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Consider Installing a Windbreak

As summer transitions to fall, we begin to feel that crisp autumn air. Then, we begin to think about winter and possible snowfall. If you live in the country, you probably know what a cold winter wind buffeting the house feels like. What if you could insulate yourself somewhat from ole-man winter? Consider installing a windbreak.

Most trees do well when planted in spring or fall, and needle evergreens will be no exception when planted in the fall of the year. So, this is a good time to plan.

The primary purpose of a windbreak is to reduce wind velocity on the leeward (downwind) side of the planting. Added benefits of windbreaks may include: providing food and cover for wildlife, controlling drifting snow, reducing home heating costs, and increasing the beauty of the homestead.

Multiple rows of trees and/or shrubs may constitute a windbreak. Ideally, a farm or homestead windbreak should be composed of at least two rows of conifers (cone-bearing species) and one row each of tall deciduous trees, tall shrubs, and short shrubs. The windbreak should be planted perpendicular to the prevailing winter wind, and placed at a distance of 2-5 times the windbreak's height from the area to be protected.

A variety of species have been successfully used for windbreaks, including eastern white pine, red pine, northern white-cedar, Norway spruce, Austrian pine, blue spruce, and white fir. Do your homework to determine which of these species will be suitable for your soils and site conditions. Selecting more than one tree species for the windbreak is often a good practice. Species have differing tolerances to factors such as disease, insects, salt tolerance, soil moisture, and drought. Including a variety of species in your windbreak provides protection against losing the entire planting due to one or more of these stressors.

The location of the windbreak is not just determined by prevailing winds and the space to buildings. Consider power lines, road visibility, snowdrift patterns (e.g. windbreak should be at least 100 feet from a driveway), buried power lines, septic absorption fields, and other uses of land that may conflict with the windbreak.

Spacing is another important consideration. In-row spacing for most species is from 8 to 16 feet, with a between-row spacing of 12-20 feet. Twin-row high-density spacing should have a between-row spacing of 4-12 feet. Each row should have trees planted so that they align with the center open space of the prior row.

Non-conifer species provide other benefits. Wildlife can benefit from fruit or nut trees that provide food, and shrubs may provide additional shelter.

Protected from the wind, a small orchard, nursery, or garden may perform well inside the windbreak.

Maintenance of the windbreak will involve watering in dry periods (especially the first few years), monitoring for pests, excluding livestock and grazing deer, and limiting competing vegetation.

For more information, see information from USDA at, or from the University of Illinois at

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