A well-maintained shelterbelt is not just a row of trees; it’s a dynamic, living system that plays an essential role in protecting your landscape.

Check out this Gardening at USask Video where Drew talks about different aspects of shelterbelt maintenance, from selecting the right trees to proper pruning and everything in between:

Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place:

Your choice of tree can significantly impact the long-term success of your shelterbelt. Choosing a tree that requires less maintenance overall will result in less work down the road. Each planting site is different so it is important to select tree species that will thrive in your specific climate and soil conditions. 

For example, Blue Spruce (Colorado Spruce) is a popular option for shelterbelts. It is well suited to sunny locations with dry soils but it does not do very well in shade or wetter conditions. Whereas, White Spruce can handle shadier areas.  

Make sure to take into consideration all aspects of a tree’s growth. This means more than just looking at soil and lighting preferences. It is important to consider a tree’s height, spread/width, and even branching density. The growth habit of a tree will influence how successful it is as a windbreak. 

Plan for Gaps

Over time, your shelterbelt may develop gaps due to tree death, disease, or other issues. These gaps can reduce the effectiveness of your shelterbelt. To mitigate this, plan ahead by adding extra rows to your shelterbelt. This means creating denser rows in some areas and lighter ones in others. This proactive approach ensures that you won’t have to deal with inconvenient gaps later on.

The Power of Mulch

Mulch is your ally in shelterbelt maintenance. Use coarse wood mulch to keep weeds in check and retain moisture. You can obtain mulch from tree branches and trees you’ve pruned or removed. This sustainable approach helps maintain a healthy environment for your shelterbelt.

Timing is Everything

Pruning and tree removal should be done at the right time of year. Avoid pruning or removing trees when they are actively growing, as this can stress the trees. Ideally, you should prune and remove trees when they are dormant. In the Prairie regions, late winter or early spring (around April) is often the best time to do this. Timing is critical to avoid unnecessary damage to your shelterbelt.

Regular Pruning

Pruning is a crucial aspect of shelterbelt maintenance. Instead of waiting for a decade to address overgrown trees, practice regular pruning. A little pruning each year is far more manageable and less stressful for both you and the trees. It also helps you better understand how the trees respond to your pruning techniques.

Smart Spacing

Spacing between trees is another crucial consideration. For example, it’s unwise to plant pine and spruce trees too close together, assuming you’ll remove some later. This seldom works as planned, and self-pruning can damage the trees’ health. Ensure you understand the ideal spacing for the tree species you’ve chosen and stick to it.

Manage Weeds

Weeds can be a headache in shelterbelts, but there are effective strategies for keeping them at bay. Tilling is an option but should be used sparingly, as it can damage tree roots. You can plant low-growing grasses or shrubs between rows to suppress weeds. The key is to create a balance and avoid turning your shelterbelt into a barren space. 

Empty space is where weeds will thrive. Incorporating various layers of understory plants will mimic what happens in forests, giving less space for weeds to grow. Native plants like Bearberry, Common Blueberry, and Wild Strawberry are great groundcover species that can help manage weeds. Other less woody, native forbs like Asters and Goldenrods can also be used with the side benefit of helping native pollinators.

A shelterbelt is a living, functioning system that helps your land by reducing wind, attracting wildlife, and reducing soil erosion. It’s a system that needs support and maintenance. As the steward of your land, you’re the steward of your shelterbelt. Plan ahead, check in with it often, know your shelterbelt, know your land.

A well-maintained shelterbelt is not just a row of trees; it’s a dynamic, living system that plays an essential role in protecting your landscape.

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
See what trees and shrubs are currently available at TreeTime.ca