Doors still open for Alberta Shelterbelt Program

Shelterbelts can lower your heating bill, trap snow, foster biodiversity and provide wildlife habitat

There is a misconception making the rounds that the demise of the PFRA shelterbelt program means the Alberta Shelterbelt Program has also closed.

Not so — in fact, the program will be shipping more plants than ever because of the demise of the federal program, said Alyssa DeGray of the Alberta Nurseries in Bowden.

With 20,000 square feet of greenhouse space in addition to its outdoor growing area, the nursery is well positioned to continue meeting demand, she said.

The Alberta Shelterbelt Program had been operated in conjunction with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration program for the past 17 years. But while the PRFA offered trees for free, Alberta Nurseries is a private company and charges $23 for a bundle of seedlings, regardless of variety.

No land title is necessary to apply for the program, and no order is turned down, as long as it is in bundles of 10. Customers are required to fill out an application form to participate in the program, for which there is a $25 fee. The application fee gives customers access to extension services from Alberta Nurseries horticulturists and environmental technicians, who can answer questions concerning growing concerns, insect problems or soil issues. The plants are delivered in their second year of growth, guaranteed to be shipped healthy and true to type. No substitutions will be made without customer permission.

There are 30 species of plants to choose from, in four categories. Spruce, pine and larch constitute the Evergreen category. The Tall Tree category contains poplar and willow species. Mid-size trees include the western chokecherry, saskatoons, Manitoba maple and mayday. The Hedges and Fruits category includes specialty plants as sea buckthorn and silver buffaloberry, as well as the usual lilacs, caragana and dogwoods. Even raspberries are offered.

The wide variety of plants available makes it possible to plan for many purposes. An orchard shelterbelt can provide food for the family and wildlife.

The benefits of a shelterbelt are numerous. Wind speed is reduced, creating a unique microclimate. A mature five-row shelterbelt with at least two rows of conifers planted around a farmhouse can reduce heat requirements by 25 per cent. They also trap snow to provide water for dugouts and soil reserves; foster biodiversity; and provide wildlife habitat.

From the Manitoba Co-operator website: The value of trees

However, growing a shelterbelt is a long-term proposition and, depending on the species planted, it can take up to 15 years to get the full benefit. Deciduous trees develop much faster than evergreens — for example, poplars will grow an average of two feet per year, while an evergreen may only grow one foot. Good care is important, especially in the first two years.

“We recommend watering once a week (and) when it’s hot, twice,” DeGray said.

Plants should be watered for at least the first year, preferably for two, until the roots are properly established. Fertilizing is discouraged as it makes the plants less hardy.

“We want to make the shelterbelt as strong as possible,” she said.

Weeds should be controlled in a one-foot diameter around the tree. And it’s easy to lose sight of small seedlings in a field of wheat.

“If you don’t have time to weed, at least put a stake beside the tree so it doesn’t get lost,” cautioned DeGray.

Shipping is free if purchased through one of the approximately 30 counties participating in the program, with some counties also providing planting services or renting out tree-planting equipment. However, the free shipping program is only for orders received by April 1. After that, seedlings are delivered collect by Greyhound. Trees will be delivered about mid-May. Application forms and information can be found on the Alberta Shelterbelt website www.marketland.net or by calling 403-224-3544.

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