by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO As the ground begins to thaw, it’s just about time to plant tree seedlings and shrubs, and a good time to plan a windbreak around your homestead. When planted at the proper location, a windbreak can act as a snowfence, reduce heating costs, create a sound buffer, reduce soil erosion and provide wildlife habitat. There are a few rules to follow to be sure your time working on your windbreak is well spent.
If you start with small seedlings, it will take five years or more for your windbreak to start to function. If you start with larger trees, your cost will increase, but you will notice the windbreak’s benefits much sooner.
Plant your windbreak at right angles to the prevailing winds – primarily from the southwest in Huerfano County. For best snowdrift protection, the windbreak should be 150-200 feet away from the building(s) you want to shelter. Plan at least three parallel rows, about ten feet apart, for best results.
Keep seedlings cool and plant them as soon as you can after receiving them. Once a seedling’s roots are exposed to the air, you have four minutes to get it planted before the roots are permanently damaged. A polymer soil additive will hold up to 400 times its weight in water. Mixing the polymer with water and using the slurry when planting can help your seedlings survive drier periods between rainfalls or watering.
Weeds will steal water from your seedlings, so use a landscape fabric weed barrier around your trees. The barrier should extend at least two feet on each side of your tree row. Placing up to three inches of mulch over the weed barrier will hold moisture in the soil.
If your seedlings are small, consider using tree guards, perforated plastic tubes that are slipped over the seedling and staked to the ground. This will protect your tree investment from wind, winter sun scald, and being consumed by deer and rabbits. If you can’t or won’t use tree guards, choose deer-resistant species like common lilac, Colorado blue spruce, honey locust and Austrian pine. Fence livestock out of your planting – sooner or later they will trample your windbreak.
To encourage roots to grow into the deeper soil layers, where moisture is more available, deep water your seedlings regularly the first two years. To deep water, give each seedling a couple gallons of water (the equivalent of an inch of precipitation) once a month, depending on natural moisture. It is not recommended that you fertilize your seedlings with nitrogen until they have had a year to become established.
For more information on planting and care of windbreaks, go to http://csfs.colostate.edu/pages/conservation.html. The web site has printable guides on windbreak planning, tree planting and care, and tree and shrub species attractive to wildlife. Our local Colorado State Forest Service District Forester is C.K. Morey, (719) 742-3588. With over 40 years experience, Mr. Morey is an excellent resource for help in designing windbreaks.