial series on having a residence, that uses “green” or environmentally savvy ways, to re-use, re-do, restore or add an addition to. In other words this is the beginning of using “green techniques” around the house to improve it.
Today we start with the site around a residence to begin looking for methods that will improve the energy performance of the building as well as save green space and water usage. These are all “green” issues.
After last summer and fall’s withering drought it is now readily apparent that the typical Kentucky blue grass and fescue combinations are woefully inadequate for extended lack of water. The best alternative to this standard grass combination might just be a species of grass called buffalo grass. The University of Nebraska has developed a number of varieties of this very hardy grass. It uses 45% to 75% less water than blue grass. It form as lush a lawn and needs less mowing. It prefers sun so heavily shaded areas are not the best place to plant. However, with less mowing and less need for water it make it truly one of the “green” products out there for the site.
Trees such as the Tulip Poplar as well as many hybrid maples as well as the Gingko tree are all hardy drought survivors. When it comes to true energy savings when designing the site, it is wise to use a mixture of evergreen trees and deciduous trees which lose their leaves every year. The largest trees, especially the evergreens should be planted to that portion of the site that will protect the house from winds which during the winter will make heating the house much easier. The spruce family of trees is helpful here. In the other parts of the site, especially close to the house, large deciduous trees help to shade the house from the sun making it easier to cool. In the winter, with their leaves gone, they do not impede those days when the sun is out so that it also can make heating easier.
Another trick that is often done in commercial landscaping but can also be done in residential site design is to mound earth. If this is done on the same side as the evergreen trees, they can be planted there and it automatically give them some height and wind blocking power early on in their growth. In terms of just retaining water and moisture for the site, it is good to set aside areas of the site near the perimeter. Mulching and planting these areas in native flowers and tall grasses will act as moisture wells and help also in the dry periods. Native species are far more resistant to insect damage as well.
In the next part of this series, the cultivation of soils and the preparation of areas around a house will be explained as this also effects plant growth and protection from heat and moisture loss.