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Create A Windbreak — Winter 2009 | Out Here Magazine

Proper vegetation can keep your property from blowing away

By Sarah Beth Aubrey
Illustrations by Tom Milner

When those winds come sweeping down the plains — or across your pastures or around your house — they can cause erosion, damage buildings, create dust, and generally make things miserable.

A windbreak — rows of trees and shrubs strategically located on your property — can slow, direct, or even block damaging winds, says Paige Mitchell Buck, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) office in Champaign, Ill.

Landowners interested in establishing a windbreak should spend ample time planning and preparing now, far in advance of spring planting, Mitchell Buck says.

The area you want to protect will determine the location, size, and design of your windbreak, Mitchell Buck explains. For example:

  • Orientation. A windbreak must be aligned perpendicular to damaging winds.
  • Height. Generally, the windbreak's mature height multiplied by 10 equals the length of the area to be protected.
  • Length. Doubling the length of your windbreak will increase the protected area by four times. Always extend the length 25-50 feet beyond the area you plan to protect.
  • Width. This depends on your region and the trees that grow there. Three rows of evergreens and one row of shrubs, for example, work best in Illinois.
  • Shape. The path of deflected wind and size of the area you want to protect will determine the windbreak's shape.
  • Spacing. The proper spacing between each mature tree varies with each species.

Soil quality is crucial, so plan now to get it tested. Your local cooperative extension service or NRCS office can suggest soil amendments to best suit the windbreak's trees.

They can also help you choose the best trees for your particular situation, taking into consideration:

  • Height. Will the tree crowd anything when it is fully grown?
  • Canopy spread. How wide will the tree grow?
  • Deciduous or coniferous? Will the tree lose its leaves each winter?
  • Form or shape. A columnar tree grows in less space.
  • Growth rate. How long will it take your tree to reach full height?
  • Soil, sun, and moisture requirements. Are water resources adequate to keep trees hydrated, particularly during the first year after planting?

Other factors can affect the health of your trees — salt and pollutants from the road, for example — so heartier varieties may be in order, Mitchell Buck advises.

You also want to begin researching where to obtain quality plants.

That cost may be less than you think. Organizations such as the National Arbor Day Foundation may sell trees for a reduced price. NRCS offers a cost-sharing program to help rural residents who meet the criteria obtain trees.

"Financial assistance helps cover the costs of putting good conservation — like windbreaks — on the land. That cost share can pay for anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of the cost of the windbreak," Mitchell Buck says. "For folks who fit the bill, it can be a relatively small investment on their part that pays off big in the end."

Sarah Beth Aubrey is an Indiana writer.

Basic Windbreak

Windbreak for Heavy-snow Areas