Want to learn more about shelterbelts and windbreaks and the different aspects involved in designing one? Check out this Gardening at USask video where Drew talks about basic shelterbelt design.

Shelterbelts are often overlooked and underappreciated but can significantly improve the quality of life for landowners. Whether you reside in an area with large amounts of wind, deal with dry conditions, or have plants struggling to survive, shelterbelts offer a versatile solution to these common challenges.

  1. Wind Protection: Shelterbelts act as a windbreak, providing protection up to 10-12 times the downwind height of the highest tree. This means a 100-foot tree can shield an area 1,000 to 1,200 feet downwind.
  1. Moisture Retention: Field shelterbelts help retain moisture in agricultural land, enhancing crop yields, and safeguarding against the drying effects of wind. This is significant, especially in drier regions where every drop of moisture counts.
  1. Diverse Planting Opportunities: Shelterbelts can also create a more abundant and varied landscape. Homeowners often plant fruit trees and berry bushes behind these protective barriers, enjoying homegrown produce that enhances their quality of life.

Changing Landscape of Shelterbelts:

Shelterbelts have come a long way since their initial purpose during the Dust Bowl era. They’ve evolved with advancements in growing technology and logistics, allowing for more diverse and flexible designs.

  • Shift from Large Field Shelterbelts: Modern agriculture, with its massive machinery, has led to a reduction in the number of large field shelterbelts. However, they remain a wise investment during droughts and for a more natural approach to farming.
  • Growing Popularity Among Small Acreage Owners: The real growth in shelterbelts is among smaller landowners, especially those residing near major centers. These individuals seek greater diversity and aesthetics in their shelterbelts, opting for curved and weaving designs that suit their specific property characteristics.

Creating Your Shelterbelt:

Before planting a shelterbelt, it’s crucial to understand your land thoroughly. Factors like wind direction, moisture levels, soil quality, and proximity to property lines and neighbors all play a role in the planning process.

  • Map Your Land: Use resources like Google Maps to assess your property’s orientation and wind patterns.
  • Consider Spacing: The right spacing is key to maximizing your shelterbelt’s effectiveness. Tailor your selection to your property’s unique needs. Make sure you take into consideration the number of rows you are planting. Planting multiple rows allows you to get the maximum benefit from your shelterbelt.
  • Water and Soil Conditions: Assess soil moisture and quality on your land. If it’s compacted and dry, plan and prepare accordingly. Compacted soil hinders root establishment. Plan for some form of irrigation as proper watering is crucial for seedlings until their roots are more established. Mulching is another consideration as it supports tree growth by retaining moisture and reducing weed competition.
  • Engage with Neighbors: Discuss your plans with neighbors to avoid potential conflicts related to pesticide use or other land management practices.
  • Talk to your County or Municipal District: Find out if there are any restrictions in place for the area you are planning to plant a shelterbelt. In some areas you are unable to plant right up to the property line or may need to take into consideration other factors such as overhead power lines.

Multiple Functions of Shelterbelts:

Shelterbelts are not only utilitarian; they serve multiple functions, including providing fresh fruit, enhancing landscape aesthetics, and for future production of firewood and mulch. They also have ecological benefits by increasing local biodiversity, offering a food source and habitat for local wildlife and pollinators.

  • Fruit and Berry Production: You can plan to incorporate fruit-bearing trees and shrubs to contribute to your personal food garden. Fruit and berries are also a source of food for various forms of wildlife. It is also important to consider what forms of wildlife you might be attracting to your landscape, and whether or not they are wanted. 
  • Flowering Varieties: If you are a fan of adding color to your landscape, planting different flowering shrubs can add to the aesthetic nature of the shelterbelt. For example, mixing different lilac varieties can extend the overall bloom period, adding beauty and fragrance to your property for weeks.
  • Riparian Zones: If you have a wet area on your property or it runs along a body of water, you can plant specific species to benefit that area. Having established vegetation along water bodies helps to prevent erosion.
  • Livestock protection: A well-designed shelterbelt can provide wind protection for animals and improve their overall comfort. However, it is important to remember that young shelterbelts and livestock don’t mix well so extra planning may be required. 

A well-planned shelterbelt should mimic Mother Nature, providing protection, biodiversity, and quality of life improvements to landowners. With the right approach, it’s possible to create a shelterbelt that enriches both the environment and your daily life.

Want more information on planting a shelterbelt?

Check out our other blog post to find a how-to guide for shelterbelt planting. Shelterbelt Planting: The Best Guide for Amazing Windbreaks.

Or download our Shelterbelt Tree Selection Guide

Check out what trees are currently available at TreeTime.ca