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Windbreaks

Quick facts

Windbreaks are plantings of trees, shrubs or a combination of the two, that reduce wind speed in an agricultural area. They can:

  • Reduce energy costs around farmsteads.
  • Mitigate livestock odors.
  • Reduce wind stress on crops and livestock.
  • Manage snow.
  • Provide wildlife habitat and timber products.

What are windbreaks?

  • Windbreaks integrate woody plants and crops for greater and more diversified use of resources.  
  • Both the woody and crop components of windbreaks can provide economic benefits.
  • Purposes of windbreaks include: wind protection, controlling blowing and drifting snow, wildlife habitat establishment, energy saving, living screens, odor abatement and more.

Windbreaks are plantings of single or multiple rows of trees or shrubs that are established for one or more environmental purposes. They gained popularity in America during the droughts and soil erosion of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Projects, such as those by the Civilian Conservation Corps, planted windbreaks to reduce soil erosion on farmland.

The effectiveness of a windbreak depends on suitable tree and shrub selection as well as planting density and spacing. We've provided information on tree and shrub species to consider in Minnesota windbreak plantings and a list of resources for technical and financial assistance.

Benefits and challenges of planting windbreaks

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Design elements

Effectiveness of a windbreak depends on how well it is designed. Height, density and length are the three main design elements to consider for any windbreak.

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Selecting trees and shrubs for windbreaks

Choosing trees and shrubs is extremely important to make sure a windbreak is effective and long-lasting. Plants need to be winter hardy and should have a positive history of plantings in the area suitable for the site and soils.

Select several different species of trees and shrubs, so if there is a failure in a row, the windbreak is still effective. We recommend a mix of deciduous and coniferous plants based on the purpose of the planting.

Many plants can offer potential income benefits such as edible fruits and nuts, materials for decorative crafts, and specialty woods. 

Consult with area or county Soil and Water Conservation Districts or National Resources Conservation Service, Department of Natural Resources and Extension staff to get a recommended list of plants suitable for your area.

See Selecting trees and shrubs for windbreaks for recommendations on specific plants hardy to Minnesota.

Authors: Diomy Zamora and  Gary Wyatt, Extension educators, and Eric Ogdahl, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Reviewed in 2020

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