Windbreaks can improve wildlife habitat as well as reduce heating bills, provide protection from high winds and snow, and enhance landscape aesthetics. This page shows you how.

How big should my windbreak be?

Where space permits, a windbreak of five rows of trees and shrubs is recommended. A five-row windbreak with proper spacing between rows will measure from 80 to 90 feet in width. Where space is limited, three rows, measuring from 40 to 50 feet in width, may be established.

What kinds of trees and shrubs should I use?

Hardwood and deciduous trees, which shed their leaves in the fall, are not as effective as evergreen species for winter protection. However, the bare limbs of deciduous trees will reduce wind velocities to some extent. Also, hardwood species are faster growing and taller at maturity than most evergreens. A combination of evergreens and hardwoods is recommended for demonstration purposed in an outdoor classroom.

When should I plant?

Planning for windbreaks should be undertaken in the fall with planting in the spring. The following diagrams will help in this planning.

Black haw Black alder Pin oak Black alder Black haw
Deciduous holly Hawthorn northern red oak Hawthorn Deciduous holly
Flowering quince Jack pine Shingle oak Jack pine Flowering quince
Forsythia Persimmon Soft maple Persimmon Forsythia
Highbush cranberry Red cedar White pine Red cedar Highbush cranberry
Lilac Scotch pine Green ash Scotch pine Lilac
Mock orange Serviceberry Loblolly pine Serviceberry Mock Orange
Redbud Norway spruce Shortleaf pine Norway spruce Redbud
Pyracantha   Yellow Poplar   Pyracantha
Privet       Privet
Nanking cherry       Nanking cherry
Tatarian honeysuckle       Tatarian honeysuckle


The diagram below shows the planting arrangement of a hardwood and evergreen windbreak. The staggered row arrangement gives best coverage.

Rows one through three can be used when planning a three-row windbreak with row one on the windward side (side exposed to the wind). To be effective, a three-row windbreak should have its inside row no less than 100 feet from any building or roads needing protection from winds and drifting snow. In planning the shape of windbreak, consideration should be given to wind direction, roads, lanes, topography, buildings, fences, available space and other trees present.

  • Mark your windbreak site for planting before the trees and shrubs arrive.
  • Planting should begin as soon as possible. If delay is necessary, store seedlings in a cool place in the shade. The roots should be kept moist but not submerged in standing water.
  • The importance of keeping the roots moist until planting cannot be over stressed. Plant trees in small numbers using a tree-planting bar or tile spade. A power post hole auger is an ideal way of planting larger seedlings.
  • Seedling loss will occur during the first year when the seedlings are just beginning to develop. The roots require thorough watering on a weekly basis through the first growing season, especially during the hot summer months.
  • Any attempt to establish a windbreak without weed control is likely to be disastrous. Weeds may be controlled by cultivation or mulching. Immediately after planting, trees need to be staked to provide stability during the first year and to provide protection from lawn mowers, especially in those areas where weed control may be delayed.
  • Fertilizer should not be applied for a year or two to avoid competition from grass and weeds. Excessive applications of fertilizer can damage young roots.


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