Best plants for windbreak

The Best Trees for Blocking Wind and Windbreak (By Zone)

Spending quality time with our trees often gives us a warm feeling— and it’s not just on the inside.
One of the many ways trees work hard to keep us happy is by warming our landscapes in winter. Rows of wind-blocking trees reduce wind and heat up your home.

The best windbreaks take time and planning, but they pay us back in cozy comfort. Read on to find out the best windbreak trees for your area and tips on how to plant them.

Planting Trees for Energy Efficiency

Windbreaks don’t just warm us up in winter. All year, they keep our yards at a steady temperature, lowering heating and cooling costs for our home. To maximize the benefits, plant the right tree in the right place.

What Side of the House to Plant Landscape Windbreaks

Before you start planting, it’s important to map out your yard. Plant windbreaks on the north and northwest sides of your home where it gets coolest in the winter.

Windbreak Tree Spacing

It might seem like planting trees close is the best way to keep the wind out. But tightly packed trees will become a problem once they mature. The more space you put between trees in the beginning, the longer your windbreaker does its job.

  • If you’re planting rows of shorter trees, leave about 10 feet of space between each tree and 15-to-20 feet between each row.
  • If you’re planting rows of taller trees, leave 15 feet between each tree and 25 feet of space between rows.
  • Remember as these trees grow the space, they’ll fill in that space.

Best Wind-Blocking Trees: Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9 and Zone 10

Set yourself up for success by picking trees in your planting zone.

  • Eastern redcedar (zones 2-9): An evergreen that grows about 50 feet tall and loves direct sunlight
  • Chinese juniper (zones 4-9): A durable evergreen that’s resistant to deer browsing
  • Baldcypress (zones 4-10): A conifer that sheds needles in winter and is known as a signature swamp tree in the South
  • Dawn redwood (zones 5-8): A fast-growing conifer that loses its needles in winter and is perfect for large yards
  • Port Orford cedar (zones 6-10): A fast-growing evergreen that’s native to Oregon

Best Wind-Blocking Trees: Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 and Zone 6

Remember to pick trees suited for your planting zone.

  • Norway spruce (zones 3-7): A strong, fast-growing evergreen that tolerates various soils
  • Green giant arborvitae (zones 5-7): A fast-growing evergreen with a classic pyramid shape
  • Eastern white pine (zone 3-6): A conifer that grows up to three feet per year
  • Colorado blue spruce (zones 3-6): A low-maintenance evergreen with unique color
  • White cedar (zones 3-7): A popular conifer with a long cone shape
  • Douglas fir (zones 4-6): A sturdy tree that’s perfect for snowy and icy climates
  • White fir (zones 4-7): A short evergreen commonly used as a Christmas tree

When you pick your plants, remember to mix. If you plant rows of the same tree, you can risk losing your windbreak to a single pest or disease. Alternate between two or three tree types to keep your windbreak up and running.

How to Plant a Windbreak to Conserve Energy

Planting the right trees in the right places conserves energy and reduces your energy bills, while helping to fight climate change. See how properly placed trees save energy by providing summer shade, winter warmth, and winter windbreaks.

Planting a row of conifer trees on the north and northwest sides of your property creates a wall against cold winter winds – saving your heating costs by up to 30%.Conifer trees planted near your home will help block winter winds and reduce heating costs.

  • Use less energy for yourself and your utility company.
  • Less fossil fuel is consumed by the utility to create the energy, which means less carbon dioxide emissions.
  • The best protection from wind occurs when the windbreak is no more than the distance of one or two tree heights from the house.
  • The down-wind side of the trees is where the most snow accumulates, so plant your windbreak a one or two tree-height distance from your rooftop and driveway if you can.

More:

  • Summer Shade
  • Winter Warmth
  • How Trees Fight Climate Change
  • The Urban Heat-Island Effect

Landscape Windbreaks and Efficiency

Properly selected, placed, and maintained landscaping can provide excellent wind protection, or windbreaks, which will reduce heating costs considerably. Furthermore, the benefits from these windbreaks will increase as the trees and shrubs mature. To use a windbreak effectively, you need to know what landscape strategies will work best in your regional climate and your microclimate. Check out the Energy Saver 101 landscaping infographic for the best landscaping strategies for your climate.

A windbreak reduces heating costs by lowering the wind chill near your home. Wind chill is the temperature it “feels like” outside and is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold. As the wind increases, the body is cooled at a faster rate and the skin temperature drops. For example, if the outside temperature is 10°F (-12°C) and the wind speed is 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), the wind chill is -24°F (-31°C). A windbreak will reduce wind speed for a distance of as much as 30 times the windbreak’s height. But for maximum protection, plant your windbreak at a distance from your home of two to five times the mature height of the trees.The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground by using trees and shrubs that have low crowns. Dense evergreen trees and shrubs planted to the north and northwest of the home are the most common type of windbreak. Trees, bushes, and shrubs are often planted together to block or impede wind from ground level to the treetops. Evergreen trees combined with a wall, fence, or earth berm (natural or man-made walls or raised areas of soil) can deflect or lift the wind over the home. Be careful not to plant evergreens too close to your home’s south side if you want to collect passive solar heat from the winter sun.

If snow tends to drift in your area, plant low shrubs on the windward side of your windbreak. The shrubs will trap snow before it blows next to your home. Snow fences can also help trap snow.

In addition to more distant windbreaks, planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead air spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer. Plant so there will be at least 1 foot (30 centimeters) of space between full-grown plants and your home’s wall.

Summer winds, especially at night, can have a cooling effect if used for home ventilation. However, if winds are hot and your home is air conditioned all summer, you may want to keep summer winds from circulating near your home.

Windbreaks also provide:

  • A barrier from sounds, sights, and smells
  • Protection for livestock
  • An aesthetically pleasing landscape element
  • Wildlife habitat.

Colorado State University

By Kathy Roth, Master Gardener

Colorado State University Extension, Larimer County

June 9, 2007

An article last month described wind tolerant shrub and tree choices that are excellent for use in windbreaks. Resources from Colorado State University Extension include information on native trees and shrubs, tree selection, planting and placement. Fact Sheet #7.225, “Landscaping for Energy Conservation,” details some principals of landscape wind deflection, discusses evergreen row placement and use of fence sections as additional shelter. Other excellent resources are Colorado State Forest Service’s booklet series “Trees for Conservation.” The “Buyer’s Guide” details each trees’ growth form, mature size, and other attributes. Using this in conjunction with the “Planning – Planting – Care” booklet (CSFS#114-0394) gives information needed to design and plant windbreaks.

In general, when designing a windbreak, the denser the shrubs and trees are, the better windbreak they make. Dense shrub choices include peashrub, cotoneaster, lilac, sumac, buffaloberry, mountain mahogany, privet and willow. Dense tree choices for the foothills include Colorado blue spruce, Eastern redcedar, Pinyon pine and Rocky Mountain juniper.

Design your windbreak as part of the landscape with rows perpendicular to prevailing winds-the rows do not need to be necessarily placed on a straight directional axis. The wind-protected area extends to a distance of approximately ten times the height of the tallest trees. Wind eddies can form around the ends of a windbreak, so plantings should extend 100 feet beyond the protected area. Gaps within the row will funnel and accelerate wind, reducing the windbreak’s effectiveness, so it’s better to plant the same type tree within the same row. Ideally, windbreaks consist of at least three rows. Diversity of tree or shrub choice will yield not only a more visually pleasing outcome, but will increase the disease and insect resistance and enhance the windbreak as a wildlife habitat. The row closest to the wind should be shrubs and the row closest to what you are screening should be trees. To determine spacing between the rows, refer to the plant’s mature size. At maturity, the sides of each plant should slightly overlap or “touch.”

In general, shrubs need spacing of four to six feet; junipers and cedars need six to eight feet; pines and spruce need ten to 14 feet. The distance between rows should be a minimum of eight feet, with a maximum of 15 feet, dependent upon available space. If windbreaks are planted too close to driveways or roads, the windbreak can actually cause snow to pile up and drift. It’s best not to plant trees any closer than 60 to 70 feet from the desired protected area-snow can drift a distance of three times the height of the windbreak.

Types Of Windbreaks: How To Create A Windbreak In The Landscape

How would you like to save as much as 25 percent on your energy bills? A well-sited windbreak can do just that by filtering, deflecting and slowing wind before it reaches your home. The result is an insulated area that provides a more comfortable environment both indoors and out. Let’s learn more about how to create and care for windbreaks.

Garden Windbreak Design

The best garden windbreak design incorporates up to four rows of trees and shrubs. It begins with a row of tall evergreens closest to the home, with rows of successively shorter trees and shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous, behind it. This design directs the wind up and over your home.

The National Renewable Energy Foundation recommends planting the windbreak at a distance of two to five times more than the height of the closest trees. On the protected side, the windbreak reduces wind strength for a distance of at least ten times its height. It also has a moderating effect on the wind on the other side.

You should allow 10 to 15 feet of empty space between rows within the windbreak. Multi-layered types of windbreaks are best suited to open rural landscapes. Read on for

information about single-layered windbreaks for urban environments.

Plants and Trees to Grow as Windbreaks

When choosing plants and trees to grow as windbreaks, consider sturdy evergreens with lower branches that extend all the way to the ground for the row closest to the home. Spruce, yew and Douglas fir are all good choices. Arborvitae and Eastern red cedar are also good trees to use in windbreaks.

Any sturdy tree or shrub works in the back rows of a windbreak. Consider useful plants such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs and trees that provide shelter and food for wildlife, and those that produce materials for crafts and woodworking.

Cold air pools around the base of the shrubs on the windy side, so choose shrubs that are a little hardier than what you would usually need in the area.

How to Create a Windbreak in Urban Landscapes

Urban homeowners don’t have the space for rows of trees and shrubs to protect their home, but they have the advantage of nearby structures to help moderate the effects of strong winds. In the city, a single row of small trees or tall hedge shrubs, such as junipers and arborvitae, can be quite effective.

In addition to a windbreak, you can insulate the foundation of your house by planting a dense row of shrubs spaced 12 to 18 inches from the foundation. This provides an insulating cushion of air that helps regulate the loss of cooled air in summer. In winter it prevents frigid air and blowing snow from becoming trapped against the house.

Care for Windbreaks

It is essential to get the trees and shrubs off to a good start so they become sturdy plants that can stand up to strong winds for many years to come. Keep children and pets out of the area for the first year or two to prevent damage to the lower branches of young saplings.

Water the trees and shrubs regularly, especially during dry spells. Deep watering helps the plants develop strong, deep roots.

Wait until the first spring after planting to fertilizer the plants in your windbreak. Spread 10-10-10 fertilizer over the root zone of each plant.

Use mulch to suppress weeds and grass while the plants become established.

Best Evergreens for Windbreaks

To select the best plants or trees for your windbreak, consider the severity of the need as well as the space you have available and any ornamental qualities you prefer. This well help you determine which plants are most suitable for your property.

Consider the conditions of your property and what you would like to accomplish. To screen a single level home from cold north winds you will not need a tall windbreak. To screen from strong winds in more open or rural areas you will need a dense windbreak. To screen a leisure area from summer winds you may only need a few ornamental trees under planted with attractive shrubs. The most important thing is to select plants that are hardy to your region, grows well in your soil type and that will withstand the windy condition. Your local University Extension Service may be able to give you good advice regarding plant selection for your region. You may also want to consider using a combination of plants that will not only look more natural but also allow you to include interesting or ornamental plants that work well with your landscape design.

Evergreens are very commonly used for windbreaks. Dense conifers provide adequate windbreak in a single row. More open forms will provide 40% windbreak density and may need two rows or a mix of varieties in open prairie or rural areas.

Spruce have dense foliage and grow relatively quickly. The foliage is typically dense right to ground level and do not experience much die back and needle drop on the lower branches.

  • Black Hills Spruce Picea Densata and Colorado Blue Spruce Picea pungens both have very dense foliage and are slow growing at 6 to 12 inches per year. Large spreading roots and tough flexible wood makes them excellent standing up to high winds. They are very tolerant of road salt and are drought resistant but when planted closely in a windbreak it is important to give them adequate water. They will grow 50 to 100 feet tall, plant 16 to 20 feet apart. Disease problems can afflict the Colorado blue in Central and Eastern States. West of the Mississippi River they can live 80 or more years.

  • White Spruce are very tolerant of strong winter winds with wide spreading roots and tough flexible limbs.. It can grow 2 feet a year and can live more than 80 years in a windbreak. it will grow 40 to 80 feet tall, plant 14 to 20 feet apart.

  • Norway Spruce are fast growing at 2 to 3 feet per year and has tough flexible limbs. It is moderately tolerant of road salt. It does not like wet soil but is tolerant of just about any other soil condition. It will grow 50 to 100 feet tall, plant 16 to 18 feet apart.

  • Meyers Spruce will thrive further south than most spruce

Cedar have dense foliage and grow relatively quickly.

  • White Cedar will tolerate being planted quite close together. This allows you to create a dense but single row windbreak. They also shear well to create a nice hedge. White Cedar are quite sensitive to road salt. It will grow 30 to 60 feet tall, plant 5 to 10 feet apart.

Juniper

  • Eastern Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana will thrive in nearly any climate or soil. The dense foliage tolerates shearing to create a hedge or maintain size and is the best choice for a single row windbreak. Eastern Red Cedar has a moderate growth rate of 1 to 2 feet per year and is long lived. This is one of the best performing evergreens for a windbreak and will live well over a hundred years. Easter Red Cedar is somewhat tolerant of road salt. This medium evergreen tree will be up to 30 feet tall or more, plant 12 to 20 feet apart.

  • Rocky Mountain Juniper Juniperus scopulorum is a slow growing evergreen of medium size. It will be up to 20 feet tall, plant 10 to 20 feet apart.

Fir have dense foliage and grow relatively quickly.

  • Douglas Fir are relatively fast growing at one to two feet per year and will reach 80 feet tall and 20 feet wide. The limbs are strong with a form that sheds ice and snow. Well drained soil is required, or plant on a slope. Douglas Fir are somewhat tolerant of road salt. Plant 14 to 20 feet apart.

  • Concolor Fir Abies concolor grows at a medium rate of 12 inches per year with a nice compact pyramid form. The roots are shallow and spreading with branches not quite as strong as spruce but typically do not sustain ice and snow damage. But this fir needs well drained soil and performs best as a windbreak tree in the high plains states where it can grow from 30 to 100 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide and live more than 40 years. Plant 14 to 20 feet apart.

  • Canaan Fir Abies balsamea phanerolepies grows one to two feet per year and will reach 50 feet tall and 15 feet wide. This fir adapts to more growing conditions than the Balsam or Fraser fir, performing very well in windbreaks all across the central plains and Midwest as well as the east coast. Plant 14 to 20 feet apart.

  • Balsam Fir is nearly indistinguishable from the Canaan Fir. With superior performance the Canaan Fir is suggested as a better choice for a windbreak.

  • Fraser Fir

Pine have moderately dense foliage. Lower branches in particular may experience die back and heavy needle drop. Austrian and Scotch Pines are somewhat prone to insect and disease problems as they mature and in general may decline in health after 20 to 25 years.

  • Austrian Pine Pinus nigra Austrian Pine provides a medium density. This is one of the best performing evergreens for a windbreak. This medium sized evergreen will be up to 35 feet tall, plant 15 to 25 feet apart.

  • White Pine grows well in sandy soil and is drought tolerant. It is fast growing, 2 or 3 feet per year. A good root systems holds up to wind, but the slightly brittle limbs can break from snow, ice and heavy wind. White Pine are very sensitive to road salt, which can easily be thrown 60 or more feet by a snow plow. It will grow to 50 to 100 feet tall, plant 16 to 18 feet apart.

  • Ponderosa Pine Pinus ponderosa are a medium sized evergreen with medium density. This is one of the best performing evergreens for a windbreak. It will be up to 35 feet tall, plant 15 to 25 feet apart.

  • Afghanistan Pine Pinus elderica is a very tall evergreen with a narrow form that grows fairly quickly. This is one of the best performing evergreens for a windbreak. It will be 50 or more feet tall, plant 10 to 20 feet apart.

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