When the summer heat descends, Australian homes can get pretty stuffy. Short of running your air conditioning 24/7, what can you do to keep the interior cool and comfortable?
One way is to use plants.
The cooling powers of greenery have long been known. Town and city planners are increasingly using urban greenery to reduce ambient heat in built environments. This might mean adding city parks, planting trees along the borders of main roads or even adding plants to rooftops and building walls.
The same principle can keep your home cool. By planting the right things inside your home and out, you can make summer much more pleasant.
Shade screen plants
Choose plants that grow vertically and plant them on the side of your home that gets the most sun – usually, the north facing wall. By growing your plants against a wall or window, you’ll be able to block the worst of the heat from entering your home. If you choose deciduous or annual plants, they’ll die back in winter to let you enjoy the winter sunshine.
One option is to try climbing food plants, such as beans, pumpkins or peas. You could also try grape or passionfruit vines, which grow strongly but may take a couple of years to bear fruit.
You could also go ornamental with flowering vines or climbing roses, which you’ll need to prune back at the end of the summer. Roses can be harshly pruned to clear any new growth away from windows and walls.
A longer term strategy could be deciduous trees. Fully grown trees tend to be very expensive, so you may have to plan ahead for this approach. However, if you have the patience it can be very rewarding. Choose fruiting trees, such as apples, mulberries or plums; enjoy the glorious autumn foliage of a Crepe Myrtle or Japanese Maple; introduce scent to your garden with frangipani or deciduous magnolias.
Keeping plants inside your house can also help drop the ambient temperature. Trees and plants go through a process known as transpiration. In simple terms, this means that plants absorb water through their roots, and some of that water then evaporates through their leaves. This evaporation cools the air around the plants.
All house plants can help take down the thermostat, but some species are more effective than others. Try the following:
With their wide, thick leaves, rubber plants release more moisture back into the air than most other plants. As a bonus, they’re very easy to care for. Peace lilies are another plant much prized for their wide, lush leaves and transpiration qualities.
Snake plants and aloe vera
These succulents not only release a lot of moisture into the air, they’re also great at removing toxins like benzene and formaldehyde. And if you’ve had too much sun yourself, aloe vera is one of the most effective remedies out there. Just cut open a leaf and use the sap as an intensive moisturiser. It works to soothe insect bites as well.
There are a huge variety of palms, and all of them will help cool your interior. They feature small stomas, which take in CO2 and release oxygen: purifying and cooling the air. Choose from fern palms, fishtail palms, lady palms, bamboo palms or many others. Palms look great grouped together for your own mini rain forest.
This small tree is rare in that it thrives in an indoor setting as well as in a garden. You can expect it to grow to between two and three metres inside (taller if grown outdoors with plenty of sun), and it does well in large pots. Weeping figs do best in sunny spots and will need watering regularly.
Ask your local nursery for further recommendations.