Sustainable Living: Save Energy with Smart Planting

House exterior
Photograph provided by MGE

While we often think of landscaping as a way to add curb appeal, strategically planting trees and shrubs also can help manage your energy use. It's estimated smart landscaping can save up to 25 percent of the energy a typical household uses, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Shading your home is a smart way to save energy year-round.

To achieve maximum energy savings, it’s key to plant the proper tree or shrub in the proper place. You need to consider what’s located above and below your desired planting location as well as the mature height and spread of a plant. It may be easy to visit a garden center and choose a plant that looks nice, but that particular species may not be the best option for your site. It’s a good idea to consult an ISA-certified arborist who can help you determine what will work best in your yard. Visit the “Find An Arborist” page at to locate an expert near you.

If you decide to tackle some landscaping on your own, consider these general planting tips for energy efficiency:

• Plant large, leaf-shedding trees on the east and west sides of your home to provide maximum summertime shade and lower the surrounding air temperature. They should be planted at least 20 feet from the side of your home. A six-foot-tall deciduous tree planted near your house will shade windows in the first year. That same tree will shade the roof in 5 to 10 years.

Trees with lower leaves and branches work well on the west side of your home to offer shade from lower afternoon sun angles.

• Position trees and shrubs to shade air-conditioning units. Equipment that operates in the shade will use less electricity; however, be sure not to block the airflow.

• Plant bushes next to your house to create air space that will provide insulation year-round.

Take Precautions
Be aware of planting locations that can cause electric service interruptions or other dangerous situations. Call Diggers Hotline at 811 at least three days before doing any digging in your yard. MGE and other participating utilities will mark the location of underground facilities on your property and indicate safe overhead line clearances. This free service will help you stay safe and avoid costly fines.

You may be tempted to use plants to conceal the green electric transformer in your yard if you have one, but use caution. For safety and electric reliability:

• Allow three feet of space on the sides and behind transformers. Without proper air circulation, pad-mounted transformers can overheat and cause a service interruption.

• Allow 10 feet of clear space in front of transformers. At least once a year, MGE technicians need to service transformers, and they need that amount of clear space to work safely.

It’s also important to plant trees away from overhead power lines. Trees that grow too close to power lines can cause outages. Remember that the short tree you plant today could grow tall enough to reach power lines in the future. Find MGE’s list of the 10 best trees to plant near power lines at

Be safe when pruning your landscaping too. Wear eye, ear, and head protection. Don’t work alone, especially when pruning large branches. If branches are within 10 feet of utility lines, can’t be reached from the ground, or are too large to manage, contact MGE to determine if it’s safe for you to remove them.

Plants that are pruned incorrectly or at the wrong time of year are susceptible to fungal diseases. An arborist can help with this too.

Consider External Shading Devices
External shading devices are another option to help prevent unwanted solar heat gain from entering your home. Such devices include awnings, overhangs, and trellises. A shading device doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as putting together a few 2 x 4s.

For south-facing windows, a shading device should be based on window size. For example, with a window that is 36 inches tall, the shading device should be placed 9.6 inches from the top of the window. It should be 21.6 inches deep extending out from the house. There are online calculators to help determine where to install a shading device based on window size.

For west-facing windows, the shading device needs a vertical component to block summer sun. Adding hanging vines to the shading device will help further block the sun. Consider creating a grid-like structure with plastic or rope, then add climbing vines. Vines that have leaves in spring and summer that fall off in fall or winter are best for your shading device. This will keep sun out during the summer and allow in warmth during the winter.

Ask the Experts
MGE is available to answer your questions and provide tips on landscaping for energy efficiency.

• MGE Home Energy Line: MGE’s energy experts are available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 608.252.7117, or send an email to .

• Another resource for energy-efficient landscaping is .

Photographs provided by MGE.