Plants help save energy


April 25, 1992|By James Dulley | James Dulley,Contributing Writer

Q: I have heard about using special dwarf shrubs for landscaping my home. What are dwarf shrubs, and where should I locate them for the greatest energy efficiency and best appearance?

A: There are many types of evergreen and deciduous (drops leaves in fall) dwarf shrubs available. The color of the foliage, flowers, berries and shapes vary considerably. When there's a variety of dwarf shrubs, the attractive colors and textures change throughout the entire year.

Dwarf shrubs are ideal for energy-efficient landscaping because they remain small at maturity (2 to 3 feet high) and can be planted near your house.

Small plantings near your house can save energy year-round. In the winter, dwarf shrubs, especially evergreen varieties, can block the force of the cold winter winds against the foundation. This reduces both heat loss through the walls and cold air leaks into your house.

In the summer, dwarf shrubs can cool the air near your house with shade and by a process called transpiration. As plants give off moisture to the air, the air cools. This is a similar process to the way perspiring cools you. The air temperature can be as much as 10 degrees cooler near the shrub.

Dense-foliage deciduous dwarf shrubs are ideal for summer heat control. A buffer of dwarf shrubs planted near your house on the south and west sides can block the heat radiated from hot patios, sidewalks and driveways.

Evergreen dwarf shrubs are especially effective for cutting heat loss in the winter. Many of the conifer (needle types) are very hardy and form an effective foundation wind barrier year-round. Locate these shrubs on the north and northwest sides of your house.

Dwarf shrubs are often more expensive than other types of common fast-growing shrubs. However, since the shrubs maintain their initial size, you will not have to landscape again every few years. Cheaper common shrubs look great when they are small, but they can quickly outgrow the space.

Many dwarf shrubs have flowers, small fruits for wildlife and beautiful autumn coloration. Some also have ornamental bark or branching habits that are attractive in the winter too.

When selecting dwarf shrubs, you should consider the "hardiness zone" of the particular plant. This refers to the coldest winter temperature it can withstand. Your local nurseryman can advise you.

You can write to me for "Utility Bills Update No. 237" listing 100 types of deciduous and evergreen dwarf shrubs, their hardiness zones and map, type of foliage (evergreen or deciduous) and height and width at maturity. Please include $1.50 and a self-addressed business-size envelope.

Q: My garage is unheated, and it gets cold in the winter. I stored latex caulk and paint in the garage over winter. Will it still be OK to use this spring?

A: Anything using water-based latex -- caulk, paint, wood glue, spackling, etc. -- can be ruined if it is allowed to freeze. Paint and caulk are very thick, so your garage would have to get well below 32 degrees to harm it.

You may store these materials indoors. Keep them tightly sealed. Be careful not to bring the solvents and paint thinners indoors too. These can give off vapors to the indoor air and become a fire hazard.

Write to James Dulley, c/o Baltimore Sun, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.

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