The benefits of planting a windbreak on your land are numerous. Positioned correctly, a windbreak offers protection from wind and blowing snow, cuts energy costs by as much as 40% in heated structures, prevents soil erosion, cuts down on traffic noise and provides a refuge for wildlife.
Why Plant a Windbreak?
There’s more to planting a windbreak than just throwing a few pines in the ground and hoping for the best. First off, you need to determine what you want your windbreak to accomplish. If you’re just looking to reduce blowing snow and erosion or provide a privacy screen from a road, one row of deciduous shrubs and one row containing a mix of deciduous shrubs and trees should do the job.
If reducing wind and blowing snow is the priority, a moderate windbreak is needed. These usually contain three to five rows, with the row closest to the area you want to protect including smaller shrubs and trees, the next row comprised of medium-sized evergreens and the last row or two including medium to tall deciduous trees.
Finally, if you want to provide maximum protection for livestock and attract the most wildlife, a strong windbreak of six to ten rows should be planted; plan on two rows of shrubs and smaller trees, three to four rows of medium evergreens and three to four rows of medium to tall deciduous trees.
Determining the Location and Shape
If a privacy screen is your primary objective the location is obvious, but if controlling wind and snow is your concern, you need to determine the direction of prevailing winter winds in your area; usually from the north or northwest. If this is the case you’ll want to plant your windbreak on the north or northwest side of the home, structure or area you’re looking to protect.
The best shapes for most windbreaks are an L, U or E shape, depending on the layout of your property. However, be careful not to fully enclose your property, as doing so will cut off airflow in the summer months. Also, don’t plant windbreaks near water sources, old feedlots or manure piles, and keep overhead powerlines in mind. Plant windbreaks at least 50 feet from any home and at least 100 feet from any barns or outbuildings for maximum effectiveness.
Selecting Trees and Shrubs
Your next task should be determining which trees and shrubs are appropriate for your area. Talk to your neighbors or consult a local arborist, and choose native flora with a long track record of success in your area. Choose a wide variety of trees and shrubs for your windbreak. Doing so increases your windbreak’s ecological diversity and ensures that if one tree species suffers from disease, your entire windbreak won’t be lost.
Planting and Maintaining
Remember when planting that more space between trees is better. Space rows of shrubs and trees 15 to 25 feet apart, and rows of larger trees at least 25 feet apart depending on their anticipated size once they reach maturity. The increased space will reduce the windbreak’s effectiveness initially, but it will ensure healthy and quick growth down the line.
If you’re planting a small windbreak, you can probably plant bare-root or balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs. For larger windbreaks, seedlings are a more economical choice. Although seedlings will take longer to grow to an effective size, they will often end up being healthier from developing their early root system on site.
Use mulches to control grasses and weeds, and keep the area beneath the trees bare since vegetation competes with young trees for nutrients and water. Do not apply fertilizer at planting time or during the first year. In fact, unless your soil is very poor, the trees in your windbreak will likely never require fertilizer.
It’s common for unwanted trees to grow up in your windbreak. Birds carry in seeds and you may soon find mulberries, chokecherries, or other trees amidst your planted trees. Remove these trees as soon as you spot them. Prune out dead and diseased limbs each winter and treat diseases and insect pests promptly.
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