Vines Create Summer Shade, but Let in Winter Sunlight
If you're suffering through another record-breaking hot summer, you're probably looking for a way to stay cool while reducing your energy bills. If your shade tree is still a just a sapling, or there's not even room for a tree between your house and your neighbor's, plant a vertical garden made of vines. A leafy green wall is low-tech, requires only a few hours of labor, and can quickly result in lower heating and cooling costs.
It's All in the Shade
Vines are quick growers that help reduce energy bills by providing shade and insulation. Just as a vine-covered arbor provides a cool retreat from the heat, vines planted on a home's south or west-facing walls shield the sun from the house and lowers indoor temperatures.
Big, Beautiful, and Butterfly-Friendly
There are dozens of vines to choose from. Many have large leaves, brilliant flowers, and autumn color. Others are fragrant ? imagine the scent of pure white moonflowers growing right outside your bedroom window. Some, like grapes or beans, can be cultivated to provide food. All offer cover and a nesting area for birds, and many flowering vines are rich nectar sources for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Know Before You Grow
Ready to start cooling? Before planting vines, it's important to know how they grow so that you can build the appropriate support for them.
Vines fall into three climbing categories: twiners, like morning glory, moonvine, confederate jasmine, and mandevilla, reach their heights by twisting their growing tips around a slender support. Plants like passionflower vine climb with specialized tendrils that can hook onto twine or monofilament line. Virginia creeper, and a number of other vines, have specialized rootlets that act like suction cups to hold the plant directly onto a brick or wooden structure.
Support Your Local Vine
If you don't want your vines attaching themselves to your home, you can build a trellis from lathing purchased at the local home supply store, or from long bamboo poles lashed together and leaned against the wall.
Trellises should be placed several inches away from walls to allow air movement between wall and vine and reduce humidity and possible mold and mildew growth.
Experiment with Annual Vines
If you just want to see how vines would perform cooling your house, try some annuals first. Many annual vines, like moonflower and mandevilla, are fast-growing tropical plants with brightly colored flowers that can hold up to the rigors of a southern summer.
Use Perennial Vines
To moderate both winter and summer temperatures by maintaining a pillow of air, choose a fast-growing perennial vine. A wall of evergreen vines like native Jessamine can reduce surface temperature fluctuations by 50%. Deciduous perennial vines like Virginia creeper will serve to moderate summer temperatures, and provide stunning fall color.