Look for us in the Cadillac News! Our weekly column - "Conservation Corner" is featured on the front page of Section C every Tuesday. Here's this week's article:
Windbreaks with Benefits
Tired of dealing with blowing snow across your driveway or on the road? Is your house bombard by winter winds that zap heat from your home? If so, you may want to plant a windbreak. Windbreaks can help control snow drifts, reduce heating costs, and help protect crops and livestock. They can also provide wildlife habitat by giving shelter and food for birds and animals, especially if they contain a variety of trees, shrubs, and native grasses. Establishing a successful windbreak does take some time and effort, but the results can provide benefits for decades.
Where to Place a Windbreak:
To be effective, a living snow fence / windbreak should be located at a right angle to the most common wind direction during the winter. In our area, west and northwest winds are most common, so placing the windbreak north and/or west side of the area to be protected is recommended. Living snow fences work by both trapping snow within the planted area, and by slowing the winds down enough so that snow is deposited just to their leeward sides. This means that the windbreak should be planted a distance of four to six times their mature height away from the area or building to be protected. A common mistake is to plant windbreaks close to an area, such as a driveway, where snow is not desired. A windbreak too close to a driveway can actually result in additional snow being dumped on the driveway or road. When designing a windbreak a good place to start is to ask yourself the question “Is there enough space on the property for an effective windbreak?” This often means that you’ll need a minimum of 50 feet between a house or a driveway and the windbreak. You should also consider extending the windbreak about 50 feet beyond the length of the area to be protected so that the wind does not enter the protect area around the ends of the planting
What to Plant:
An ideal windbreak has five rows of trees and/or shrubs, and has several different species in it. Different types of trees and shrubs are important so that the windbreak can be dense at many different heights, and so that it will meet a variety of habitat needs. Another important reason to vary the types of trees is for protection against tree mortality. If a disease or insect comes into the area, and kills all of the trees of one species, you’ll still have an effective windbreak.
The outer rows of a windbreak might contain white or Norway spruce. Inner rows might consist of red or white pine. You can achieve additional density in a windbreak by planting shrubs on the outer edges of the trees. Many of our native shrubs will work well with windbreaks. When selecting species to plant, take a look at the soil, and match the type of soil to trees and shrubs that will thrive in those conditions. Hardiness, branch density, growth rate, longevity, and maintenance needs are also factors to consider.
Planting Design and Spacing
All plants in a windbreak should be staggered to allow them to develop and mature properly. A general rule of thumb is to set plants seven feet apart in the row and up to ten feet apart between rows. Where space is limited, double rows of dense shrubs in a border that is 10 to 12 feet wide will provide some benefits. Plant shrubs five feet apart in rows that are six feet apart.
Preparing the soil prior to planting is crucial to the success of a windbreak. Weeds need to be under control, and the soils pH and nutrient levels should be adjusted if soil tests indicate that lime and/or fertilizer are needed. Cultivation, herbicides, and heavy mulch can all be used to control weeds. Often, a combination of these three techniques are used to get the weeds under control.
Mid to late April is an excellent time to plant seedlings because the soil still contains moisture from the winter snow, and seedlings are still dormant. Plant the seedlings as soon as possible after you receive them. Whether the seedlings are planted with a machine or by hand, it is important to make sure that the soil is firmly in contact with the roots. Also check to see that they are planted at the same depth as they were in the nursery, and with their roots fully extended and vertical.
Care and Maintenance after planting
It will be important to properly care for seedlings over the first few years until the plants are establish themselves. This includes making sure that they have adequate water, they’re protected from browsing animals, and that weeds don’t overtake them. Watering can by done with either drip irrigation or by hand watering. You’ll need to water whenever the soil is dry two inches below the surface. During the winter, hardwood tree and shrub seedlings need to be protected from browsing animals such as deer and rabbits. Fencing can help, as will repellants such as Plantskydd. Weeds need to be controlled in the planting area for three years so that the seedlings can get established. Weed mats, mulch, and herbicides are all effective options. Check the planting each spring, and replant trees and shrubs that have died so that gaps are not created in the windbreak. The more care that is taken when the plants are young, the more successful the windbreak will be.
Technical Help Is Available:
The Wexford Conservation District is hosting a workshop on windbreaks on Wednesday, February 22nd at 6:30 p.m. In addition, personalized assistance from our staff is available to help you design a windbreak to meet your needs. Simply call our office at 231-775-7681, ext 3 to get started. Farmers may also be eligible to receive financial assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service for windbreaks that are part of a conservation plan.
The USDA-NRCS provides technical assistance to area landowners to help them design windbreaks and living snow fences suited to their situation. If you are interested in having a windbreak custom designed to meet your needs, call 231-775-7681, ext. 3 for assistance.
The fruit from this ‘Roselow’ Sargent’s crabapple is a welcome food source for many birds during the winter.
By mixing two different species, white pine and white spruce in this case, you can increase the density of the windbreak and protect against losing your windbreak to insects and diseases.
The Wexford Conservation District has a long history of working with its citizens on conservation issues. We invite you to explore our website to learn about the many ways we can be of assistance.
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