If you have a large lot and plenty of get-up-and-go, this may be the perfect project for you. A windbreak is like a giant hedge made up of trees and shrubs growing one to five rows wide. It can make a great travel lane for small wild animals and provide them with food and cover.
Planted in the right spot, a windbreak can also prevent soil from drying out and blowing away, protect gardens, and reduce windy blasts in winter, thereby lowering heating bills. When planted along roads and driveways, windbreaks trap snow and prevent it from drifting.
Windbreaks are usually divided into three parts, referred to as windward, centre, and leeward. The windward row is what the wind hits first. It should be made up of dense, fast-growing trees and shrubs that prevent snow from piling up in the middle of the windbreak. The centre row should be made up of tall, fast-growing trees that force wind to rise over the windbreak. Finally, the leeward row should be made up of dense-growing trees and shrubs.
Before you attempt to construct a windbreak, you should consult with your local departments of wildlife, agriculture, and forestry for information. Sometimes it's best to leave natural areas unchanged, and these departments may advise you as such. An agriculture official should have lots of designs and helpful ideas. A local forester may recommend the most suitable species of vegetation for your area and offer you advice on planting and spacing. A wildlife biologist can suggest modifications to your design that will increase its appeal with local birds and other animals.
- Draw a map of the area where your windbreak will stand, including features such as buildings, roads, creeks, and existing vegetation. Figure out which way the prevailing wind blows and note this direction on your map. Indicate where you wish to place the trees and shrubs.
- Estimate the number and cost of the various types of plants you'll need. Your windbreak will consist of at least three rows of native trees and shrubs. Use both coniferous and deciduous species for a variety of food and shelter.
- Plant rows of shrubs along both of the outside borders, and taller trees on the inside. Viewed from the end, your finished windbreak will look like an upside-down "V".
- Space your shrubs and trees so they'll have enough room to grow while providing plenty of shelter.
- Plant the trees or shrubs in each row in a pattern alternating with the ones in neighbouring rows.
- Plant your rows in a line perpendicular to the prevailing wind and upwind from the space you want to protect.
- Think crooked! Gently zigzagging rows will appeal to wildlife.
Here are some recommended species for your windbreak:
- Red ash performs well in all three rows but is best in the middle. Many birds and mammals eat its seeds.
- Manitoba maple is a good choice for the centre or leeward row. Its seeds are a favourite winter food of several bird species, particularly evening grosbeaks.
- Willow can be used extensively in the middle or leeward row. Although most willow species have little food value, they can be a food source for caterpillars; their fuzzy blossoms may provide half-starved bees with pollen and nectar in early spring. They also grow quickly and provide plenty of shelter.
- Buffaloberry is most commonly used in the windward or leeward row. It has sharp spines at the top of each branch, making it a useful barrier. It provides cover and food for wildlife.
- White spruce is most suitable for the middle row. It provides cover and protection for wildlife. Deer occasionally graze on its lower branches, while other wildlife species munch on its cones. Birds and small mammals enjoy its seeds.
Water the new shrubs and trees in your windbreak regularly until they're well established. Replace dead trees and shrubs if necessary, but leave mature snag trees standing as potential nesting sites for birds and wildlife. See "Plant Project Maintenance Tips" for further suggestions.