Windbreaks Still a Good Idea

By Duane Friend

This is the time of year to be putting in a windbreak. Designing, planting and maintaining a windbreak may not be talked about as much as it used to, but it is still a good practice to consider. It not only can provide protection from winter winds, but can also work as a sound, smell and sight regulator.

Designing a windbreak for protection of winter winds will usually mean trying to plant one or two rows of evergreens on the north and west sides of the area to be protected. White pine, spruce, and firs are great windbreaks, but remember that most of these trees do not like soil that stays wet for long periods. In these situations the trees may succumb to diseases within 5-20 years. Evergreens can work well in sandy soils, but may take some extra care the first year or two after planting.

Trees should be planted 12 to 16 feet apart, and really should be at the upper end of this. They will look to be a mile apart when first planted, but if they are planted closer than 12 feet to each other they will quickly crowd their branches out and the lower branches will die faster than normal, losing the windbreak effect at ground level. If planting more than one row, stagger the trees to provide maximum wind resistance.

The effective distance of windbreaks is ten times the mature height of the trees. A fifty foot tall windbreak will be effective out to a distance of 500 feet.

Evergreens also do not like high pH soils. If the windbreak will be next to a limestone rock road that often receives dust from the road, have the soil tested to check the pH, and amend if necessary before planting.

Evergreens can typically be purchased as bare root stock or with roots in containers. The bigger the tree, the less time it takes to grow, but the cost will be higher. If using container stock, be sure to examine the roots, cutting any encircling roots and spreading the roots into a more natural shape. Bare root stock can be found in some cases for around a dollar a tree, but this is for very small seedlings. No matter how well you do in planting these, figure on at least 5 to 10 percent not surviving the first year or two. Placing roots with bare root stock into a bucket of water for a few hours before planting may help.

Mulching is very beneficial for newly planted trees. Mulching limits soil temperature extremes, moderates soil moisture, and acts as weed barrier so you don’t have to mow between the trees. A one inch layer of mulch is sufficient in most cases. Evergreen mulch (if you can find some) mimics the natural evergreen forest floor.

Watering is essential the first year of planting, especially when high temperatures and little rain occurs. Water the trees at least once per week during dry periods. One to two gallons of water per tree should be sufficient- more on sandy soil, less on silty soil.

Windbreaks can also be used to provide sound reduction next to busy roads, and will reduce odors next to livestock facilities. These situations will have different design considerations compared to a regular windbreak.

For more information on windbreak design and maintenance, contact your local Extension office or NRCS/SCWD office.

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About the author

Duane is an Educator with University of Illinois Extension in the Calhoun/Cass/Greene/Morgan/Scott unit.

View all articles by Duane Friend