Proper Maintenance Contributes to Windbreak Efficiency

Proper Maintenance Contributes to Windbreak Efficiency

June 27, 2008

Windbreaks need maintenance, especially during their first five years, if they are to give the protection they're designed to provide.

'Your goal is to protect and maintain the individual trees while at the same time maintaining the structure of the windbreak as a whole," said Steve Lyda, NRCS conservation forestry specialist.

To reach that goal, landowners and operators need to practice weed control, protect the windbreak from large animals and rodents, prune it, control insects and disease, and use chemicals in neighboring fields to avoid drift, Lyda said.

"In my opinion, weed control is the most important part of caring for a new windbreak," he said.

It's best to control the weeds both in the rows and between them for the first three to five years, he said. Landowners can choose mechanical, chemical, mulch or fabric weed control. Two or three mechanical weed removal passes per season will eradicate most annual and biannual weeds and suppress most perennials. Cultivation should stop in late summer to allow the plants to harden for the winter.

Avoid clean cultivation, Lyda said. Clearing all weed residue would allow wind erosion. Windbreaks also provide a lot of wildlife habitat between the rows if not cleaned up too thoroughly.

Lyda advised caution in using chemicals and recommending contacting an extension educator for helping identifying ones that would not harm trees.

Mulches can keep weeds from getting out of control and so can black plastic fabric, particularly in west central Nebraska where rainfall is limited. Hay or fine sawdust can smother the roots.

Thinning or Bolstering Windbreaks

A windbreak is made in such a way that all the leaves and branches contribute to its effectiveness. There may be times when the structure is too dense or the trees are too tightly packed into a restricted area. That can be remedied by some careful tree removal.

If the windbreak is not dense, adding a few trees might solve the problem.

"Judicial pruning can also help a windbreak become more dense by improving individual trees" structure. But resist any urge to prune a windbreak tree like you would a residential tree," Lyda said.

For more information, EC1768, Windbreak Management, provides good guidance.

Faith Colburn
Communication Specialist