There is an arm or branch, if you can excuse the small play on words, of the U of M Extension gardening area called Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series. The website for this branch of the extension is www.sustland.umn.edu/index.html.
Millions of dollars are spent each year designing, implementing and maintaining urban landscapes. Unfortunately, long-term problems are caused when these processes are not carried out properly. Many of these problems can be avoided or reduced by utilizing sustainable landscape practices. A landscape developed with sustainable practices will improve the environment by conserving resources and reducing chemical applications. A sustainable landscape will also reduce labor inputs making it less expensive to implement and maintain.
The key to creating a sustainable landscape is understanding that the design process should be considered first. Plant selection, implementation and maintenance build on the design process, each having sustainability as a major consideration.
The goal of the SULIS is to provide sustainable landscape information to the public and to the horticulture/landscape industry. By utilizing SULIS concepts, homeowners, business owners and related industry personnel will be able to create outdoor spaces that are functional, maintainable, environmentally sound, cost effective and aesthetically pleasing.
One of these concepts is Energy Saving Landscapes, which delves into the use of plants and other materials to assist the homeowner with energy saving costs. Correctly placed trees, shrubs, windbreaks and foundation plantings will help decrease heating and cooling costs from anywhere from 25-50 percent.
Trees can help in several ways. East and west windows that have trees planted near them for shade can help the most with solar energy, which enters the house and warms your home. On the other hand avoid shading south windows in the winter where the most solar energy enters the home, helping to heat your home.
Foundation plantings can also help you with your summer and winter cooling/heating costs.
Generally speaking, foundation plantings can provide insulation because they create a dead airspace next to the foundation. Even vines planted around your home can provide some small measure of assistance.
And of course, we can't leave this topic without talking about snow. Windbreaks are our main source for farms in particular to stop some of the snow from entering our yards.
Windbreaks need to be 100 feet from the building or area that needs protection. It also helps with some wind protection but as we all know, particularly for those of us who live close to or on the Buffalo Ridge, the wind blows where it wants to go and a day without wind seems to be a rare one.
For more information on gardening, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org