Planting Windbreaks

The trees are in (all 900) and mother nature has been doing her part by raining steadily to help get them off to a good start.  All in all it went quite well.  I was concerned that by more than doubling the number I’d planted from the previous year I was biting off more than I could chew.  But now I think last year was just good practice.  I have a system in place and was able to make steady progress, slowly chipping away at the giant pile of seedlings/transplants.

To give you an idea of the overall design, first let’s start with an image of the property as it was early last year (courtesy of Google Earth).  North is Up.

As you can see, it’s mostly open agricultural land bordering even larger fields.  That means there’s nothing to stop our prevailing winds from the North and West, which seem to be increasing in intensity every year.  So, much like first starting with your “hardscaping” (brick/rock/permanent structures), I needed to get some windbreaks in to protect my future plantings/sculptures/home.  Here is the design I came up with:

Along the property lines the windbreaks have no choice but to be straight.  Otherwise, I devised a series of arches to help deflect the wind and create a sense of very large exterior “rooms” to protect and envelope.  In the satellite image, you can see the initial plantings for the primary orchard windbreak.  I planted those last spring, the inner ring are two alternating types of crab apple and the outer ring is chokecherry/common plum.  The other trees are labeled on the schematic, but I do want to note the somewhat unconventional mixes.

Instead of solid plantings of a single type of tree placed at their mature spacings, I’ve inter-planted fast growing species with slower growing (and generally longer lived/more valuable) ones.  For instance, the outer ring of each arch is white pine placed at 25′ intervals with two hybrid poplars placed between them.  The poplars will spring up quickly and give some cover while helping to protect the other seedlings.  Eventually, when the pines grow to 15-20′ tall, the poplars can be cut down for firewood and mulch.  Alternately, I can coppice/pollard them for a repeated harvests and to allow more light in.  Similarly, the inner rings are butternut inter-planted with black locust, which is a high quality firewood, bee pollinator, and nitrogen fixer.  I don’t suspect I’m the first person to do this, but it seemed a good design solution as well as making things more complicated – which increases the habitat diversity as well as making it more entertaining to me.

I did take some pictures (via remote timer) of the actual planting process.  First, I use a one-person auger to drill a hole for each tree.  (Shown is a 6″ bit, but I also have an 8″ for the larger transplants.)

Next, I placed the bare root trees in the hole, firming up the soil around the roots and watering in to eliminate air pockets.

To finish off, I place a “tree mat” of recycled cardboard around it and shovel on some wood chips for weed suppression and moisture retention.

My “tree planting convoy” consists of an ATV pulling a home made water-tank trailer built from an old fuel tank.  When moving wood chips I switch it out for a small garden trailer.  This is a very handy and economical setup.  Over the nearly 2 weeks of work, I think I only used 6 or 7 gallons of gas.  Not too bad.

Most of the trees are already leafing out.  A few years from now things will begin to look dramatically different…