Fertilizers, sprinkler systems, special garden tools abound with the promise of healthier plants and harvest. Have you ever considered the health benefits to plants that follow simply blocking wind?
Take for instance these statistics from Permaculture I.
Crop yields vary in increase from 100% increase in such crops as avocado to 45% in corn, 60-70% in alfalfa, 30% in wheat, and lesser gains (7-8%) for row crops such as lettuce. All these follow windbreak establishment on exposed sites
Not that anyone in the north is wringing their hands over their exposed avacados. As far as wind goes, I would say Paw Paws are about the same. The leaves are large and catch lots of wind; the wood is weak and easily breaks; the flowers are pretty tender; fruits even more so, being scratched easily or falling off because they don’t have a very strong attachment to the branch.
Even when wind isn’t blowing, windbreaks can increase ambient temperature on the leaves of plants. Martin Crawford cites 2 degrees average increase, which over a whole summer in a cool climate can really surge growth forward.
Besides enhancing growth, lack of wind saves on leaves. I’ve mentioned the lovely Catalpa in the food forest. That tree has a heck of a lot of enormous leaves that come storming down in autumn, none of which I’ll happily part with.
Lacking a large windbreak right now, my strategy for slowing wind onyoung plants and keeping leaves is to constrict my mowing to early summer and let all the food forest grow tall in fall. This way the grass and asters manage leaf collection and wind breaks for me. Eventually the N fixers and fruit trees will grow up and function the same way but taller.
Another way to keep plants out of the wind is planting in a niche sometimes in front of a windbreak.
For instance I have a chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), which is rather tender for my area, planted in front of a stump.
Wind moving over and around the stump makes a gentle buffer that’s quite noticeable when I stick my hand in there. I also notice in general snow is blown away 4-6 inches from trees, further from larger things like houses, but piles up at the border of the bare zone. So I have planted the chaste tree about that distance from the stump in its ‘sweet zone.’
Add in the good effect of sun hitting the stump heating everything up and this makes for a superior growing sight.
Not that theory alone confirms this spot is good. I have observed unusually good plant growth here. For example, out of the belated blue lupines I mentioned in Blue abounds, I found a bloom not long after writing nestled in the sweet spot of the stump. All the others waited a full year later to bloom.
Now to see if the chaste tree likes it too.
So until I have my N fixers to full size, that’s what I’m doing to slow the wind, decrease winter mortality, and increase summer growth.
I remember when I visited Martin Crawford’s forest garden ten years ago he was growing a hedge as a substitute for a wall to protect some particular plant(s), which is the same sort of strategy. As always a thoughtful post!
You visited his forest garden! -how cool!
From what I’ve seen on the internet it grew to quite a nice hedge. One part on the west has conifers, and edible Taxus among other things.
This was an additional hedge within the garden not on the edge. Yes it’s a lovely place and probably even better now than then. Martin runs courses and I went on one which was very inspiring, it really made me want to grow a forest garden, which in turn became my experiments with my own small scale back garden.
I always learn from your precise observations of your microclimates. We have awful windstorms in the spring in which the wind swirls so much that there isn’t a lee side of anything and I have pretty much given up on trying to shelter anything. If it’s fragile, it dies. But this spring I will try to make more precise observations and see if I can think of anything to mitigate it.
I would love to hear what you can find. If you have an instance where snow or water are actively moving about I find that’s the best time to do sleuth work.