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How to Create a Windbreak in a Small Space

Years ago rural homeowners were encouraged to plant windbreaks on the north and west sides of their home to save energy and create wildlife habitat. I don’t have the space to plant double rows of large evergreens. Are there some other ways I can get some protection and still provide the wildlife benefits?

It’s true that by incorporating certain design elements into your landscape design, you can help control the comfort level and energy efficiency of your indoor and outdoor living areas. Windbreaks are a practice that have been in use for quite some time and as we all feel the need to do our part to save energy, they are still quite beneficial.

I love the idea of a windbreak pulling double duty by using plants that offer food and shelter for wildlife. Not only are you helping the birds and other animals in your area, but you will find that such a spot in your garden will offer many hours of enjoyment that’s more entertaining than watching TV.

There are several alternatives for those who do not have the space for traditional double row windbreaks. A single row of evergreen trees installed on the northwest side of your home provides some benefit. When there is room for only one row of trees, try to pick ones that retain their lower branches and are suitable for your climate. However, if they do thin out near the ground as they mature, you can combine them with a row of low growing, spreading evergreen shrubs to fill in the bare spots.

Red and white cedars, hemlocks, junipers and spruce all have different varieties and cultivars in various heights, widths and growth habits and could be arranged to fit into the smaller landscape and provide the shelter needed by wildlife.

Large evergreen shrubs can be used closer to the home for winter protection and to direct cooling breezes in summer. They serve to reduce wind velocities and redirect the air flow. This is more practical for small areas and subdivision lots where space does not allow the use of conventional windbreaks. They should be planted close enough to form a solid wall and far enough away from the house (about 4 to 5 feet minimum) to create a dead air space. This relatively still air has much more insulating power than moving air, and can help reduce the loss of heat through the walls.

Large shrubs used as foundation plantings also protect the home from winter winds and summer heat.

Nesting boxes, feeders and watering sites can be added to these plants to improve the habitat for wildlife.

Plants can help reduce energy consumption year round. Vines, shrubs and certain trees can be used as espaliers (plants trained to grow flat against walls) provides foliage cover that insulates your home’s walls against summer heat and winter winds. And, once again, careful selection of plants that have berries and protective branches can provide food and habitat for wildlife and create diversity. Plants that flower and bear fruit at different times of the year are particularly beneficial. Some shrubs that produce berries can provide food throughout the year. Trees bearing nuts and fruit can also be used.

A windbreak takes time to establish for it to be effective. For immediate relief from the effects of wind, construct a fence with an open weave pattern (e.g., basket weave). This creates a larger, protected downwind area than a solid fence. Windbreaks should allow some wind penetration. Those composed of living plants naturally allow some of the wind to come through, which makes them more efficient. Impenetrable windbreaks such as solid fences create a partial vacuum on the protected side, reducing their effectiveness.