Windbreaks, Borders, and Screens

Windbreaks, Borders, and Screens

Designing and Planting Green Barriers

There is a difference between privacy screens and other barriers. A windbreak is an effective barrier, several rows wide, and should be composed of several types of trees and tall shrubs. This is different than a fenceline border, or privacy screen, which are basically planting trees in one or two rows.

Depending on the project and the space available, additional rows might be added. Each additional row is planted offset or zigzagged to the others. The more rows you can plant, the greater the barrier will become. This is particularly true for windbreaks and noise barriers.

Here is an important factor... Understandably you want it now, but save yourself the headaches, expense, and future hassles by selecting the right trees for the project. Cost is always a factor, not just buying big trees versus small ones, but also planting, watering, time, and upkeep costs too. The other thing to consider is the outcome. What will you achieve, and what value have you added to your property. Is the goal a screen to block out the view of the neighbors, reduce wind, noise abatement, visuals, or other objectives? Knowing the project, you can better design the barrier. Trees and plants for the home, farm, or commercial project, are an investment.

Fenceline or border trees, which also work as solid screens, are the Ameri-Willow, Lombardy Poplar, other fast-growing broadleafs, and most of the conifers. Plant one row, and the spacing can vary depending on how much you want to block the view. The willows and poplars will grow really fast, but drop their leaves in the fall. The conifers will stay thick and green year-round, but are much slower growing. The birch and aspens have fall coloration, and the flowering cherries, pears, and plums add a nice visual effect in the springtime. Here again, the fenceline planting depends on the goal or desired look.

If space is more available to let the trees spread out, then the Leyland Cypress and Hybrid Poplar, and others make effective screens. Plant one or more rows. These grow fast, and the cypress stays green, while the poplar drops its leaves in the fall. By planting a row of fast-growing hardwoods, and a row of slower-growing evergreens, you can have year-round screening, and fast growth!

For privacy screens, one or more rows can be planted. Ideally, it would be nice to have super-fast growing evergreens, and only need to plant a single row. Unfortunately, most of the evergreens grow fairly slow. Some like the Cherry Laurel, Leyland Cypress, Mondell Pine, to name some of the more popular types, can grow fairly fast. Still, the broadleafs, namely the willows and poplars, grow much faster, and can produce a modest screen within a couple years. Climate or Plant Zones, and growing conditions will influence the species that can grow best in a particular area.

Some of the faster growers like the willows and poplars like wetter ground, and can handle ponded water for extended periods of time, whereas many of the evergreens like the pines and Leyland Cypress prefer drier soils and non-ponded conditions. But often you want to plant the two types of trees together. The trick is to prepare the ground before you plant. Make low spots (or a trench with a tractor) for the trees that like moister conditions, and mounds to plant the trees that prefer drier conditions. It adds to the work, but it can make all the difference.

For thick, year round screens, firs, spruce, hemlocks, and cedars do well. Douglas-Fir can grow fairly fast, about 1 to 3 feet a year, but the others will grow about 1 foot a year. Here is that time factor, but the outcome is impressive. Starting with larger trees will trim off a couple years, but the costs will be higher. But if a row of faster-growing broadleafs is also planted, you would get a fast screen, while the evergreens are slowly growing. Then once the evergreens reach the desired size,the broadleafs can be cut down if desired.

A screen around a pool might be planted with tall shrubs like the Cherry Laurel, Red-Tip Photinia, Japanese Snowball, and others, instead of trees. The roots systems will stay fairly small and not interfere with the pool, and they wont shade the water. For key spots, like to block a neighbors window, plant one or more trees, but further away from the pool. Planting three trees (the same species, or a mix) in a triangle can make for a very effective block.

For value and beauty, lines of birch or aspen really are spectacular. They don't make thick effective screens, but for increasing value to a property, how can you beat a driveway or fenceline with these? Colorado Blue Spruce is also a choice for "valuable" lines. Here again, consider combining the hardwoods and evergreens for a year-round green barrier.

There are other trees and tall shrubs that can be used in lines, like Sweetgum, Russian Olive, the pines, and others, and they are fine, but the project depends on your needs and desired outcome. Think about it.

Spacing, is a factor of available space and the trees' normal shape. The general rule of thumb is 6 to 10 feet apart. Slower growing and more narrow shaped trees can be planted closer together so the line fill in sooner. For faster growing or wider-shaped types, then planting can be spaced wider. Planting two staggered or offset rows can change the spacing also. Instead of planting a poplar (for example) six feet apart, two offset rows can be planted at eight or ten feet apart. The effective spacing is then four or five feet apart. It helps to draw your plans on paper and try different arrangements and types of trees and shrubs.

Planting is easy, but planting a long row or several rows can make for a long day! Dig a hole a little bit larger than the roots are wide (when spread out. Place the tree in the hole so the roots can then be covered completely. Scoop the soil back into the hole. Water it, and that's basically it! You can mix in organic materials or bagged soil mixes, but this is not needed unless your soil is very heavy clay or rocky, or very sandy. Do place a layer of mulch around the trees to help conserve water, suppress weeds, and help insulate roots from weather extremes.

Do not fertilize. Let the trees get settled in for a month or so before sprinkling a light fertilizer on the soil surface. Water the fertilizer in.

A water basin around the trees can be helpful, but also not needed. The mulch layer will be effective in conserving water, but also plan on some type of watering system. Depending on your set-up, there are many ways to add water, a hose, sprinklers, a drip tube set-up, or even the bucket method. Remember, during the the late spring through the summer months, water demand by the roots will greatly increase, so you may need to water more often or increase the volume for automated watering systems.

Lines of trees can block out wind, unsightly neighbors, or just add an attractive boundary marking. The lowest cost and most beneficial form of fencing and green barriers is to plant trees, but first have a project goal in mind, and then choose the tree species to best fit your climate and growing conditions. There is a lot to consider, but its worth it.

Happy Planting!

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