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Conserve Energy

A well-designed and maintained River-Friendly Landscape can help conserve energy by:

Plant shade trees to moderate building temperatures

Properly placed trees can save on
air-conditioning costs.

Properly sited shade trees can cool summer building temperatures by providing direct shade from the sun and by cooling the ambient air temperature through evapotranspiration. When mature, they can reduce interior building temperatures by as much as 20 degrees, reducing summer cooling costs by 25-40%. During the winter, properly placed trees can also provide protection from cooling winter winds.

  • For maximum shading benefits, plant trees to the west of a building.
  • Deciduous trees can reduce energy needs by providing shade in the summer and allowing the sun in during the winter.
  • Evergreen trees provide the best protection from winter winds.
  • Select trees that are appropriate for the soil type, water use, and exposure. If possible, select trees that have low water requirements.
  • Plant larger trees at least 20 feet, and smaller trees at least 10 feet, from the house foundation.
  • For more info go to the following websites: and University of California.
  • Get free shade trees by calling SMUD’s shade tree program at 1-888-742-7683 or going to, search "shade tree".

Plant trees to reduce the urban heat island effect

Parking lots and streets are significant sources of heat and pollutants (parked cars emit hydrocarbons that contribute to the formation of ground level ozone). Shading them reduces the heat stored in or reflected from them — resulting in more comfortable cars and improved air quality.

  • Select and plant trees that are appropriate for the site in terms of soil type, water use and exposure.
  • Choose as large a tree as possible but be sure it will be allowed to grow to its natural shape and size in the allotted space.
  • Choose trees with root systems that do not damage pavement.
  • Select light colored, reflective concrete paving materials.
  • Consider shading paved areas with photovoltaic arrays.

Shade air conditioner condensers

Limiting the sun that shines directly on your air conditioner will keep it cooler and running more efficiently — reducing the energy it uses and your utility bill.

Shade your air conditioner (being careful not to obstruct the airflow) by:

  • choosing a shrub or tree appropriate for the soil and microclimate, or
  • building a freestanding arbor with deciduous vines

Outdoor lighting

Where outdoor lighting is necessary, design it in a way that minimizes energy use and “light pollution.”

  • Identify lighting goals and determine lowest acceptable levels.
  • For security, use motion sensor lights instead of all night illumination.
  • Specify full cut off luminaries (no horizontal light leaves the site) for all exterior light to prevent casting beams onto adjacent properties, right of ways or the night sky. Visit for a list of fixtures approved by the International Dark Sky Association.
  • Use only compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and high pressure sodium bulbs for outdoor building lights.
  • Specify photovoltaic or 12-volt lighting where possible.

Choose and maintain equipment for fuel conservation

Maintaining your landscape with hand powered equipment as much as possible will protect your health, as well as the local air and water quality.

  • When buying or upgrading power equipment, choose the smallest, most fuel efficient, lowest emission equipment required to get the job done.
  • Minimize the use of gas-powered blowers.
  • Keep power equipment well maintained.
  • Recycle debris on site to minimize fuel consumption for hauling.

Use local products

It takes energy to transport products long distances. You can do your part to conserve energy and reduce air pollution by choosing local materials whenever possible.

  • Consider the source and embodied energy of all materials in the landscape, including stone, gravel, plants, lumber, furniture, etc. Use local stone, for example, rather than limestone shipped from the Midwest.
  • Select smaller container stock to increase the number of plants per delivery. Smaller plants also transplant better.
  • Use recycled and less highly processed materials, and avoid petroleum-based products, including synthetic fertilizers.

The Seven Principles of
River-Friendly Landscaping

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Is your landscape River-Friendly?
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Here are some more in depth articles on specific RFL topics that you might find of interest:

Contest Winner

RFL Inspiration Garden

RFL Examples

Rain Gardens

Mulch, Grasscycling, and Compost

Get Mulching

Fertilize Naturally — Is Feeding Frenzy Really Needed?

Plant Trees, Save Energy!

Right Plant, Right Place!

Plant Selection

Plant Communities

Take Action to Save Water Outdoors…

Lawn Care: How Green is Your Grass?

Rethink Your Lawn

Pests Bugging You?

River-Friendly Pest Control

Managing Common Pests

Good Bugs

Interview about RFL (MP3)

Choose California natives first

Don't Blow It!

Reducing Outdoor Asthma Triggers


Watch the YouTube video
"Slow the Flow - Make Your Landscape Act Like a Sponge"
to learn about the importance of landscaping to stormwater quality.