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Soil — The Final Frontier

We know less about life in the earth under our feet than we do about the far side of the moon. Yet every plant and animal you can think of depends on this vast hidden ecosystem.

Each shovel of soil holds more living things than all the human beings ever born. Lots of species are still waiting for scientists to identify and name them. This is a world where fungi lay traps for thread-like worms. Bacteria dine on toxic chemicals. The smaller the creature, the stranger are its habits.

Dig into this underground universe and meet its tiny but helpful residents.

Call Us Today! 631-726-0469

337 Montauk Highway Water Mill, NY 11976

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New Law Takes on “Trophy Lawns”

State restricts use of phosphorus in fertilizers and “weed and feed” products.

A state law that limits the percentage of phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and restricts the time of year when and locations where fertilizers can be used went into effect on Jan. 1. The New York State Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law was enacted to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering and degrading the water and to lower the cost to local governments of removing excess quantities.

Homeowners have been told to limit fertilizer use, which has contributed to poor water quality, shellfish declines, and contamination of swimming areas.

The law applies to fertilizer application and would restrict the use of “weed and feed” products that contain phosphorus in amounts over 0.67 percent, unless a soil test showed that a lawn needed phosphorus or in cases where a new lawn is being established.

“I would like to see it go further,” Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, said.

The law, according to a release from Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., aims to improve recreational and other uses of the state’s waters.

Mr. McAllister said the county put restrictions into effect a few years ago, and while the state is now involved, “We’ve got to do better. . . . We have got to move beyond the trend of the ‘trophy lawn.’ ”

The desire for emerald green, dandelion-free lawns is leading homeowners to pay for excessive applications of fertilizer, he said. Those “hooked on turf,” the baykeeper said, need to learn that a healthy green lawn is possible using organic and sustainable practices that will not threaten water quality.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation states that most soils in New York already contain sufficient phosphorus to support turf grass growth without additional phosphorus from fertilizers, which can account for up to 50 percent of the phosphorus in stormwater runoff.

Phosphorus is expensive for municipalities to remove from wastewater at treatment plants — from $1 to $20 per pound. More than 100 sub-watersheds in the state contain water impaired by phosphorus, according to the D.E.C.’s Web site.

The state’s recent closure of Shinnecock Bay was nitrogen-related, Mr. McAllister said. “We have to curtail the loading of fertilizer,” he said, adding that the way we manage tens of thousands of lawns will make a difference.

Pollutants enter bays and harbors in a number of ways, but primarily through groundwater and stormwater runoff, according to the Nature Conservancy. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are used on lawns travel through the soil to the groundwater that flows into our bays and harbors. Phosphorus affects fresh water, and nitrogen affects marine waters.

Mr. McAllister said many of our water bodies have been on the state’s impaired-waters list, which is reassessed every two years, since 2006. In 2010, he said, the entirety of the county’s south shore, including fresh water bodies in East Hampton and Southampton Towns, were placed on the list for either recurring algae blooms or low oxygen levels.

The baykeeper explained that nitrogen from fertilizers triggers the microscopic plants to burst in growth for several weeks. They then decompose and consume dissolved oxygen from the water, resulting in fish and crab kills.

In addition to devastating shellfish populations, overgrowth of algae causes brown tides and interferes with swimming, boating, and fishing, too, the Nature Conservancy said. Even chemicals used on properties far inland can travel long distances underground, ultimately finding their way into bays and wetlands and onto beaches.

In the release, Mr. Thiele reminded East End residents to be mindful of the new state law, which prohibits the application of fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium between Dec. 1 and April 1. If a product does not contain any of the three primary macronutrients, it could be applied during the winter months without violating the law.

“Banning fertilizer in the winter is not going to do it,” Mr. McAllister said. “To really see the reductions, we need to impose more restrictions during the entire year.” The spring and summer are when most homeowners are using lawn products, often as a result of “brilliant marketing” disguised as education by companies such as Scotts, he said.

Although the law also states that “no fertilizers may be applied within 20 feet of surface water,” an exception is made where there is a 10-foot-wide vegetative buffer of planted or naturally occurring vegetation — trees, shrubs, legumes, or grasses — or if the fertilizer is applied using a deflector shield or drop spreader, in which cases applications may be done within three feet of a body of water.

The law does not affect agricultural fertilizer, flower or vegetable gardens, pasture land, land where hay is harvested, the trees, shrubs, and turf grown on turf farms, or any form of agricultural production.

Mr. McAllister is concerned that the law does not apply to agricultural lands, which he said are a significant contributor of nitrogen flushing into groundwater. He said the county’s monitoring of nitrate levels in groundwater downstream from farms is “through the roof.”

The law requires retailers to display phosphorus fertilizer separately from phosphorus-free fertilizer and to post signs notifying customers of the terms of the law. It has no specific disposal requirements for lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus. The law affects organic phosphorus fertilizer, as well, but not compost or liquid compost as long as they do not contain chemically, mechanically, or otherwise manipulated manure or plant matter.

The state banned the sale of phosphorus-containing dishwasher detergents for household use in 2010. The new law prohibits the sale of such detergents for commercial use as of July 1, 2013.

Mr. McAllister said education of property owners about sustainable practices is a priority — the application, for example, of compost that is organic and slowly releases nutrients that are absorbed for growth instead of flushed. He said useful information such as “Four Steps to a Pesticide-Free Lawn” is available online at neighborhood-network.org. The website has suggestions such as mowing with the blade set higher, watering infrequently and deeply, seeding with a tall fescue blend, and using organic solutions on weeds and pests. There is also a list of companies that provide landscaping services using sustainable practices.

The Nature Conservancy suggests that homeowners replace high-maintenance sod lawns with native grasses and shrubs that require less fertilization and irrigation.

Mr. McAllister also pointed out that the natural resources of the water bodies on the East End drive the economy here. Regarding polluted, fishless waters that can’t be swum in, he asked, “What will this do to property values?”

“We’ve got to change our evil ways,” the baykeeper said. “This isn’t alarmist, it’s reality.”

(by Carrie Ann Salvi – original article at The East Hampton Star)

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Advice Offered On Creating A Naturalistic Landscape Design

Gardeners interested in a more natural look for their landscapes were treated to an inspiring and insightful talk on a Sunday afternoon at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton by Duncan and Julia Brine.

The principal designer and his wife and partner in the Pawling, New York-based Garden Large Naturalistic Landscape Design said that they believe that a property—whatever its size—should be treated as one garden.

A naturalistic garden, which the Brines advocate, aims to replicate an environment that exists in nature. Mr. Brine said that he sees this kind of garden as a way to preserve the identity of a landscape and for the gardener to both give back to and benefit from nature. His talk focused on the process of making a naturalistic garden personal and unique to each site.

Read more from this article here http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/East-End/417982/Naturalistic-Landscape-Design

(by Anne Halpin – Original Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press)

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The Secrets to Successful Planting

Get your garden off to a great start with these tips for sowing and transplanting.

One sunny morning coming soon, you’ll feel an irresistible urge to plant your garden. Before you pick up a trowel or open a seed packet, check out these hints to help you succeed.

Transplanting Seedlings

Whether it’s a flat of bedding plants from a nursery or seedlings started indoors, you don’t want the transition from pots to garden bed to induce transplant shock.

The first rule of thumb is to watch where you put your thumb. “Never pick up a seedling by the stem—it is the plant’s lifeline,” cautions April Johnson, staff horticulturist at the Rodale Institute, near Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Always handle seedlings by their leaves. “Leaves will grow back,” Johnson says.

Hardening Off

Hardening off gradually introduces seedlings to the conditions in your garden. Bring all seedlings—store-bought and homegrown—outdoors and expose them to a steadily increasing amount of sun, wind, and temperatures lower or higher than what they were used to indoors. This will take about 2 weeks. Don’t rush it.

When to Plant

The ideal time to plant is when it’s overcast, with rain in the forecast and no frosts or heat waves expected. If conditions don’t cooperate, then try to plant in the late afternoon or early evening to minimize the time the seedlings bake in the sun. The day before planting, water the plants so that the soil in the pots is moist.

In the Ground

Keep your seedlings in the shade until you’re actually ready to plant each one. Don’t pull a plant out of its container until you’ve dug the hole for it. If you can’t easily pull it out of its container by the leaves, hold the pot in one hand, flip it upside down, and give it a sharp tap on the bottom. The rootball should slip out into your other hand. Snip away any damaged roots with scissors or pruners. If the roots are a solid mass, gently tease some away from the center, trying not to break them.

Carefully slice into peat or newspaper pots with a knife to give the roots an escape hatch in case the pot doesn’t break down quickly. Once the pot is in the ground, tear off any part of it that extends above the soil line. It will dry out and pull moisture from the soil.

Plant the seedling at about the depth it was in the container, or a bit deeper. If your soil is cold or very wet, planting too deeply could rot the stem. But plant tomatoes quite deep. Studies by the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, in Immokalee, Florida, showed that tomatoes planted up to their first set of true leaves set fruit earlier, and yielded more and larger tomatoes, than tomatoes planted at rootball level. This held true when the studies were repeated in the colder soils of Ohio and Massachusetts.

Firm the soil around your seedlings, but don’t press so hard that you compact it. Give each seedling a thorough watering.

The First Days

Your seedlings have become established when you see healthy new growth. This can take a few days to a week, depending on the weather. Wilted leaves or drooping stems can be symptoms of transplant shock. Seedlings can go into transplant shock if they weren’t hardened off completely or if the weather is extreme. Most plants recover in a few days, but until they do:

  • Check that the soil is firmly around the plants so that no air pockets are drying out the roots.
  • Protect the transplants from sun and strong winds with row covers, sheets, or cloches.
  • Water only if the top inch of the soil is dry. Don’t water if the soil is already wet; it won’t help.

In The New Seed-Starters Handbook (Rodale, 1988), author Nancy Bubel recommends waiting a week to 10 days after transplanting before fertilizing your seedlings. They will have sent out new feeder roots by then and will be entering their most active stage of growth.

Direct-Sowing Seeds

How hard is it to put a seed in the ground, anyway? Not hard. Nature does it all the time. But of the thousands of seeds a plant may release, only one or two might germinate and grow. Hedge your bets by not planting every seed in the pack. If any seeds don’t sprout, you’ll have extra to fill in the empty spaces.

Planting Depth

Plant seeds too deeply, and they may never germinate. Plant them too shallowly, and the topsoil might dry out during germination. Generally, you can plant a large seed at a depth equal to three times its diameter (not its length). Seeds of peas, squashes, and sunflowers and those of similar size are considered large seeds. Plant smaller seeds about 1/8 inch deep. The seed packet will give the proper planting depth for that particular seed.

Some seeds need light to germinate, so you can’t bury them. Either sift fine soil over them or leave them uncovered. But make sure the seeds make firm contact by pressing them into the soil.

To Hill or to Mound

Most gardeners sow seeds in rows—seeds spaced evenly in a line. But another way to plant seeds is in hills. When a seed packet recommends planting in hills, it means planting them in a cluster—not necessarily in a mound, as you might expect. Mounding the soil is optional. Cucurbits are often planted in elevated hills, because they need warm soil and good drainage.

Squash and melon expert and author Amy Goldman, in Rhinebeck, New York, plants her cucurbits in flat hills. She’s found that raising seedlings above the surrounding soil level causes them to dry out too quickly. She suggests mounding only if your soil is compacted or waterlogged. Jeremiath Gettle, owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, in Mansfield, Missouri, skips hills entirely and simply plants his cucurbit seeds in rows. He advises gardeners who plant in elevated hills to check the seedlings after a heavy rain to make sure the soil hasn’t washed away from the roots.

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Organic Gardening Techniques Help Control Pests

There are many benefits and lessons to learn from organic gardening. Among them is how to control insects through plant diversity.

When insects like bees and leafhoppers can control their own populations, there’s no need for pesticides. Insects keep themselves in natural check because some of them are natural predators of each other, says organic expert Erica Renaud at Seeds of Change in El Guique, N.M. “But also they are competing for food sources, so when that happens they will monitor and manage their own population.”

To create what Renaud calls an “insectary,” pick the right plants. For example, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native species that attracts butterflies and bees. “This is an example of both an insectary and cover crop, so plant this to attract insects and pollinators and to cover the soil and protect it from erosion,” she says.

Cover cropping is another organic technique where crops are planted for the sole purpose of conditioning the soil. Used to promote soil fertility, cover cropping also helps with water drainage and weed control. Buckwheat, fava beans and clover are great cover crops.

Compost plays a huge part in the organic growing process. At the Seeds of Change farm, composting is done on a large scale in formations called windrows. A windrow is usually about 8 feet wide and 5 feet tall in full form. The compost is a mixture of manure for nitrogen, twigs and leaves for carbon and vegetable matter for nutrients.

As a general rule, the more compost is turned, the faster it matures. The maturation process for one windrow is eight to nine months. At the end of the process, it should look just like soil – indicating a high humus count -and have no unpleasant aroma. “If your compost still has a bad anaerobic smell-it has too much oxygen and is still fermenting – then it’s not ready. It can actually be toxic to your plants,” Renaud says.

One of the objectives of the farm is to develop new organic varieties of crops that can grow in a range of climates. Onions are one such crop popular among growers all over the country. The ‘Rossa Di Milano’ onion has a globelike shape, keeps for a long time and has a sweet flavor.

Lime, lemon, cinnamon and Italian large-leaf basil are popular herbs. ‘Red Rubin’ is a favorite among growers for its striking purple foliage. It can be used as a culinary herb as well as an accent plant.

Genovese basil is particularly popular because it’s used in making pesto. Harvest by pinching just below the leaf nodes (where the leaves are attached to the stem). This helps to make the plant bush out, giving you more volume and more basil to harvest.

Some brightly colored flowers at the grocery store are synthetically dyed, but you don’t have to sacrifice flower color when you go organic. There are several cultivars of zinnia that come in a variety of colors and can be harvested all season long. But gardeners aren’t the only ones attracted to their brilliant colors. “Butterflies are really attracted to color,” says Renaud. “There are lots of pinks and oranges, and they are really attracted to that.”

(original source here)

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Water-Efficient Landscape Design Tips


By taking a few simple steps when designing and maintaining your yard, you and your family can enjoy a unique, attractive landscape that saves water.

Plants

Use regionally appropriate, low water-using and native plants.

Once established, these plants require little water beyond normal rainfall. Also, because native plants are adapted to local soils and climatic conditions, they rarely require the addition of fertilizer and are more resistant to pests and diseases than are other species. Be careful when selecting exotic species, as some may be invasive, which may require more water and could displace native plants.

Group plants according to their water needs.

Grouping vegetation with similar watering needs into specific “hydrozones” reduces water use by allowing you to water to each zone’s specific needs. For example, turf areas and shrub areas should always be separated into different hydrozones because of their differing water needs.

Plan a water-efficient landscape.

If you’re designing a new landscape or rethinking your current landscape, the WaterSense Water Budget Tool can help you plan your landscape for water-efficiency. With two simple inputs – zip code and yard size – the water budget tool helps users design their landscape to use a level of water that is appropriate for their climate.

Recognize site conditions and plant appropriately.

Areas of the same site may vary significantly in soil type or exposure to sun and wind, as well as evaporation rates and moisture levels. Be mindful of a site’s exposure to the elements and choose plants that will thrive in the site’s conditions.

Place turfgrass strategically.

Turfgrass receives the highest percentage of irrigation water in traditional landscaping. Commonly used varieties of turfgrass require more water than many landscape plants. In addition, homeowners tend to over water turfgrass. As a result, landscapes with large expanses of turfgrass generally use more water than those planted with a mixture of other plants such as groundcovers, shrubs, and trees. To reduce outdoor water use, plant turfgrass only where it has a practical function, such as a play area. Choose turfgrass types that don’t use a lot of water. Select low-water-use or native grasses and those that can withstand drought.

Minimize steep slopes.

Slopes can be challenging because of the potential for erosion and runoff. If slopes cannot be avoided in landscape design, install plantings with deeper root zones such as native ground covers and shrubs to provide stabilization and prevent erosion.

Maintenance

Raise your lawn mower cutting height.

Raise your lawn mower blade, especially in the summer, when mowing too close to the ground will promote thirsty new growth. Longer grass promotes deeper root growth and a more drought resistant lawn. Longer grass blades also help shade each other, reducing evaporation, and minimizing weed growth. The optimal turfgrass height is the tallest allowable height within the recommended mowing range for the turf species grown.

Provide regular maintenance.

Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants, and remove weeds and thatch as necessary.

Minimize or eliminate fertilizer.

Fertilizer encourages thirsty new growth, causing your landscape to require additional water.

(original source here)

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Determining Your Garden’s Soil and Light

Clay or sand, sun or shade: these factors determine which plants will grow well and which will fail, so spend a little time getting to know your garden’s conditions.

Testing Your Soil

There are two main types of soil particles: sand and clay. Sand particles are relatively large and water drains freely through the spaces between them, while clay particles are tiny and trap moisture in the miniscule gaps. This explains why sandy soils are dry and clay soils are moisture-retentive. Most soils are a mixture of both, but tend toward one or the other, but the ideal is loam, which contains almost equal measures of sand and clay. Loam retains enough water for plant roots to use, but also drains away excess moisture to prevent waterlogging. Test your soil type by digging some up and rolling it between your fingers.

Sandy Soil

When rolled between the fingers, sandy soil feels gritty, and when you try to mold it into a ball or sausage shape, it falls apart. It is also generally pale in color. The benefits of sandy soils are that they are light and well drained, and easy to work. Mediterranean plants are happiest in sandy soil, because they never suffer from soggy roots. However, their poor water-holding capacity makes sandy soils prone to drought and lacking nutrients because nutrients are dissolved in water.

Clay Soil

Roll clay between your fingers and it feels smooth and dense, and retains its shape when molded into a ball. Soils very rich in clay will not crack even when rolled into a horseshoe shape. Sticky and impossible to dig when wet; solid, cracked and impenetrable when dry, clay soils are hard to work. But in return, when looked after correctly, they have excellent water-retaining properties, and are rich in nutrients. Greedy rose bushes and fruit trees love to sink their roots into them.

Smooth and Sticky

Like the material used for making pots, clay soils feel smooth and pliable. Roll them into a ball or sausage and they will retain their shape.

Top Tip: Testing Acidity

A simple pH test, available from the garden center, will tell you how acidic (lime-free) or alkaline (lime-rich) your soil is, and this will determine the range of plants you can grow. Add the supplied solution to a small sample of your soil in the tube provided. Wait until the solution changes color, then match the color to the chart.

Improving Your Soil

Whether you have a dry sandy soil or a sticky clay, the prescription is the same: lots and lots of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure, spent mushroom compost, and garden compost. These bind together sandy soils and loosen dense clay soils, so ladle them on.

Sun or Shade?

Some plants like a hot spot, and enjoy basking in the sun all day long, while others prefer cool shade. Find out what your garden has to offer before you buy or start planting. Stand with your back to each of your boundaries and use a compass to figure out the direction that they face. If there’s no canopy overhead, those facing south will be in the sun all day and hot, while those pointing north will be in shade most of the time and cooler. East-facing areas offer morning sun and evening shade, while the opposite applies to those facing west.

Check Your Plot

Patterns of sun and shade change throughout the day, and a garden that’s in full sun at midday may have dark pools of shade by late afternoon, so spend some time watching your garden on a sunny day and make a note of the way shadows move around the plot. You can then plan what to plant where and identify areas for seating. Remember, too, that the patterns change depending on the season. A garden can look very different in low-light winter conditions, and areas that are in full sun for half the day in summer may not get any at this time of the year.

(original article here)

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Tips for Growing an Organic Vegetable Garden

Enjoy healthy, tasty, organic vegetables fresh from your garden.
Try these tips for success.

Starting Out Right

For the healthiest plants, make sure you have good growing conditions. For most vegetables, that means full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day). If you have poor soil, amend it with lots of organic matter, such as compost.

Choose Plants Sensibly

Some plants, such as tomatoes, are naturally more susceptible to pest and disease problems than others. To reduce problems, look for disease-resistant varieties. (Disease resistance is usually mentioned in catalog listings, seed packets, and plant tags.)

Feed Your Plants Naturally

In most soils, fertilizing your vegetables isn’t necessary, but it will help them grow faster and give better crops. If you feed your plants, choose natural products. Well-rotted animal manure from plant-eating critters (rabbits, horses, sheep, chickens) is a great source. Or look for prepackaged organic materials online or at your local garden center.

Note: If you have rich soil already, you may be best off not fertilizing. Too much of a good thing can make your plants put on lots of lush, soft growth that’s loved by pests. Slower-growing plants often resist insects and disease better.

Practice Rotation

If you plant the same vegetables in the same spot every year, disease can build up and be ready before your plants have much of a chance. Keep the element of surprise against your disease foes and try to plant your crops in different parts of the garden each year.

Because many closely related plants are affected by the same diseases, avoid planting them where their relatives were the year or two before. Two of the biggest families are the tomato family (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant) and the squash family (squash, pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon).

Mulch Well

A layer of mulch over the soil not only helps reduce weeds, but it creates a barrier that can prevent fungal disease spores from splashing up onto plant leaves. In most cases, a layer of mulch 1 to 2 inches thick is best.

For an extra bonus, use a mulch made from an organic material that will decompose (such as cocoa hulls or weed-free straw). As it breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil for you.

Declare War on Weeds

Weeds not only compete with your plants for water and nutrients, but they may also attract insect pests. And many insects spread disease as they feed from one plant to the next.

Keep It Clean

Many diseases spread rapidly in dead, fallen foliage. Regularly — once a week or more if you have time — walk through your garden and pick up shed foliage.

Also: You can sometimes prevent a disease from spreading through an entire plant just by picking off an infected leaf. Throw dead or diseased leaves in the trash, not in your compost pile.

Water Wisely

Wet leaves, especially in the afternoon or evening hours, can attract disease. Avoid watering your plants with a sprinkler. Instead, use a water-saving soaker hose to deliver water directly to the roots.

Give Them Some Air

While jamming plants in is a great way to get the most from your plot, it can also cause problems. Avoid planting your vegetables too close together. Good air flow between the plants can help prevent many types of fungal diseases.

Plant Some Flowers

A few flowers will not only help your garden look prettier, but they may also attract beneficial bugs. These good guys in the garden attack insect pests such as aphids and tomato hornworms. Don’t worry about these good bugs: Most types are small enough that you’ll hardly notice them in the garden.

Some of the best plants for attracting beneficial insects are:

  • Bachelor’s Button
  • Cleome
  • Cosmos
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Daisy
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtium
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Salvia
  • Sunflower
  • Yarrow
  • Zinnia

Be Realistic

One of the hardest lessons for first-time organic vegetable growers is that organic gardens don’t look perfect. They’ve achieved a balance where there’s usually some form of damage from pests and diseases. Nature comes to the rescue before that spotted leaf becomes a plague.

(view original source)

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Passive Solar Landscaping for Energy Efficiency

How to use trees to reduce the cost of heating and cooling your home.

If your home is designed for passive solar heating and cooling, its orientation on the lot is already pre-determined by the architect. This is not typical of the average home though, because lot layout and house positioning is governed by the builder’s profit model, not energy conservation. For these homes, landscape design that contributes to cooling in summer and heating in winter can still have a significant impact. The pivotal factor is the selection and location of trees that are compatible with passive solar homes and offer similar benefits to standard homes. In short, trees well designed into the landscape can save you energy dollars.

Basic Orientation

A surprising number of homeowners lack awareness of solar orientation, which is critical to all design decisions. The following descriptions of how sun impacts your house will help you determine its exact positioning relative to the four cardinal directions. If you have a compass, that helps too.

  • East: The east side of the house will receive direct morning sun but will be shaded in the afternoon by the shadow of the building itself.
  • West: The west side of the house will be shaded in the morning but fully exposed to the hot afternoon sun.
  • South: The south side of the house is most critical to passive solar design because it receives the most sunlight throughout the day but never as intensely as the east or west sides.
  • North: The north facing side of the house is almost always in shade.

Winter and Summer Sun Position

Everyone knows there are more hours of daylight in the summer months than in the winter. This is because the sun changes position in the sky from season to season. The basic orientation of a home remains the same, but the sun will move northward in the winter and southward during the summer to change the positions where its rays impact the building. This change is divided into four quarterly seasons. When designing for energy conservation, use the two solstice dates as the most important criteria, when the greatest amount of heating and cooling energy will be used. These are also the dates that an architect uses for his passive solar calculations.

Fundamentals of Passive Solar Architecture

Passive solar architecture does not depend on solar panels. It is a design technique that utilizes the sun’s energy to naturally heat a home during winter and keep it cooler in the summer. The criteria is based on the position of the sun at the winter solstice when it is low in the southern sky. This generates rays that directly strike the south facing side of a building. When that side is glass, the energy moves through to warm the interior spaces.

That same passive solar home will function differently in the summer. In June, the sun’s arc occurs further north, shining down on the roof rather than the south windows. In summer the east and west sides of the building will receive much more direct exposure in the morning and afternoon. Tree planting here provides welcome shade at that time of day.

Choosing Trees as Tools of Energy Conservation

Planting for energy conservation is valuable to both a passive solar home and a traditional house. Once again, the goal is to provide sun in the winter and shade in the summer. To achieve this, any tree you select should conform to the following criteria.

  • Deciduous vs evergreen: Deciduous trees are perfectly designed by nature to offer direct solar benefits. They leaf out to provide shade in the summer, then shed their leaves to let the sun shine in during the winter.
  • Branch and twig density and winter sun filtration: When a tree loses its leaves for the winter, its branching and twig structure is fully visible. Some trees produce a very open structure that allows light and solar energy to shine through. These are ideal for passive solar and energy conservation. Other trees that produce a great deal of twiggy growth are less beneficial because each additional twig compromises proportionately more light.
  • Height, diameter, form: For a tree to function as an energy conservation device, it must be sized to meet the needs of the house itself. A two story house will require a much taller tree than is needed for a single story. That means that the upper half of the tree must be wide enough to cast significant shadow. The ranch house style home tends to be long and low, so a tree to shade its walls during the summer will require a wide canopy that’s not particularly tall. The size of the tree also designates how far from the structure it should be planted in order to obtain optimal benefits and avoid problems with branches and roots interfering with the structure.
  • Positioning for seasonal shadow: Homes that require trees to protect against morning and afternoon sun in the summer will depend on the shadow a tree casts. This shadow is a combination of the tree canopy shape and depth. Fine tuning shadows can shade walls and windows at the most crucial hours of the day as the angle of the sun changes.
  • Arrangement: Any tree used for energy conservation should be considered part of a much larger landscape. This is not just a matter of placing a single tree in optimal solar positions. It’s about creating a landscape that features a wide range of plants that group with these conservation trees to make the whole composition more attractive. Groves are a perfect way to provide solutions that give you opportunities to use varying species to ensure diversity, which protects this valuable investment from unexpected losses due to storm, disease or pests.

(view original post by Maureen Gilmer, landscape designer, author and LandscapingNetwork.com columnist)

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4 Tips for a Drought Tolerant Landscape:

Those of you that live in hot, dry climates know how much water it takes to keep a garden looking its best. If you’re tired of constantly worrying about dying plants and high water bills, then drought resistant landscaping is for you. Here are four tips to get you started.

  1. Avoid a lawn. Lawns take a lot of water and don’t thrive in extreme heat. If you need the space for children or pets, consider synthetic grass, which has come a long way in recent years.
  2. Grow native plants. Native plants are ones that are accustomed to the climate in which you live. They will be the key to successful drought-tolerant, water wise, and low maintenance gardening. Find a native plant nursery near you.
  3. Group plants according to their water needs. This practice is called zoning. Designate areas for plants that will need more water, and areas for plants that will need less water. Zoning will reduce the amount of water wasted.
  4. Know your soil. If you have rocky or sandy soil that drains quickly you should use drip irrigation. If you have dense or clay soil that drains slowly you should use sprinklers and water until saturated.

(original post)