A successful windbreak must be sited in the proper location and comprise the proper trees and shrubs. In northern areas, windbreaks are planted on the north and west sides of a site to block cold northwesterly wind and blowing snow in winter. In dry climates, windbreaks are used to block hot, desiccating winds and prevent soil erosion in summer. When choosing plants, select trees and shrubs that are able to withstand high wind and storms. Your local university or county extension service can recommend wind-resistant plants for your area.
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Needle evergreens are an excellent choice for windbreaks, providing year-round protection. If you're planting slow-growing evergreen trees, add fast-growing trees and shrubs that can be removed when the primary evergreens mature. Arborvitaes are popular trees for windbreaks. Tall, narrow varieties are particularly useful for areas where space is limited. Larger evergreen species include Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce, many species of pine, leyland cypress, Douglas fir, eastern red cedar and other junipers. All these trees retain their lower branches except the eastern red cedar.
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Although deciduous trees are less effective as winter windbreaks, they often will grow in areas unsuitable for evergreens. If space is available, plant deciduous trees in your evergreen windbreak to add colour and visual interest. Columnar trees such as Lombardy poplar, English oak and fastigiate hornbeam are good choices where planting space is limited. Larger wind-resistant trees include linden, Siberian elm, Russian olive, pin oak and willow oak. Plant flowering crabapples to add colour and wildlife value to your windbreak.
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When planting a windbreak of deciduous trees, it's necessary to plant shrubs to fill in the lower portions of the windbreak. Choose large, wind-resistant shrubs that are either evergreen or deciduous. For a small residential site, a windbreak can be composed of just shrubs. Viburnums, lilacs and serviceberries are large, flowering shrubs that also provide food and shelter for wildlife. Other attractive wind-resistant shrubs are juniper, red twig dogwood, sumac and ninebark.
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Wind in arid regions intensifies climatic conditions by making it drier in summer, carrying sand and dust, and making winter wind more penetrating. Windbreaks in residential areas protect garden plants and create sheltered areas for outdoor activities. Many pine, cypress and juniper trees, with their dense, low-branching structures, are suitable for windbreaks. For leaf and flower colour, add acacia, desert willow and olive trees to the planting. Tamarisk is often used for windbreaks, but it can be an invasive weed. Shrubs that can be used include low junipers, manzanita and even large cacti. For attractive flowering shrubs, include Texas ranger, oleander and bottlebrush.