Words of Winds-dom: Protecting Your Plants and Home from Winter Winds

MAR 03

Has it been cold enough for you this winter? Temperatures have certainly been low and the wind chill makes some days feel even colder. Wind chill is how cold the air feels on your skin, resulting from the combined effect of low temperatures and wind. Fortunately, because plants don't have skin, they aren't affected by wind chill the same way we are. If the temperature is 40°F, and the wind chill makes the air feel like 30°F, the plant still behaves as if it is 40°F. However, wind chill - or the speed of the wind - does affect your plants in other ways. Winds can dry out stems and foliage causing browning and dieback, evaporate moisture in the soil, and result in cracks, splits or breaks in branches.

To protect your plants from damaging winter winds, add a thick layer of mulch to your garden beds. This will reduce moisture loss in the ground and keep your plants insulated. Also, to lessen damage and dehydration in stems and foliage, consider wrapping sensitive plants with a burlap cover. This is especially true for broadleaf-evergreens that are subject to winter burn, such as hollies, rhododendron, and azaleas. If heavy wind, snow and ice have resulted in broken branches, proper pruning can help save a tree or shrub. Of course, in a retroactive sense, the placement of your plants is an important factor. Avoid planting evergreens that are subject to winter burn on a site with heavy exposure to sun and wind. Or, pro-actively, provide shelter for these plants with a windbreak of more rugged trees and shrubs.

Creating landscape windbreaks is a great way to protect the more delicate plants in your yard from harsh winds. Groupings of properly placed trees, shrubs and vines can protect your home (and wallet) as well.  According to Montgomery County's Department of Environmental Protection, the average home loses almost one third of its heat due to cold winds. Having a windbreak in your yard will deflect winds, lower the wind chill, and reduce heating costs by as much as 30%!  To capitalize on windbreak benefits, here are some tips for success:

  • An effective windbreak should be tall enough to push the air up and away when planted at a distance from your home of 2 to 5 times the height of the windbreak's mature trees. (If the trees used will reach 40 feet at maturity, for example, plant 80 - 200 feet from your home.) If you have a smaller yard, don't fret! A row of small or midsize trees will be helpful to reducing wind chill.
  • The most common type of windbreak is a grouping of dense, low branching, usually evergreen trees and shrubs planted in an "L" or "U" shape on the north and northwest sides of the house.
  • Think year-round energy savings: Mix deciduous trees into (or near) your windbreak. This not only breaks up uniformity, but trees with large canopies will shade your house in the summer, thus decreasing cooling costs!
  • Benefits for All: Our wildlife is in need of shelter and resources too, so think about incorporating natives! Eastern Red Cedar, Eastern Hemlock, American Holly and White Pines are great choices.

As spring is just around the corner (not that we're anxiously awaiting its arrival or anything!!), consider increasing your yard's beauty and efficiency with windbreaks. The right plants in the right places protect your yard from winter damage, decrease wind chill, lower heating costs, and add aesthetic interest, privacy and value to your home. Plan for tomorrow by planting today!