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Windbreaks require maintenance to be effective in protecting against windy climates

Tree windbreaks can provide valuable protection for livestock, crops and the family homestead. However, many trees within the windbreak may be damaged after the drought in 2012. 

Nebraska Southwest District Forester Rachel Allison urges producers to assess their tree windbreaks and consult with a district forester to repair the damage. 

Some things to evaluate include the age of trees in the windbreak, whether the trees are a single species or multiple species mixed with hardwoods and conifers, what the windbreak used for and does it protect livestock, a farmstead or fields. Producers should also count how many trees were lost.

Decline

“General decline symptoms of the trees may not be that noticeable,” Allison said. 

If the windbreak is becoming low density, it may indicate decline. Other symptoms are tufts of growth at the tips of the trees and grass moving into the understory. It may also no longer provide good wind protection. 

“Some of this decline may have occurred over several years and just wasn’t noticed,” Allison said. “But, suddenly there is a lot going on. It is a good idea to walk the entire length of the windbreak and note its condition.”

Several changes can be made to the windbreak design to improve it. 

“The design element is important. Plan for moisture, understand the growth of the trees that are being planted and select different varieties for plant diversity,” she said. 

It is also important to stay true to evergreen or hardwood rows, work with volunteer trees if they can be used and continue to plan for maintenance of the windbreak.

Removal

Allison said some producers may chose to completely remove the windbreak, which leaves no protection. Instead, she recommends leaving standing dead trees and replanting the windbreak with seedlings. 

“Even a standing dead tree can provide protection to get the new seedlings started,” she explained. 

Other options are multiple or single row removal, planting new rows within the windbreak to maintain wind protection from older trees, supplemental rows added to the north or west, which is the windward side during the winter, and hand planting individual trees where needed. 

“If a producer considers supplemental row planting, I would urge them to consider the space needs for the remaining rows when they are planting new trees,” Allison said. “Look at how the new trees will affect the mature trees and make sure they won’t be crowded and all the trees will receive enough moisture.”

Other considerations

If the windbreak is too thick, Allison said the narrow spacing could be thinned to reduce competition. She recommends selecting the superior trees to keep in the windbreak. 

“Complete rows could be removed if they are too close to each other,” she said. “These trees could be transplanted to vacant spots if needed.”

Because of the direction of the wind, Allison said north and west rows of trees should be maintained if possible. 

“It is better to remove more trees from the south or leeward side,” she said. “The best case scenario is a multi-aged forest. Plant multiple rows and mix hardwood and evergreen species.”

“Once the windbreak is established, re-evaluate if it is providing the cover and protection needed and if that protection is needed in other pastures or in a new rotation system,” Allison continued. “Lastly, remember to work with the wind and determine potential winter and summer moisture patterns when setting out new rows. Try to provide some type of watering system, if it is needed.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..