Visual screening is one of the top requests planning boards have of solar developers. They may be willing to agree to a solar project – but they sure don’t want to see it! Of course, their first thought is rarely native plants. Yet native plants are more likely to thrive, they attract beautiful pollinators, and there is a huge variety to choose from. So here are three ways native plants can maximize visual screening in solar projects.
1) Cover a fence with native vines.
A great idea for a screen is simply to cover the fence surrounding the solar installation. And, just as you might do in your home garden, you can use a climbing plant to provide that cover. Unfortunately, I’ve heard towns request “ivy” to cover a fence, never realizing that English ivy is actually invasive.
My role in those cases is to help them see that the word they really want is “vine,” not “ivy.” And then I show them the different types of native vine species that would work in their area.
While a beautiful option, native vines do take time to grow in. They also can run the risk of climbing over the solar equipment. Depending on the vine and whether or not it is toxic to the specific livestock, an agrivoltaic site using grazing animals may be able to prevent that from becoming a problem.
2) Block the view with native evergreens.
Creating a visual screen with native evergreens is simple enough in theory. But most towns are not thinking about native species when they request an evergreen screen. This is a real missed opportunity as there are plenty of native conifers, including shrubs, to choose from. Obviously, their big selling point is they do not lose their leaves – but they can also create valuable pollinator habitat.
Unfortunately, when people choose conifers, they often ignore basic site conditions like wind and heat. For instance, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people set up an arborvitae border around their home that is brown and dead. Native plants are very hardy in their native range but, whatever plant you choose, you still need to be mindful of your site conditions.
3) Go beyond just blocking the view.
People get stuck thinking about blocking an undesirable view. Instead of simply creating a wall of vines or conifers, a little creativity can produce a beautiful botanical vista. The trick is to include a mix of trees and shrubs, flowering plants and grasses. The variety creates visual interest – which is much more appealing than a boring, single-species screen.
Yes, this approach requires a little more effort in the design – but the end result is worth it. You create better habitat, you always have something in bloom, and you attract more butterflies and bees and hummingbirds. When done right, the end result can be stunning.
Pollinator-Friendly Solar is Beautiful
Towns often come to solar projects with a lot of worries about how the site will look. It is hard to convince people that your site will be beautiful if previous projects were built on gravel or weedy lots. Luckily, native plants give you a lot of options to maximize visual screening in solar projects.
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash