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Energy-Efficient Landscaping in Virginia

In the days before central heat and air conditioning, homes were built to take advantage of natural light and airflow. You only need to spend a few minutes beneath a shade tree on a hot summer day to appreciate how it serves to block the sunís heat. Properly sited bushes and shrubs also create a dead-air space next to buildings, reducing the impact of cold winds and helping reduce heating bills.

Because trees and other landscaping elements represent a long-term investment, give careful thought to what type and where each should be planted. Because improper landscaping is a major cause of power outages and added maintenance expense, consider a treeís mature height and donít plant too close to overhead utility lines or transformer boxes for underground utility lines. Be sure to follow your co-opís right-of-way guidelines, observing these height-limitation zones:

--The low-height zone extends 15 feet on either side of overhead wires. Plant only large shrubs and small trees with mature heights of 20 feet or less.

--The medium-height zone begins at least 15 feet from all utility lines. Select trees that grow 40 feet or less for planting within this zone.

--The tall-height zone begins at least 35 feet from buildings and 65 feet from utility lines. Trees that grow taller than 40 feet are suitable for planting in this area.

The best time to plant deciduous trees is in late fall, after theyíve shed their leaves but before the ground freezes, or in early spring before leaves sprout. Before you plant, call Miss Utility at 8-1-1 at least three days in advance so underground utility lines can be marked.

Here are six species of shade trees that are well-suited for Virginiaís climate:

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis): This fast-growing tree has a wide canopy and will reach up to 100 feet in height. Its most striking feature is flaking bark that peels off to reveal lighter-colored bark underneath. Sycamores need deep, rich soil to develop properly, so theyíre not the best choice for rocky or clay-filled soils.  The American variety is vulnerable to a blight that can temporarily disfigure the foliage each spring, so try London planetree (Platanus. x acerifolia), a disease-resistant and slightly smaller alternative.

Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis): Another fast-growing tree, the locust reaches 30 to 70 feet in height. Its lacy foliage provides a loose, open shade ideal for patios and able to support shade-loving plants growing beneath its canopy. In the fall, the small leaflets filter into the grass as they fall, requiring little raking. Purchase an improved thornless and podless variety such as Sunburst, Shademaster, Skyline or Majestic and be prepared to spray your tree yearly, because locust trees are subject to attacks by mimosa webworms. Do-it-yourselfers can purchase systemic applications at a minimal cost.

Pin Oak (Quercus palustris): One of the fastest-growing oaks, this tree needs plenty of space and will mature to 70 feet. It will not grow well in acidic soils, such as red clay. You may also need to remove its drooping lower branches so as to not interfere with traffic.

Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia): A durable landscape tree with attractive exfoliating bark that varies in color, this species will mature to 50 feet and is resistant to Dutch elm disease and the elm leaf beetle. Be careful not to confuse it with the undesirable Siberian elm, U. pumila.

River Birch (Betula nigra): Featuring salmon-colored bark that peels off in paper-thin layers, this tree can tolerate wet soil and is more insect-resistant than white birch. It matures from 40 to 70 feet tall and has a similar spread. 

Linden (Tilia spp.): The small white flowers on this shade tree, produced in early summer, are ornamental and highly fragrant. The small, round seed is born on an interesting leafy bract that hangs on the tree well into the winter. Of the seven species grown in this country, Littleleaf Linden (Tilia cordata) is readily available and best-suited for home situations, maturing to 50 feet. Its leaves remain green on the tree long after other trees have shed, and has few insect or disease pests.

Here are six options for bushes and shrubs to use in foundation plantings around your home:

Camellia (both C. japonica and C. sasanqua): These are rapid-growing evergreens that prefer moist, acidic soil high in organic matter, but are also drought tolerant. They mature to 6 to 10 feet high and 5 to 7 feet wide. Each fall, large white, pink or red flowers will dot the lustrous foliage.

Azalea: One of Virginiaís best-known plants, the rapid-growing Rhododendron obtusum prefers shade but can tolerate full sun if given plenty of water until established. Since azaleas prefer acidic soil, specially developed fertilizers may be needed to ensure healthy plants and riotous blooms each spring. Once mature, azaleas can reach 6 feet in height; cultivars that grow well in Virginia include Delaware Valley White, GG Gerbing, Formosa and Fashion.

Nellie Stevens Holly: A hybrid between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex cornuta, this evergreen has the best traits of both parents, with lustrous, dark-green leaves and abundant fruit production. It can be successfully grown in areas where poor drainage, compacted soil or drought are common. Vigorous and fast growing, it quickly grows into an attractive, pyramid-shaped evergreen, 20 to 30 feet high and 10 to 12 feet wide. It will need a male holly nearby to ensure pollination and production of the vivid red berries. Chinese Holly, Ilex cornuta, will flower at the proper time and may be used for this purpose.

Hollywood Juniper: Juniperus chinensis is a fast-growing shrub that can top out at 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. With selective pruning, you can keep it smaller and fit a particular area such as the corner of a house. Its bluish-green color lends itself to many backgrounds, including brick walls and houses as well as fences and siding. It has an interesting twisting habit with two to three leaders. If you enjoy a more whimsical, natural landscape, this juniper will fit well into almost any garden.

Skip Laurel: Prunus laurocerasus is a hardy, low-maintenance evergreen that reaches 5 to 7 feet in height, with dark-green foliage, a refined appearance and fragrant white blooms beginning each April and lasting into May.

Green Beauty Boxwood: Buxus microphylla japonica reaches 3 to 5 feet in height and is excellent for creating small hedges. More heat and drought tolerant than English boxwood, this evergreen retains its foliage even in the hottest summers.

Finally, here are three climbing plants that you can use to create shaded arbors, pergolas and lattice walls:

Carolina Jessamine: Gelsemium sempervirens is thick and fast growing and requires constant pruning during the growing season. The rewards are profuse yellow flowers in spring and a light feel that wonít weight down your trellis, plus no real clean-up in winter, as this is an evergreen.

Ivy: While all members of the genus Hedera are excellent for covering walls and lattice structures, ivy requires careful pruning and training to grow where you want it.

Porcelain Berry: Ampelopsis brevipedunculata is self-adhesive and grows wonderfully up brick walls and has small berries that look like robinís eggs. Because it is deciduous, plan on handling leaf removal in late fall.



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