Are you getting enough sunshine through your trees?

Snohomish County
Snohomish County. Photo: DNR

With rising energy costs, solar panels as energy alternatives and gardens that produce local food resources are gaining in popularity. But what happens when a tree is blocking your access to the sunshine? (With the little sunshine we’re getting these days.) Whatever you do, don’t top it! 

Tree topping is never an acceptable management alternative to increase solar access. As a matter of fact, the regrowth that occurs after topping may be even more effective at blocking the sunshine.

If you have existing trees:

  • The canopy of a tree may be thinned with proper pruning to allow more sunlight through the canopy, while not doing severe damage. Always consult a certified arborist before undertaking a thinning job to make sure the tree remains healthy.
  • If your goals are to reduce your carbon footprint with alternative energy resources, consider the environmental benefits that trees provide to both you and the community. You can then weigh the decision to install alternative energy sources like solar panels or retain a tree that provides energy and other ecological service benefits.
  • Look at your yard to find the best solar opportunities. Gardens positioned to the south of your home and trees will receive adequate solar access under the branches.

If you are planting trees:

  • Some species of trees cast dense shade (maples) and restrict what kind of plants may grow under them. Others have light or spotty shade (honey locust). Research the best tree for your site.
  • Trees come in all shapes and sizes. Select planting sites and species of trees carefully to allow trees and solar panels to coexist.
  • In selecting trees, consider the size of the tree and your goals. Strategically placed trees can reduce energy consumption and reduce your carbon footprint. 
  • Position trees to assure good solar access for solar panels; site them so panels receive clear solar access between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

If it is your neighbor’s tree:

  • Talk to your neighbor about your goals. Research and share the names of certified arborists who may be able to help thin the canopy.

Solar access has become a debatable issue in Washington, and often trees are in the middle of the argument. But remember, the real key to solar access is to plan ahead before you plant the right tree. Also, be a good neighbor. Consider your neighbor’s access to the sun, and try not to plant a tree that will grow over your neighbor’s yard.

Learn more about what DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry program is doing for the anti-tree topping campaign.

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