Planning is key to preparing an effective shelterbelt

Specialist recommends visiting mature shelterbelts and talking to landowners

row of trees near a canola crop
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Trees and shelterbelt planting is a long-term investment that requires careful planning and design.

“Ask yourself what you want to accomplish by planting trees or shelterbelts on your property,” said Toso Bozic, a provincial agroforestry/bioenergy specialist.

Trees should always be managed with future generations in mind, he said.

“The goals can be many — ranging from wind protection, reduce the energy cost, increase the property values, providing visual barriers and privacy, increase biodiversity of wildlife species, retain water and many other goals. All of these can be achieved if you plan and design properly.”

Start by visiting established and mature shelterbelts in the local area.

“Talk to landowners about what did or did not work on their property,” said Bozic. “That’ll give you valuable information about potential soil and water problems, maintenance requirements, cost and potential issues, tree growth, reasons to choose different species, various spacing, and weed control issues.”

For proper design and planning the most important tools are a pencil and eraser, he said.

“I can’t stress enough that you can change anything on paper but once you put trees on ground changes are costly. You are in a unique position to create something that can be in harmony with nature but at the same time very different.”

Proper planning and design include several steps:

  • Find an area to plant that combines effective protection from wind and snow with functional design possibilities to increase esthetic value.
  • Use an aerial photograph from the local county office or Google Earth to draw a map for the design.
  • Once the mapping is complete, collect as much information as possible on soil type, drainage, slope, prevailing winds, sunlight exposure, property lines, power and other utility lines, buildings, and roads.
  • When the site assessment is complete, choose tree and shrub species.

“The key thing is to diversify,” said Bozic. “Many people just choose a very few species such as spruce, hybrid poplar and lilac. There is nothing wrong with any of these species, but there is a higher long-term risk for your trees if you only plant a few species. Plant a variety of trees and shrubs on your property. Each species provides unique beauty and benefits as well as challenges. Diversity is key for the long-term viability of your shelterbelts.”

In a natural forest, trees, through competition, provide their own best spacing. Landowners don’t need to plant in straight lines and should take a creative approach, said Bozic.

“Planning and design are probably the most crucial steps in the long journey of establishment of trees and shrubs on your property,” he said. “It takes detail and thought, but is also fun where the creativity and wisdom of your family create something unique and joyful.”

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