Sometimes prevailing winds can be more than just a nuisance. We all know strong winds, dust, and blowing sand can be damaging to structures and equipment, but constant winds, even of moderate intensity, can hurt ornamental plants, too. This is where windbreak trees come in to play.
This is because plants lose more water through evaporation and transpiration when they are exposed to constant wind, thus requiring more frequent watering. Also, constant winds can cause your plants to grow with an unnatural bend. In some parts of the country, wind-blown dust and sand can be a serious problem for plants, critters, and your non-living possessions, too. Cold winter winds can be devastating and fatal to some plants.
A windbreak is a row, or a few staggered rows, of trees positioned to reduce winds that prevail. A living fence that blocks noise, reduces air pollution, hides an unwanted view, provides a backdrop for your plantings, reduces dust and sand, and slows the wind. The best windbreaks are evergreen trees with dense foliage and slender (as opposed to wide spreading) shapes.
What kinds of trees to use for windbreaks?
It isn’t hard to grow a windbreak tree and it doesn’t take as long as you might think. First of all, decide how tall your windbreak needs to be. You might be able to get by with an evergreen hedge just eight or ten feet high, or you may need a taller living wall of majestic conifers.
For lower windbreaks, a dense hedge of evergreens (either broad leafed or needle leafed) might fill the bill. For low, hedge-like windbreaks and privacy screens, we recommend Walter viburnum, Boxwoods, Podocarpus, or any of the evergreen hollies such as Perfect Plants’ Oakleaf Holly.
Our favorite trees for taller windbreaks are coniferous evergreens, such as pines, cedars, junipers, and cypresses, especially varieties that do not have wide spreading limbs which could break off in strong winds.
Ultimately, evergreen conifers tend to grow fast, have very low maintenance requirements, and rarely need pruning.
Planting trees for windbreaks
To create a classic, formal windbreak and screen, plant a single species, evenly spaced, in a straight line. However, planting a mixture of different kinds of evergreens adds diversity and architectural interest to your landscape. Also, a mixture of species could minimize the spread of species-specific pests or diseases should they rear up.
When considering the aesthetics, try planting in clusters rather than a simple straight line. A very effective windbreak is made by planting two rows of evenly spaced trees, with the trees staggered between the rows.
Perfect Plants has a large selection of trees suitable for windbreaks and privacy screens. These include broad leafed evergreens as well trees with needlelike leaves. Our shipping specialists carefully package your plants using a proven packaging method so that regardless of how your box is handled, the plants inside will not be damaged. We usually send out orders on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays by FedEx so your plant(s) arrive before the weekend.
Fast growing windbreak trees:
- Thuja ‘Green Giant’ makes one of the very best fast growing windbreaks. These beauties can put on 3-5 feet of height per year, reaching a mature height of 30-40 feet. ‘Green Giant’ also can be used for a low hedge-like windbreak. It can be kept short and compact by regular pruning, and it even tolerates shearing. ‘Green Giant’ is adaptable to most soil types, and tolerant of drought. Thuja ‘Green Giant’ is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9: Almost everywhere in the continental United States, except southern Florida and the northern Great Plains. ‘Green Giant’ is a low maintenance tree, accepting a wide variety of soil types, tolerant of shade when young, rarely eaten by deer, and little bothered by disease or insect pests. It withstands strong winds, ice and snow. One potential drawback: Green Giant does not do well in salty soils or coastal areas receiving salt spray.
- Norway spruce and Colorado spruce are also excellent choices for windbreaks, as are Japanese cedar, Italian cypress, American arborvitae, and Canadian hemlock. Note that Canadian hemlock tolerates shade better than most conifers, but is not suitable for hot climates. Leyland cypress tree grows fast to 50-60 feet, and quickly fills the gaps between individual trees spaced 5-8 feet apart. For really big windbreaks, consider Leyland Cypress and Excelsa Cedar (a cultivar of giant arborvitae), both of which can get up to 20’ wide. Douglas Fir and giant arborvitae get even bigger, growing as wide as forty feet at maturity.
- The picturesque Emerald Green Arborvitae is recommended for shorter windbreaks because the growth rate doesn’t get more than 12 feet tall and 2-3’ wide, and doesn’t require any pruning.
Planting trees for windbreaks
When planting a windbreak or privacy screen you should position the trees at least twelve feet away from your home or foundation. You will also want to stay at least six feet away from patios, fences, and other structures. If planting under a utility line you will want to use trees or shrubs that will not get too tall. Also, pay attention to their width at maturity and space your new plants almost as far apart as their mature width. (See the accompanying table below.) Don’t forget that you will need to water your trees until they are well established (probably several months), so be sure to have a water source in place like a Tree Gator, an irrigation system, or an established watering schedule.
The Best Trees and Shrubs for Windbreaks
|Name||USDA Zones||Growth Rate||Mature height||Mature Width||Notes|
|Spring boquet viburnum |
(Viburnum tinus ‘Compactum’)
|Schilling holly |
(Ilex vomitoria ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’)
|Edwad Goucher abelia (Abelia x grandiflora ‘Edward Goucher’)||6-9||medium||5-6 feet||6-7′||2|
|Boxwood (Buxus microphylla)||5-9||slow||5-6 feet||5-6′||1, 2|
|Dwarf Burford holly (Ilex cornuta ‘burfordii nana’)||7-9||slow||5-8 feet||5-8′||2|
|Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)||6-8||slow||8-10 feet||2-3′||2|
|Oakleaf holly (Ilex x ‘Conaf’)||6-9||slow||10-15′||6-8′||2|
|Needlepoint holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Needlepoint’)||7-9||fast||10-15′||5-10′||2|
|Ocala anise (Illicium parvoflorum)||8-10||medium||10-15′||6-10′||2|
|Walter viburnum (Viburnum obovatum)||6-10||medium||10-15′||8-12′||1, 2|
|Wax ligustrum (Ligustrum japanicum)||7-11||fast||10-15′||10-15′||1, 2|
|Zhuzhou loropetalum (Loropetalum chinese rubrum ‘Zhuzhou’)||7-10||medium||10-15′||6-8′||2|
|Emerald green arborvitae (Thuja occidentals ‘Emerald Green’)||2-7||medium||13-15′||3-4′|
|Hicksii yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’)||4-7||slow||15-20′||10-12′|
|Tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)||8-11||medium||15-30′||10-20′||1, 2|
|Podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophyllus)||8-10||slow||20-35′||10-15′||1, 2|
|Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum)||3-7||6-12″/year||20-40′||4-12′||1|
|Thuja Green Giant (Thuja standishii x plicata)||5-9||3-5’/year||20-40′||10-12′|
|Sweet viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum)||8-10||fast||25-30′||15-25′||1, 2|
|Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)||7-9||2-3’/year||30-40′||3-5′||1|
|Americal arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)||3-7||medium||30-50′||10-15||1|
|Colorado spruce (Picea pungens)||3-7||medium||30-60′||10-20′||1|
|English yew (Taxus baccata)||5-7||slow||30-60′||15-20′||1|
|Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)||5-8||2-3’/year||30-60′||15-30′||1|
|Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)||2-9||medium||40-50′||8-20′||1|
|Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica)||7-9||medium||40-50′||20-30′||1|
|White spruce (Picea glauca)||3-6||medium||40-60′||15-20′||1|
|Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)||3-7||medium||40-70′||25-35′||1|
|Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostropoides)||5-8||3-4’/year||50-80′||15-25′|
|Norway spruce (Picea abies)||3-7||2-4’/year||50-80′||20-30′||1|
|Leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii)||6-10||3-4’/year||60-70′||15-20′||1|
|Giant arborvitae (Thuja plicata)||5-7||medium||60-70′||20-35′||1|
|Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)||3-6||medium||60-150′||20-40′||1|
|1 = cultivars are available with smaller dimensions and/or narrower shapes.|
|2 = broad-leaved evergreen|