Windbreaks take time to plan and plant, plus the cost of the trees and shrubs, but the benefits are many and varied: reduced heating bills, noise and visual screening, snow protection, benefits for crops and livestock, and improved outdoor working conditions. Quick growth is a desirable attribute but note that many fast-growing trees such as willows and poplars are also short-lived and may soon leave gaps in your windbreak.
Consider Your Environment
The fastest-growing tree won't do you any good if it fails to thrive because it's not suited to your soil or climate. Find out which USDA hardiness zone you live in. Then, do a soil pH test and look at the texture to determine whether it is sand, silt or clay. Research the types of trees available in your zone. For instance, slash pine and eastern red cedar both grow well in sandy soil in Florida, but slash pine does better on wet sites; red cedar is more tolerant of clay and alkaline soils.
Evergreen trees have the advantage of leaves to provide shelter year-round, but may provide more winter shade than you prefer. Trees hardy in the South include several species of Eucalyptus, slash pine, Deodar cedar and Southern Magnolia. In more Northern areas, eastern white pine, Norway spruce, Douglas fir, white fir and Nordman fir are all good choices.
Deciduous trees provide summer fullness in your windbreak without cutting out winter sunshine. Even the bare branches, however, can provide some shelter, especially in conjunction with evergreens. Lombardy poplar, willow and cottonwood are three fast-growing trees to avoid because of their short lifespan and invasive root systems. Instead, choose fastigiate (narrow) English oak, littleleaf linden, silk oak, black locust, catalpa, northern red oak, pin oak, red maple, silver maple or sweet gum.
Fill In With Tall Shrubs
Fast-growing trees often become bare at the bottom so having a line of tall shrubs and small trees to fill in will improve your windbreak considerably. Lilac and common privet are good choices, as are evergreen shrubs such as English laurel and Photinia fraseri in USDA zones 6 to 10. Prune them so they branch low and build a full, spreading framework to fill in the base of your windbreak.
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- University of Missouri Extension; Planning Tree Windbreaks in Missouri; John P. Slusher; December 1997
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Potential Woody Species and Species Attributes for Windbreaks in Florida; Michael G. Andreu, et al.; June 2009
- South Dakota Natural Resources; Windbreaks: The New Prairie Forests; Dr. John Ball, et al.
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension; Conserving Energy With Plants; M.A. Powell; April 1996
- Mid-Columbia Community Forestry Council; Windbreak Trees; Marianne C. Ophart