Few ideas are simpler: Plant a tree. Shade your house. Reduce your cooling expenses. Reduce global warming.
A current program that’s giving away shade trees for free is coming out of the California Center for Sustainable Energy. Customers of San Diego Gas & Electric in San Diego and Orange Counties can get their choice of twenty kinds of trees in fifteen gallon containers. Each household can claim as many as ten trees. Choices run from small, slow-growing crepe myrtles to big London plane trees to native live oaks.
Even if you’re out of the target audience for the program, their site has a link page to a pile of shade tree and urban forestry sites with lots of information. Their own site has a couple of basic principles for deciding where to put a shade tree and what kind to use:
- Plant only deciduous trees on the south side of the building to allow the sun to warm your home in the winter
- Concentrate planting on the west side, that’s where the energy savings are the greatest
A few years back there was a similar giveaway program, and houses in the neighborhood got flyered with offers for your choice of one of three tree species. For free. They’d even plant the tree for you.
The neighbor next door opted for one, a gold medallion tree, Cassia leptophylla. It’s in bloom right now and is pretty attractive. The plant is supposed to top out at thirty feet and spread twenty or thirty feet.
But now we come to the part of the post where we look the gift horse in the mouth.
My neighborhood is on the first rise of hills over the Pacific Ocean. Many of the houses here have views out over the ocean, Mission Bay, downtown San Diego and even down to the hills of Tijuana in Mexico and the craggy Coronado Islands off the coast of Tijuana and Rosarito. (There’s something really cool about standing on your roof deck and being able to see another country.) My view isn’t the most spectacular. Still, the glimpses of water and the land below give me a sense of place.
As for the cooling effects of the trees, the majority of the houses around here either don’t have air conditioning or–like our neighbor with the tree–have it but never use it. If things get warm, you open a window or door. Of course, a couple miles inland things are different, and a shade tree can save you lots in cooling.
So, to my neighbors, a plea: Go ahead and plant trees, but select the ones that are scaled for your house and the neighborhood.
But to this one particular neighbor I offer a special exemption. Please do plant a tree. Ivy. Shrubbery. Anything!