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An updated version of OMAFRA Publication 384 Protection Guide for Turfgrass is now available on the OMAFRA website (English & French).

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By Jennifer Jarvis – Stakeholder Communications and Marketing Advisor, OMAFRA We’re excited to let you know about the latest updates that we made to the Agricultural Information Atlas (AIA). What is the AIA? It’s the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) free, easy-to-use online tool that can help you to: Develop nutrient management strategies […]

via Did you hear? We’ve made great improvements to the Agricultural Information Atlas! — onspecialtycrops

Call Before You Cut

Municipalities are responsible for developing their own by-laws. Your municipality may have passed by-laws that determine if you can remove a tree from your land or woodlot. These by-laws may include conditions that affect how you carry out the work, including the need for a qualified professional and/or a […]

via Call Before You Cut — ONfruit (read more here)

Windbreaks can increase crop yields up to 15 per cent, more than making up for the amount of land they use. How? Windbreaks improve a field’s microclimate by reducing wind speeds, increasing temperatures and reducing the amount of moisture loss.

Have you considered planting a windbreak? Windbreaks can also:

  • reduce soil erosion
  • decrease odour and spray drift
  • offer alternative income options
  • save you up to 30 per cent in heating and energy costs
  • shelter livestock from the wind and sun
crop yield increase graph

Graph: Each bar represents yield average, as studied by the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus. Yields increased on the downwind side of the windbreak over distances of up to 12 times the height of the windbreak. Crop yield increases vary by crop type. Taken from Establishing Tree Cover.


What are the costs associated with planting windbreaks?

There are costs when planting a windbreak, such as site preparation, purchasing the trees and planting. Some conservation authorities in Ontario have cost-share programs that can help you with these costs. Contact your local conservation authority to see how they can help you plan and plant a windbreak.

What type of windbreak should you plant?

The type of windbreak you plant and how you plant it depends on the purpose for the windbreak.

  • One to three rows of trees are most often planted to protect field crops from the wind and to reduce soil erosion. Multiple row windbreaks often include at least one row of conifers.
  • Think about planting at least one row of hardwood trees for future alternative income sources, such as wood for fence posts, fuel and lumber.
  • Plant a shelterbelt (more than three rows of trees) around your home and farm buildings to save on energy costs.
  • Plant a conifer windbreak to provide livestock with wind and sun protection.
  • Windbreaks deflect odours upward if properly situated to the barn.
  • The taller the windbreak, the greater the area it protects. Consider the maximum height of the tree species you choose and determine if it will provide you with the protection you need.
  • Keep in mind the crops that you plan to plant beside the windbreak, and the winter hardiness and typical lifespan of the selected tree species.
  • Some trees may be better suited for areas with tile drains than others, an important, and potentially money-saving, consideration.

The type of soil of your land and the region of the province you’re in will also affect the type of trees you can plant. Trees can thrive and provide maximum protection when they’re matched with the right soils. Visit the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s Tree Atlas to determine the best trees for your situation.

Need help?

For help with planning and planting a windbreak, contact your local conservation authority. They may be able to visit your planned windbreak site and help you with your planting plan, site preparation, choices of tree species, and appropriate spacing and planting, as well as windbreak maintenance.

OMAFRA has many resources to help you with windbreak planning. Visit our website to watch four windbreak videos on planning, planting, maintenance and farmer windbreak success stories. Our free Best Management Practices book, “Establishing Tree Cover,” provides a step-by-step guide for planning and planting a windbreak and includes maintenance tips. Contact OMAFRA’s Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca for more information.

Although we had a mild winter this year, Ontario winters are typically cold and bring a lot of snow. Plan ahead and plant a windbreak before next winter – windbreaks are an effective way to trap snow and prevent snow build-up around driveways and laneways, buildings, farmyards and other high-use areas. For you, this means:

  • potential savings in fuel costs
  • a reduction in the wear and tear of your plowing equipment
  • less money and time spent on clearing snow from your property
  • easy access to your livestock
  • safer travel along rural roads

Windbreaks have year-round benefits, too. When planted around field crops, feedlots, livestock buildings, pastures and calving areas, windbreaks reduce wind speeds and will:

  • increase crop yields and reduce soil erosion
  • lower animal stress and improve animal health
  • increase feed efficiency
  • protect the working environment in and around livestock areas
“Before [the windbreak] was planted here, it was nothing to have four or five feet of snow up through the driveway – [in 2015] with all the snow we had, we had a maximum of ten inches of snow. I’m thrilled with it. It [has] done everything it’s supposed to do and probably more.”

Mike Downey, farmer

Alma, Wellington County

What’s more, windbreaks planted around your farm buildings and home can reduce heating costs up to 30 per cent! 

Windbreaks make great living snow fences. They deposit snow on the downwind side of the row of trees, protecting high-use areas from snow build-up for a distance of up to three times the height of the trees. A windbreak that is 10 meters (33 feet) high will deposit snow up to 30 meters (98 feet) away.

Windbreak maintenance tips

Trees are dormant in winter and early spring, so now is a great time to assess the health of your trees and to determine if maintenance is needed. Regular maintenance will increase the effectiveness of your windbreak, creating a more effective shelter zone on the downwind side of the windbreak. Thinning and pruning practices differ by windbreak type and tree species. Talk with your local conservation authority or a professional forester to develop a maintenance plan suited to your windbreak objectives and the type of windbreak you have.

Thinning conifer windbreaks

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Figure 1. Thinning a windbreak using a staggered pattern. 

Thinning, or removing, conifer windbreaks after 10-15 years of growth may be necessary so they can continue to provide good crop and soil protection. Thinning conifer windbreaks gives the remaining trees more resources and room to grow, resulting in stronger and healthier trees that offer better wind protection. The two-row conifer windbreak shown in Figure 1 has had trees removed in a staggered pattern. Using a staggered thinning pattern prevents major gaps in the windbreak and prevents a direct path for wind to get through.

Pruning hardwood windbreaks

FINAL Pruning image (2)

Figure 2. Pruning a windbreak.

This is a good time of year to prune hardwood trees (Figure 2). Be aware that some species, such as maples and birches, will secrete sap when pruned. This may look unsightly for a short period of time but is not harmful to the tree. You can avoid this by pruning just after the leaves are out.

The pruning of hardwood windbreaks should be done regularly – we suggest every three to five years. Waiting longer between pruning puts a lot of stress on trees, often resulting in slow growth and poor windbreak development. Pruning removes lateral branches, stimulates vertical growth and stops the tree from interfering with the trees around it. Pruning also gives room for farm equipment to pass by, increases the life of the windbreak and helps it to develop harvestable wood products for the future.

Planting a windbreak

Spring is the best time to plant a windbreak. There are several things to consider when planning a windbreak planting – talk with a forestry professional or your local conservation authority for help with these steps

1.Conduct a site visit with an expert

A site visit can be done at any time of year. It is a very crucial step that will help you plan a successful and healthy windbreak. An expert can:

  • discuss the potential height required for your objectives and the length, width and spacing of trees
  • determine the best windbreak design/type based on your planting objectives
  • point out the best location for the windbreak based on wind flow patterns
  • point out drainage ditch and utility locations on your property
  • help you choose the correct species of trees to plant based on your property’s soil type and location
  • help you with a post-planting maintenance plan

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change’s Tree Atlas has a list of native Ontario trees that can help with choosing the best species to plant based on where you live.

2. Meeting your objectives

Your windbreak will need to be properly designed to meet your objectives. Your objectives could change based on tree species availability, the type of soil on your land and the type of windbreak you decide to plant. You may need to reconsider your expectations and objectives after a site visit and before you finalize a planting plan.

3. Develop a planting plan

Use the information gathered from the site visit to create a plan using a map, diagram or aerial photo of your land. The plan should show where you’ll plant the trees, the species of trees you’ll plant, and the spacing between trees and between rows. Keep in mind the optimal height you’d like for your windbreak, crops that you plan to plant beside the windbreak, and the winter hardiness and typical lifespan of the selected tree species.

4. Prepare the planting site

Site preparation is something you’ll need to do before planting your trees. It includes marking out in-row and between-row tree spacing, tilling, mulching, mowing and/or band or spot spraying, and deciding if you’ll use black plastic mulch to control weeds.

5. Order the trees

While typically ordered in the fall, trees can be ordered during the winter and early spring if stock still exists.

For help with planning a windbreak, contact your local conservation authority. They may be able to visit your planned windbreak site and help you with your planting plan, site preparation, choices of tree species, and appropriate spacing and planting, as well as windbreak maintenance.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has many resources to help you with windbreak planning. Visit our website to watch four windbreak videos on planning, planting, maintenance and farmer windbreak success stories. Our free Best Management Practices book, “Establishing Tree Cover,” provides a step-by-step guide for planning and planting a windbreak and includes maintenance tips. Contact OMAFRA’s Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca for more information.

Time to Grow

The 25th Annual Ontario Turfgrass Symposium is being held at the University of Guelph on February 17 and 18, 2016. Qualify for early bird savings by registering before January 8, 2016.

The Ontario Turfgrass Symposium (OTS) 2016 program will be updated on the event website www.turfsymposium.com as speakers and IPM CECs are confirmed in the upcoming weeks.

Register today! 

Questions? visit www.turfsymposium.com , email info@OpenEd.uoguelph.ca or phone 519-767-5000

Did you know that windbreaks:

  • increase crop yield, improve soil moisture distribution over fields and reduce soil loss?
  • provide shade and shelter for livestock?
  • minimize spray drift and odours?
  • decrease the amount of snow drift onto driveways and roads?
  • enhance biodiversity and wildlife habitat
  • can generate alternative income?
windbreaks 2 sm (2)

Windbreaks are linear plantings of trees/shrubs designed to protect crops from damage caused by strong wind. Windbreaks help reduce soil erosion and increase crop yield.

Windbreaks have many benefits for farmers and rural landowners, and more than make up for the loss of the land they use. Fall is the perfect time to start planning for a spring planting. Here are some things you need to do to get started:

  • Do a site assessment where the windbreak will be planted.
  • Decide on the tree species you would like to plant based on why you’re planting a windbreak and your site’s characteristics.
  • Develop a planting plan.
  • Confirm the number of trees you’ll need and place your tree order. You can order trees through nurseries and some conservation authorities.
  • Prepare the site by marking out in-row and between-row tree spacing, tilling, mulching, mowing and/or band or spot spraying, and placing black plastic mulch over the area to control weeds.

OMAFRA has many resources to help you with windbreak planning. Visit  the OMAFRA website to watch four windbreak videos on planning, planting, maintenance and windbreak successes. The free Best Management Practices book, “Establishing Tree Cover,” provides a step-by-step guide for planning and planting a windbreak.

For more information about windbreaks and for help with planning a windbreak, contact your local conservation authority.

For more information about OMAFRA’s resources, contact OMAFRA’s Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca.