I know that wind is merely “air in motion,” but why does it have to be in such a hurry?
Here in Colorado, the wind has been blowing for weeks now—and not just gentle breezes, but howling gales that topple trees and suck every drop of moisture from already desiccated soil. First a dry winter, now this ceaseless wind.
As a gardener, there are times when I’m totally frustrated by too much wind. It stunts the growth of tender new shoots (I’m not trying to create bonsai tomatoes, but sometimes that’s what I get) and makes working in the garden a miserable experience.
Gardeners from other parts of the country suggest growing vine crops vertically to save space and reduce soil contact. That just doesn’t work well here. When it comes to cucumbers and squash, I choose bush varieties with their low profile.
When it is this windy, irrigating by sprinkler wastes a precious resource. What doesn’t evaporate on the way down blows onto pavement and paths. Not much water reaches plant roots.
Likewise, it’s extremely difficult to keep seed beds moist until seedlings appear. And when those baby plants finally stick their seed leaves out of the soil, I’m convinced they look around, feel the not-so-gentle breeze, and dive right back underground!
Then there’s the problem of mulch. I spread out straw and it winds up in Kansas. Dried grass clippings disappear within minutes. Newspaper mulches aren’t even an option.
Since wind is a permanent fixture along the Front Range, especially in the spring, I’ve looked into ways to do something about it. I’m not going to move the jet stream, but I can build some windbreaks.
Windbreaks fall into two categories—living and non-living. The USDA has encouraged plains farmers to plant windbreaks ever since the dust bowl of the 1930s. We can do likewise. What we need are species that can handle the rigors of our climate with a minimum or care, and that grow quickly. Unfortunately, some of the plants they recommended—Russian Olive comes immediately to mind—are now considered noxious weeds. They were a bit too well adapted! For more information on growing your own windbreak, and a list of species appropriate for Colorado, check out “Planning & Planting a Windbreak,” by Kathy Roth, Colorado Master Gardener.
Of course, growing your own windbreak takes time. What do you do while you’re waiting for your plants to grow? You can protect individual plants, or you can build a fence or wall.
Providing some wind protection isn’t difficult while plants are small, although your garden will look a bit odd. My favorite method is to cut the bottoms off of empty gallon milk jugs, take off the lids, and “staple” the plastic jugs to the ground with a bent piece of wire. Extra heat escapes out the top, and the plants inside enjoy their own private “greenhouse”—until they outgrow it all. (Be aware that the plants inside will be a bit on the tender side.)
Another option for larger plants such as tomatoes is to create a cylinder from concrete reinforcing wire and wrap it with clear plastic. Spun polyester “cloth” (such as Reemay) offers some wind protection as well. I’m sure a creative gardener can come up with lots of other possibilities.
Building a windbreak requires a bit more investment of time, effort, and money.
I was surprised to learn that a solid barrier is not usually the best option for providing shelter from the wind. It seems that, rather than stopping the air, it just adds turbulence without diminishing velocity. A solid fence only shelters the area immediately behind it.
To provide a degree of protection for an entire garden, create a windbreak with holes in it. By letting some air through, it softens the force of the wind. See this chart from the Province of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture for how this works out in practice:
As they explain, “Optimum protection is obtained with a fence porosity of 25-33%. The protected area will extend eight to ten times the height of the fence.”
What should you make your fence out of? Traditional snow fencing is one simple solution. Other options include a basket-weave, screen blocks, tall picket fences, and lattices. Or just leave spaces between your boards. It’s really just a matter of what you like.
Providing a bit of shelter means more work and expense for you. However, not only will your plants thank you (hopefully by producing better veggies or prettier flowers), but spending time in your garden will be more enjoyable for you, the gardener.
Or we could forgo the plants and invest in a wind farm instead!
Article by Leslie Holzmann, Colorado Master Gardener