The combined value of aesthetics and function make hedgerows worthy of consideration for your property
I have a farm in southern Vermont in a windswept valley. On still days it is a thing of incredible beauty, but when the winds come ripping through, I contemplate moving – especially in the winter when snow drifts cover the drive and the few hundred feet to the barn seem more like a few thousand feet.
This year I finally got started planting windbreaks in the form of hedgerows. Often overlooked on farm properties, hedgerows serve many purposes:
• bird habitat
• visual barriers
• aesthetic enhancement
There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve beaten the wind at its own game.
If planting for windbreaks, make note of your prevailing winds. If you are in a snow zone, make sure your windrows are set back far enough from your lanes and driveways so that when the need to plow snow arrives, you have room to get it out of your path. Typically in a heavy snow zone this might be 10-20 feet. Also make note that when wind hits a hedgerow, the wind’s force will be reduced but this also means snow may get pushed up, over and fall on the protected side.
Hedgerows can be created from several species of low maintenance, easy-to-grow, fast-growing species. Probably the most common are closely planted cedar trees, lilacs and privets. Blackberries and raspberries also work, although they’re not as dense.
Hedgerows can be sculpted and trimmed as they mature, or left to the whims of nature. One tremendous attribute of hedgerows is their hardiness. Where fencing of almost every variety needs maintenance and repair, hedgerows just need some water and a periodic pruning.
When used as visual barriers in non-animal locations, hedgerows create the perfect backdrop for gardening and additional landscaping improvements. These enhancements can range from floral to fruit, or nut bearing trees. Whatever you plant will feel warm and protected. Establishing a diversity of plantings will also attract birds and serve as improved habitat where they can nest, rest and feed. As a thank you, they will sing and let their presence be known. Common bird species are in decline and need all the help we can provide them.
If planting for fencing, you will need to plant trees and privets close together, pruning and cutting out every other plant after three to five years as they mature. When allowed to mature, width wise, they provide a thick, intimidating cover. As they mature to 3-6 feet or more in height, you can be assured that most horses, cows or sheep will not challenge their presence and seek escape. Even if these hedgerows are established to the outside of existing paddock or fence lines, your animals will thank you as they seek protection from breezes.
Certain plants, like lilacs, send out rhizomes (lateral roots) which then come up in the form of new plants. In Spring and Fall, these shoots can be dug out and transplanted. Anyone who knows lilacs knows the floral and scent value of these bushes in Spring; it is fantastic. Lilacs will attract bees and birds, including hummingbirds.
Another tremendous benefit of hedgerows, like larger but slower growing trees, is that when planted near barns and homes, they will reduce the direct effect of the sun, keeping things cooler in summer and reducing air flow in winter, saving on heating expenses.
Every season of procrastinating is another season of lost hedgerow growth. When I think of the hedgerows I could have now, six years later? My mantra of the year is, “If I don’t start, I’ll never finish.” So consider hedgerows. A modest investment per year over the next few years will result in a big smile and a more protected, enjoyable, diverse farm.
Josh Nelson started Beaver River Associates in 1987 and it soon became the largest worm composting operation in New England. Beaver River is the main supplier of worm composting supplies to Washington State University and Josh actively consults with municipalities in the northeast on organic waste recycling.