Plants for a windbreak
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Issue: March 17, 2007

Plants for a windbreak


Question:

Can you give me a suggestion for an evergreen tree/shrub that would be a good windbreak and would be relatively allergy friendly in that it doesn't produce a lot of pollen? I live west of Fort Sumner so the wind is also an issue. Do you have any suggestions? How about arbor vitae?

Judee B.

Answer:

In your area one of the best large shrubs or small trees to use in windbreaks is the juniper, often called "cedar". They are very tolerant of soil, wind, and drought. They will require irrigation to assure establishment, but afterwards irrigation can be reduced until the trees survive on natural precipitation. Junipers are associated with severe pollen allergy problems, but you can avoid that by planting only female plants. Junipers (except the one-seed juniper) are dioecious. That means they produce male (pollen producing) and female (berry-like cone producing) flowers on separate plants. By planting the ones that have berry-like cones, you can avoid the pollen.

Other plants to consider are some pines. Pines produce pollen that is wax coated and according to allergists do not cause pollen allergy problems. The Austrian black pines and the Scots pines are good choices for windbreaks in your area. They should do better than the Ponderosa pine, which does much better in the mountains. They are fairly drought tolerant, but will need irrigation during establishment and in very dry years.

The arbor vitae are very drought resistant plants, but also a producer of allergenic pollen. Since you want to avoid pollen problems, this may not be a good plant for you.

Windbreaks often consist of mixtures of deciduous and evergreen species. You asked only for evergreens, but if you want to consider some deciduous trees, consider some flowering trees. The crabapple and the apple produce attractive flowers in the spring and may have interesting fall color. Hawthorns may also be good choices. They produce attractive flowers to attract pollinators such as bees. Bee pollinated plants are less problematic for allergy sufferers because their pollen is heavier than pollen from wind pollinated plants. Their pollen doesn't blow as far with the wind (thus requiring a pollinator). Because a pollinator is used to carry the pollen from one flower to another assuring pollination, less pollen is produced. Both these facts reduce their potential to be pollen allergy problems.

Other deciduous trees such as elms and hybrid willows are often used in windbreak plantings. These trees are larger (a benefit), but they are also producers of windborne pollens and can be problems for people who are allergic to their particular pollens. The hybrid willows that are sold under several trade names grow rapidly and can be used to help block the wind while other windbreak trees are establishing. They require frequent irrigation to ensure rapid growth, but after they have reached adequate size they can be weaned from that level of irrigation to use less water. They will survive, but their growth will be reduced. Also be aware that the hybrid willows have some negative characteristics. They have short lives and often drop branches during windy periods. They may be good choices to help the rest of the windbreak establish, but you may want to remove them after the other trees are growing well.

When planting your windbreak, consider starting with small plants that are less affected by the wind. They will suffer less by wind and will establish their roots more quickly than a larger plant. In a few years they will be as large as one that was larger when planted. Most trees will require irrigation for at least two years. After that irrigation will be needed for some on a regular basis, others may need irrigation only in very dry years. All of these will benefit your home by reducing wind, erosion, evaporation from your garden, and heating costs. You are very wise to consider planting a windbreak.

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For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.