What I Have Learned About Windbreaks



Our little house on the treeless prairie

Our little house on the treeless prairie

This post is not meant to be read as a tutorial, or as info handed down from an expert.

In fact a more appropriate title for this little piece would be “What I Am Learning About Windbreaks.” because this is all new information to me.

Up until we moved here, I knew what a windbreak was. Sort of. But I really didn’t understand the significance or importance of one. I didn’t need to. My suburban backyard garden was protected by its own micro climate created by four surrounding homes, shrubs, trees, and a privacy fence. Never before had I needed to worry about wind. I worried about pests, I worried about drought, but wind was not something I ever really considered.

Our spinach struggling along in the elements

Our spinach struggling along in the elements

Then we moved here.

There are no surrounding homes, there are no trees, and there never has been, never will be a privacy fence.

But there is wind. Lots of it. If we were a wind farm, we’d be mighty prosperous. But after seeing our fall garden suffer wind damage to the point that we lost a few small crops, and laying in bed on a windy night wondering if the roof was about to blow off, we began to research wind breaks.

* The height of the windbreak determines the amount of protection.

According to a rough formula presented in Making Your Small Farm Profitable, wind speed is reduced 2-5 times the height on the windward side (the direction the wind is coming from), and 30 times the height on the leeward (the direction the wind is going to) side.

While our ideal situation would be to have a series of full grown trees strategically placed according to the formula, we are several years away from that so we have erected and planned a few temporary windbreaks.

One has been a 4′ high silt fence that we were able to inexpensively purchase at Atwoods. While it really isn’t pretty, it was easy to install and can easily be moved wherever we need it.

The other temporary fix will be a variety of tall growing plants placed in front of and on either side of lower growing plants. Some of these will be green manure crops (fava purchased from Territorial Seed) that will serve a dual purpose of amending the soil while breaking the wind.

On the days where the wind is just totally out of control, we use shade cloth or floating row covers to provide additional protection.

Our series of temporary windbreaks

Our series of temporary windbreaks

*The most effective windbreaks are constructed from a variety of trees, properly spaced away from gardens and structures.

In the recently released Plowing with Pigs, the author recommends a “shelterbelt” consisting ten rows of trees and shrubs with the leeward rows planted 50 feet away from the area you want protected.

Learning this principle caused me some major concern. While we do live on what is for us a very large lot (10 acres) the lot is, relatively speaking narrow and deep. We really didn’t have the option of planting a band of short and tall trees 50-100 feet away, so we decided to just do the best that we could with the resources we were able to get and hope for the best.

*But trees are not cheap

If you are going to buy just one, spending $30 ~ $50 is really not that big of a deal. But if you need hundreds, and you are homesteading on a shoestring, $30~$50 each is cost prohibitive.

When we learned that our State Forestry service provided native bare root seedlings in bulk at low cost, we decided to go that route and ordered 100 arborvitae infants. They arrived the day of our one and only “blizzard” and were kept in a safe place in our barn until the weather had cleared enough for planting

Arborvitaes are not my favorite. I would have preferred a beautiful sweep of Loblolly Pines but arborvitaes were highly recommended as a windbreak, would serve well as a screen against the less attractive north side of the property, and are reported to tolerate drought and clay soil – two additional challenges we have been faced with.

Little guys lined up in a wheelbarrow waiting to be planted

Little guys lined up in a wheelbarrow waiting to be planted

We planted them at the north end of the property and soon learned though that 100 trees, which sounds to the inexperienced like a lot, really doesn’t go as far as you might think.

I had hoped we’d plant “a few” along the fence, and then “a few more” to the west, and still “a few more” around the house and pond to provide protection from that direction. The rest we’d give to my parents for their back yard.

After considerable research we decided to space them close: about 3′ apart. Since they reach a reported width of about 4′, we figured they would hopefully fuse together to form a strong screen along the fence. But that 100 never covered the fence. They didn’t even cover half of it.

A few more have been ordered, this time a song bird package that includes some native deciduous trees and tall growing shrubs to help provide the needed multi layered effect that we were lacking.

And now……. we simply wait for them to grow.

Windbreak 101 Black Fox Homestead.com

This post was featured at the Backyard Farming Connection Blog Hop!

Making Your Small Farm Profitable ~ This book has been on my husband’s nightstand since the beginning of this year. Although the author takes a more conventional approach to farming, the info is still invaluable to anyone wanting to make a living off the land.
Plowing with Pigs ~ No homestead library should be without this book. An excellent resource on using what you have, it covers everything from windbreaks to a homestead kitchen remodel. You can read my full review here.


Find this post and others like it linked to: Homemade Mondays, The Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Tuesday Garden Party, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Green Thumb Thursday, The Homestead Barn Hop

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What I Have Learned About Windbreaks — 16 Comments

  1. Can we say, unless you’re a wind farmer (which I totally support, BTW) that wind is the most annoying weather there is? Our arborvitaes did not survive our lack of water and humidity. I can do heat, water, snow, sleet…but wind, that makes me and all the animals CRAZY!

    • Yeah, OK has always been a windy state but his has just thrown me for a loop. I think it may take us a few seasons to figure things out here.

  2. “March comes in like a lion. So does April.” That’s what I wrote in my blog two years ago. When I tell my suburban friends it’s the wind that’s the most problematic of all weather, they just don’t understand. But then they’ve never seen a hundred pounds of chicken tractor sail off to Oz. I got my babies from the Arbor Day Foundation because I didn’t like the choices offered by our state forestry service. Your arborvitaes will be up in no time. I’ll have to wait considerably longer for my firs and spruces.

    • I would have been one of those that would not have understood. This has been probably one of the biggest adjustments since our move here. I hope your chicken tractor was empty when it was blown away. :( The first time I talked about the wind on my blog, someone said to be careful with our chickens when we got them, and I thought they were joking. We did have a storm the first month or so we were here that blew our trailer into the side of the barn.

  3. We were lucky to have a lot of trees on our property when we bought it. Maybe a few too many. We had to remove a few that were too close to the house and there are a couple more I’d like to take down because they are ugly, diseased, and spread a ton of seedlings.

    Best wishes with your windbreak. It will reward you more quickly than you realize! I like the idea of a mixed species stand of trees and shrubs :)

    Thanks for posting on The HomeAcre Hop!

    • Thank you. I hope it does well. Some of the bare root seedlings were starting to look gnarly and I hope they make it. I know out of that many we’re bound to probably lose a few but all the same…we have some mulberry, hackberry, fragrant sumac, and choke(cherry?berry?) to go in next. Then I want a few pink redbuds just because that is our state tree and they are so pretty.

      • Sounds like a great list! Hackberry are very hardy trees. Mulberries do spread like the dickens in bird droppings, but I love the fruit. :)
        Thanks for sharing this post on Wildcrafting Wednesday!

  4. Great post! We live in the woods, so wind isn’t an issue, but I can only imagine how hard it is to lose your garden overnight to winds!

    • Well we ordered a bunch more little trees, so maybe someday we will live in the woods too. :/

  5. Hi Jenny! We are also building our homestead and seem to be just a few steps behind you! Thank you for the information about the forestry service. I believe we are in the same area of the state, and the wind has been a struggle for sure! I fell in love with the openness and view, but now that we are here, I think planting some windbreaks is going to be necessary–especially after last winter! I just started a blog and would love it if you get a chance to pop in! http://www.ourlifeouthere.com


  6. We can get a variety of trees and shrubs on Arbor Day that are pretty reasonable. Arborvitae and Western Red Cedars are favorites of deer here–need protection or the deer eat the bottoms up as high as they can reach, leaving Dr. Seuss trees! Mixed shrubs and trees have the advantage of being prettier if you lose one. Missing just one part of a solid row is harder to fix.