Building a Shelterbelt.

Hedgerow. Windbreak. Snowbreak. Shelterbelt. Whatever you want to call it, this winter has made it readily apparent that we could do with a natural barrier that can help keep the snow from drifting into shockingly deep masses across our driveway.

The winds tend to sweep in from the North and West in winter. North isn’t especially a problem since that comes from behind the house and down the length of the yard and driveway- no real impact to snow or snow removal. Those West winds? Different story.

There have been a number of storms that were accompanied by high winds meaning the portions of our driveway exposed to the West got great stonking drifts across them. Worse yet? Once the driveway was cleared, the drifts would repopulate themselves and undo all the work that had already been done.

No more! Its another project to be added to this year’s list, but given that it will provide a number of other benefits I’m not the least bit mad about it.

In researching windbreaks and living snow fences, one thing becomes immediately clear: All instructions and guides are designed with utility in mind, and only utility.

An illustration of a nine row shelterbelt, featuring trees and shrubs. The centre row is the tallest species, flanked on either side by increasingly smaller species.


Image result for windbreak

They ‘must’ be at least 20 feet wide. They ‘must’ have these regimented rows (though most I’ve seen are closer to 5 rows, like the photo) and they are, frankly, unappealing to say the least. Let’s not even talk about mowing in and around this set-up or the fact that this set up would take over the entirety of the field that we would much rather have as native prairie.

The other solution is to lean more towards a hedgerow or wildlife hedge-cum-windbreak. Hedgerows are generally double staggered rows, which keeps them tighter in appearance while avoiding the look of distinct rows. These are supposed to be at least 10 feet wide. But here the focus is on diversity of plantings and the ensuing diversity of habitat.

Hedgebank in flower with tree, Tom Hynes, DSCN9306
Image via Devon Hedges

Yes Please!

We aren’t interested in privacy as our neighbors are both lovely and already screened by the woods and topography so a lower hedge punctuated with a few trees for diversity and interest should fit the bill nicely.

Hedge Diagram

You’ll notice that the proposed hedge location sits along the property line, a good 70ish yards to the West of the driveway. This is intentional because, as I learned researching this, if we were to place the hedge along the driveway- say, 10 yards away- what we would actually be doing is making the situation worse.

Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 10.14.23 AM
Image via

By placing the hedge along the property line, the majority of the snow will dump into the field and taper off as the winds blow towards the driveway. The math on this isn’t as complicated as I initially thought (thankfully!) and a 10 foot high shrubby hedge should do exactly what we need it to do without blocking views to our neighbors and the road (safety!).

The Woodland Trust’s guidelines of 5 plants per meter (in a staggered double row, loosely) with a large tree every 6 meters seems rather aggressive plant-wise. Denser hedges tend to dump more snow immediately leeward and then disburse it more evenly. More porous hedges disburse the snow more evenly along the entire distance. I think we will try to strike a balance somewhere closer to 4 plants per meter, knowing that a number of our plant selections will happily grow to 10-12 feet wide.

The University of Wisconsin Extension has a fantastic PDF that details out the tree and shrub options for our zones- it would be a great resource for most folks in the Upper Midwest. The Canadian government also put together an exceptional brochure for shelterbelts of all types.


Dwarf Globe Arctic Willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’)- we will utilize cuttings off our existing plants and hope for them to strike roots. These plants have grown upwards of 8 feet in diameter in our yard and the birds love hiding in them through winter. Also, free!

American Hazelnut (Corylus americana)- I’ve long wanted Hazelnuts in our space, this is the perfect excuse to order a whole bunch of them and enjoy the nuts and ability to coppice them for use in the garden is just a bonus. We can get these for about $2 each from our County Conservation Tree Program- a really great value.

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)- this plant isn’t my favorite for the garden, but it is a native and will do splendidly in a hedge. We can also get these for about $1 each from the Tree Program. Yay!

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)- I want to add some lilacs mostly because the spring color is fantastic, but also because I know they do well here and provide dense habitat all year long. I’m leaning towards a showier variety like the magenta-flowered ‘Charles Joly’.

Image via Gertens


We have loads of oaks, birch, and maple in our woods so I’d prefer to add something new to the mix. There are already plenty of pines/evergreens on the other side of the driveway, so these will be for interest and

American Mountain Ash (Sorbus decora)- Birds will love this tree and its shape/height will provide a good break in the hedge without becoming too overbearing. This will give great fall color along with the fruit. It is also the American version of a Rowan tree, a quite neat legend. I’m not especially fearful of witches, but I’ll certainly take protection from malevolent creatures!

Skyline Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos)- This is a statement tree that will anchor the hedgerow to the edge of the woods. I expect this to grow into a magnificent specimen as it will have loads of room to grow and provide great shelter to a number of birds and squirrels.

Image via Gertens

American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)- this will be a good, stalwart like tree that won’t have a massive canopy like the Honeylocust. It will be very  happy in the conditions down there and

We may also utilize some smaller seedlings of things like birch and the native black raspberries that are happily popping up on the hillside.

In any event, this is a project that we will get started with as early as we can. The seedling order will come in quickly and we want to take advantage of as much of the spring moisture/precipitation as possible and give the plants the longest growing season we can muster this year. Thankfully I think it will be but the work of a week or two at max and then just a matter of fencing it off to protect it from nibbling deer and nosy dogs.

So, do you all have snow drifting issues or use hedges for issues like this? I’d love to hear how well it works or any pointers if you have them!







5 thoughts on “Building a Shelterbelt.”

  1. This is one of those times where I realize how different various regions really are- I’ve heard of a windbreak, but never considered ANY of the things you’re facing with snow! Forgive the ignorant Texan here- but you’re in the far off and exotic north to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Its both a blessing and a curse… loads of room to try new things, but then everything has to be huge (and expensive and laborious) to look “right” for the space.
      I am excited about the hedgerow though!

      Liked by 1 person

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