Picking the right trees for a windbreak is a little like hiring the right person for a specific job: you'll get the best performance by matching qualifications with the job requirements. First, look for tree species that can handle the growing conditions where you plan to plant them, suggests Gregg Maxfield, a district forest manager with the ODNR Division of Forestry. "Soil type is really key," he stresses.
For instance, if you're planting in heavy clay soils, Baldcypress would grow better than White Pine. However, the White Pine would do better on sandy soils because it is more tolerant of droughty conditions.
Also consider whether you want the windbreak to just control wind erosion or provide wildlife habitat as well. Trees with narrow crowns such as the Arborvitae and Northern White Cedar can make a good single row windbreak if wind protection is the main objective and space is tight. Adding a second row with staggered spacing will make the windbreak more effective, Maxfield notes. He also recommends using a variety of species. "You'll have a planting that's more resistant against insects and diseases," he explains.
To provide year-around wind protection, windbreaks need at least one row of evergreens. Many landowners also choose to include rows of small trees and shrubs in their windbreaks to add visual appeal or provide wildlife habitat. For instance, American Plum has showy white flowers in the spring and also produces fruit eaten by many different birds and animals. Red Osier Dogwood is another popular choice because of its distinctive red stems. It also provides food and cover for birds.
For the best wind protection, shorter trees and shrubs should be planted upwind of the taller evergreens so the wind will stair-step up over the windbreak rather than hitting a wall of trees, Maxfield says. However, some people choose to put shrubs on the inside of their windbreaks so they can see them and the wildlife they attract.
For more information on choosing trees and designing a windbreak, refer to the Ohio Windbreak Guide, available online at www.dnr.state.oh.us/forestry/ or through the SWCD office.