Wind causes a lot more damage to garden plants than you might think. Everybody recognises the physical devastation caused by a gale bringing down the limb from a tree or blowing over a rotten fence, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most wind damage goes unnoticed, reducing yields and stunting growth. In any garden, cold winds are the worst, killing buds and blossom as well as singeing conifers and causing dieback to not-so-hardy climbers and shrubs. In fact, even a slight breeze has a significant cooling effect that can reduce growth. Therefore, if you take steps to protect fruit and vegetables from the prevailing wind, you can expect a significant increase in yields.
The only way of protecting against wind is to put up a garden windbreak. This can be along the boundary to protect the whole plot, or in the form of smaller windbreaks within the garden to protect vulnerable areas, such as those growing fruit and vegetables. Since a windbreak will protect a strip immediately behind it about eight-times its own height, it is easy to work out how large your windbreak needs to be. For example, for a 16m-wide plot, you will need a windbreak about 2m high. Windbreaks can be either a living shelterbelt of wind-resistant shrubs and trees, or an artificial barrier of special windbreak material. It is essential that the windbreak is 50% permeable, so that it filters the wind. A 100% solid barrier, such as a wall or fence, will actually increase wind damage, since the barrier creates powerful eddies and turbulence when the wind passes up and over it.
Positioning It’s often recommended to put up the windbreak on the side of the prevailing wind. But, in my experience, the wind direction changes all the time, so take a belt-and-braces approach and protect the vegetable plot and fruit garden on all sides. In an urban setting, winds can be funneled and deflected by nearby buildings, making the direction of the wind even more unpredictable. If you are planning a new garden from scratch, you can strategically use clusters of wind-resistant plants to create sheltered corners and planting pockets within an exposed garden using escallonia, elaeagnus, berberis and senecio as well as yew hedges. In a windswept spot, even evergreen groundcover plants can be used as a windbreak to protect the delicate emerging shoots of bulbs and other perennials. Container-grown windbreaks are also useful – especially where planting options are limited. For example, a few wheeled tubs filled with evergreen shrubs or dwarf bamboo can be used to provide instant shelter part-way down a passageway or alongside an entrance or patio.
Choosing a windbreak Artificial windbreaks are popular with commercial growers and farmers, but in the garden setting can look a bit…well, artificial. If you need an instant barrier that doesn’t take up too much space, try using more aesthetically pleasing willow hurdles or a sturdy lattice trellis that can be covered with wind-proof climbers, such as ivy, to soften the overall appearance. If you have more space, a formal clipped hedge could be the answer. Low hedges, such as box, lavender and santolina are ideal for planting around low-growing features, like a herb garden or an exposed border filled with bedding displays. Larger hedges of, say, berberis, beech or hornbeam, make excellent garden dividers and will help create sheltered planting pockets where you can successfully grow more tender specimens. Along the boundary, a shelterbelt of wind-proof trees, such as holly, mountain ash and whitebeams,underplanted with tough shrubs, like cotoneaster, elaeagnus, euonymus, olearia and viburnum, or even bamboos can be considered. It goes without saying that the plants you choose should be wind-tolerant, but for quick cover they will also need to be fast-growing, especially in the early years.
Establishing a windbreak It may be tempting to buy big plants for an instant shelterbelt. In fact, you will create an effective barrier more quickly by planting small and vigorous shrubs and trees that will establish more quickly. The smaller specimens are easier to protect and will establish quickly, and will soon catch up and overtake larger ones planted at the same time. Protect new plants with a temporary barrier of windbreak netting, fixed to stout posts during their early years, and cut back the main shoot on new shrubs and hedging plants to encourage bushy growth from the base.