Tips for a creating a successful windbreak

Tips for a creating a successful windbreak

by Chris Enroth

Hold onto your hats! It is windy here in Illinois. Wind can be destructive to our homes and landscapes, plus it can make being outside miserable. This is why many Illinoisians plant windbreaks around their homes to keep that biting wind from causing a drafty house or preventing drifting snow — making it tolerable to be outside.

Unfortunately, not all goes as planned with windbreaks. Some of these problems can be avoided with proper planning and choosing plant species suited to your location. Following are some tips for windbreaks.

Windbreak Tips

  • Space out your plants! Planting trees too close may be the biggest problem with windbreaks that I see. Homeowners need to account for the mature size of the trees when designing the windbreak. Trees that are planted too close, grow and shade out lower limbs, which eventually fall off. Over time, the trees may still be alive, but without lower limbs, the windbreak is not functional.
  • Remove the rootball wrapping. Often windbreak trees are larger and come as balled-and-burlapped. The burlap and wire cage help to keep the rootball intact during transportation and carrying the tree to the planting hole. Once you’re ready to plant the tree, the wrapping can be removed so it is not a barrier to the root system.
  • Don’t plant too deep. Anymore it can almost be assured your tree will have too much soil on top of the rootball at the time of purchase. Carefully remove soil from the top of the rootball until you encounter the first structural root or root flare. Cut off any circling roots while you’re at it.
  • It doesn’t have to be uniform. Most windbreaks consist of a single row of identical evergreens. A common problem is when a plant disease specific to that species makes its way through the windbreak and suddenly, your windbreak is dead.
  • It doesn’t have to be all evergreen. Perhaps some of the best windbreaks I have observed have had a diversity of evergreens, deciduous shade trees, small trees and shrubs. If you have the space, consider having multiple rows of different types of plants.
  • Too dense? Ideally, a windbreak will still allow for some airflow for uniform snow dispersal and create a larger envelope of protection. The more air that is pushed up, the faster it comes down, shrinking the area of protection.
  • Set the windbreak back from agricultural fields. Most windbreaks I visit are next to massive corn or soybean fields. To grow these crops, farmers spray herbicides. Don’t plant your tree in harm’s way. Leave a 30-foot buffer between the tree and farm field.

There are a lot more considerations when it comes to windbreaks. For example, how tall should the tree be? How far out should it extend? Also, what species work best in Illinois? Check out the Good Growing blog for more resources on designing windbreaks at

Good Growing Tip of the Week: Want a more immediate windbreak? You could try to plant trees closer together and thin out every other as they grow. Sometimes we have a tough time cutting down perfectly healthy trees. Be sure you can make that commitment.

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