Eastern red cedar trees abound in windbreaks, but other evergreens work well too.
Nebraska’s windbreaks are real life savers. They provide comfort around the rural home and farm, and save livestock and wildlife during our extreme winters. They catch snow and protect us from the wind.
Eastern red cedar trees have been one of the plants of choice for windbreak design since the first shelterbelts were planted. They thrive in our soils and in our climate. Actually, they thrive too much. Cedar trees have spread out into grazing lands across the state, costing farmers and ranchers thousands of dollars and hours of time in clearing them out again. Controlling cedar trees in pastures is another topic entirely.
Nebraska tree experts say that there are alternative evergreen trees that work just as well as cedar trees. Planting these “other” evergreens in windbreaks and rural landscapes may help ease the spread of cedars. Justin Evertson with the Nebraska Forest Service says that several pine trees would work well in varied plantings.
Evertson told a group of tree experts at a Tree Care Workshop in Norfolk recently that ponderosa pine is one of the good windbreak trees that thrives well in hot, windswept areas. Around our place, we’ve planted both ponderosa and jack pines in windbreaks with good success. Of course, they do not match the growth of cedar trees, but we won’t have to worry about cutting their volunteers from our pasture a few years down the road.
Colorado blue spruce is another tree that is gaining a reputation for windbreak plantings. Spruce trees are slower growing at first than cedar or pine trees, but if they are maintained well through the first five years of life, they typically grow much faster once they are established. Rolling conservation mulch over these plantings will greatly decrease tree mortality, particularly for small spruce seedlings. They are also a beautiful accent around a rural home.
Other pines that Evertson talked about include Bosnian pine, which has short needles, tufted branch tips and is dark green. Limber pine is a native, slower growing tree that has flexible branches and needs to be planted on well drained sites. Red pine is a Minnesota native that is also slower growing with attractive reddish bark. Southwestern white pine is a graceful, five-needled pine that will grow up to 35 feet in height. There are other evergreens that work well such as Concolor and Canaan fir, Douglas fir, Norway and Serbian spruce.
With orders to Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) for conservation and windbreak plantings due very soon, it would be a good idea to talk with your local NRD coordinator or certified arborist about alternative evergreen trees that would thrive in your part of the state. Not all of the trees Evertson mentioned are available from NRD planting programs, but even if you find one or two of these at a local nursery, try them out and observe how well they do in our unique Nebraska landscape.
Cedar trees have been the standard for years and they have done good duty, but as they continue to spread, taking over precious grazing lands, we need to realize that they are not the only game in town when it comes to windbreak design.