Master Gardeners | May 03, 2017
Early spring is a great time to plant trees. With that in mind, you might consider planting a windbreak. Rows of trees and shrubs can shelter your house and garden from winter winds and summer sun. Early settlers knew the value of dense wind-busting evergreens planted north and west of their yards and deciduous shade trees planted in the south and east areas. Their wisdom holds true today as well. A good windbreak can substantially reduce energy costs for heating in winter and cooling in summer. Slowing the wind can help create microclimates in our yard, making it possible for us to push the plant hardiness zones.
Ideally, we want to slow the wind speeds by half. This will keep good air circulation even during the coldest months. Solid walls, houses etc. can increase wind turbulence and create swirling eddies that reduce snow accumulation. If we can slow the wind the benefits are many, reduction of erosion, a decrease in moisture loss from soil and foliage, and the ability to grow a wider range of plant material. Fencing material can help reduce wind but planting trees is more ecologically sound and nicer to look at.
In small gardens a single row of trees will make a windbreak. On larger properties, double or triple rows of plants with evergreen shrubs planted on the wind side backed with tall conifers will create a ramp to funnel the wind up and over the windbreak. A windbreak will reduce wind speed on the leeward side 10 times its height (thus an 8 foot windbreak will protect plants up to a distance of 80 feet). Winds tend to slip around the edges of the row so if you want the best protection, plant a right-angled windbreak with trees to the north and the west. Spruce, pine and cedar trees make very good windbreaks. Junipers, mugo pine, dwarf hemlock and cedars are good shrub choices. A mixture of evergreens will enhance your property and provide habitat for birds and small animals.
Shade is important in summer, so trees with large canopies are valuable. Pioneers often planted an apple orchard to the south east of their home, providing food and beauty. Lilacs were a staple of farmsteads. Deciduous plants provide shade in the heat of summer, and make it seem at least 10 degrees cooler . In winter, the leaves are gone, allowing the sun to penetrate. Some interesting plants to consider for summer shade are birch, locust, small maples, apple, Russian olive, viburnums, and elders.
A quote I saw recently says “The best time to plant a windbreak is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
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