Thursday, July 26, 2012

Windbreak Plants for a Temperate Climate

Windbreaks are structures used to block, or break the path, of wind. Many things can do this... mountains, hills, rocks, buildings, fences, and plants. The plants are the focus of this article. By using plants as our windbreak, we are have the ability to utilize a Permaculture Principle that encourages multiple functions for each element of design. Our windbreaks have a primary function that is typically one or more of the following:
  • Structure protection - blocks cold winds in the winter (lowers heating bill) and drying winds in the summer (lowers evaporation and may protect from forest fires).
  • Field protection - blocks wind from blowing too hard over places you would rather have more shelter like a garden near a rocky coast or a tree nursery that may not benefit from high winds
  • Livestock shelter - blocks cold and/or wet winds from animals which makes them more comfortable and they need less food calories to maintain body heat
  • Livestock fencing - living fences can be more solid and longer lasting (but also more permanent) and can be very effective if using a thorny or very dense growing plant
  • Living Snow Fencing - keeps those deep snow drifts on the other side, away from where it may do more damage or cause greater inconvenience (like near a road or barn)

Secondary uses of windbreaks can be:
  • Wildlife Habitat - providing some wild food for deer, rabbits, etc. can often keep them on "their" side of the fence and not in our primary food producing areas
  • Screening - blocking poor views of neighbors, hosues, or other buildings and/or eyesores
  • Noise Suppression - blocking or minimizing noise from a road, neighbors, etc.
  • Trespassing Prevention - lining a property with dense growing, thorny plants will make four and two-footed tresspassers think twice about coming on your property

Choosing plants that have additional benefits than just wind blocking increases the usefulness of the windbreak. This is called "stacking functions" and, as mentioned above, it encourages multiple functions for each element of design. Here are some of the additional benefits that plants can offer:
  • Edible fruit
  • Edible nuts
  • Edible other parts - shoots, leaves, flowers, etc.
  • Timber
  • Pole or Fence wood
  • Firewood
  • Nitrogen Fixing - the plant puts nitrogen back into the soil and can benefit other plants growing nearby
  • Nectar or pollen source for beneficial insects
  • Food for wildlife
  • Ornamental properties - just plain nice to look at!

Large Trees  - Over 10 meters (33 feet) tall

  1. Italian Alders Alnus cordata - Nitrogen Fixer
  2. Red Alders Alnus rubra - Nitrogen Fixer
  3. Hackberry Celtis spp. - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  4. Ash Fraxinus spp. - Timber, Some species have edible manna (sweet, hardened sap)
  5. Himalayan Sea Buckthorn Hippophae salicifolia - Nitrogen fixer, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  6. Eastern Redcedar Juniperus virginiana - Evergreen, Timber
  7. Osage Orange Maclura pomifera - Living livestock fence (large thorns), Fence post wood, Fruit is a natural insect repellant
  8. Mulberry Morus spp - Wild animal food, Edible Fruit
  9. Spruce (Picea spp.) - Can be ornamental, Evergreen, Timber, Edible Tips of New Growth
  10. Monterey Pine Pinus radiate - Evergreen, Timber, Paper
  11. Corsican Pine Pinus nigra var maritime - Evergreen, Timber
  12. Pinyon Pines Pinus spp. in the Ducampopinus Subgenus - Evergreen, Edible Seeds
  13. American Sycamore/Buttonwood Platanus occidentalis - Urban shade tree, Edible Sap (can make a syrup)
  14. Oak Quercus spp - Timber, Edible Nut
  15. Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia - Nitrogen Fixer, Timber, Firewood, Fence post wood, Edible Seed Pod

Small Trees - Under 10 meters (33 feet) tall
  1. Bamboo spp. (Tribe Bambuseae) - Hundreds of species, some Evergreen, Some Edible Shoots, Canes have many uses
  2. Redbud Cercis canadensis - Member of the pea family, may be a weak Nitrogen Fixer, Edible Flowers
  3. Hawthorns Crataegus spp - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  4. Sea Buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides - Nitrogen fixer, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  5. Crab and Other Apples Malus spp. - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  6. Pine Trees Pinus spp. - Evergreen, Edible Seeds
  7. Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  8. Damson / Bullace Prunus insititia - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  9. Willow Salix spp - Basketry, Nectar Source
  10. European Elder Sambucus nigra - Edible Fruit, Edible Flowers
  11. Rowans/Whitebeams/Service Trees Sorbus spp. - Some with Edible Fruit

Large Shrubs -  3-8 meters (10-26 feet) tall
  1. Alders Alnus spp - Nitrogen Fixer
  2. Juneberries Amelanchier spp - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  3. Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo - Evergreen, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  4. Bamboo spp. (Tribe Bambuseae) - Hundreds of species, some Evergreen, Some Edible Shoots, Canes have many uses
  5. Barberries Berberis spp. - Some are evergreen, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  6. Dogwoods Cornus spp. - Edible Fruit
  7. Hazels Corylus spp. - Edible Nuts
  8. Cotoneaster Cotoneaster spp - Wildlife food source
  9. Eleagnus Eleagnus x ebbingei - Evergreen, Nitrogen Fixer, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  10. Autumn Olive Eleagnus umbellata, Nitrogen Fixer, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  11. Plum Prunus spp. - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  12. Arrow Bamboo Pseudosasa japonica - Evergreen, Bamboo shoots/canes
  13. Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  14. Roses Rosa spp - Edible Fruit, Edible Flowers (great in Salads)
  15. Willow Salix spp - Basketry, Nectar Source
  16. Elderberries Sambucus spp - Edible Fruit, Edible Flowers
  17. Lilac Syringa spp - Ornamental, Nectar Source
  18. Nannyberry/Sweet Viburnum Viburnum lentago - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  19. Highbush Cranberry Viburnum opulus var. americanum - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source

Small Shrubs - Less than 3 meters (10 feet) tall 

  1. Green Alder Alnus viridis - Nitrogen Fixer
  2. Serviceberry and Shadbush Amelanchier spp. - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  3. Saskatoon Amelanchier alnifolia - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  4. Chokeberries Aronia spp.- Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  5. Saltbushes Artiplex spp. - Evergreen, Edible Leaves
  6. Barberries Berberis spp. - Some are evergreen, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  7. Siberian Pea Tree Caragana arboescens - Nitrogen Fixer, Edible Seed, Nectar Source
  8. Red Osier Cornus stolonifera - Basketry
  9. Hazels Corylus spp. - Edible Nuts
  10. Cotoneaster Cotoneaster spp. - Wildlife food source
  11. Broom Cytisus scoparius - Nitrogen Fixer, Nectar Source
  12. Goumi Eleagnus multiflora - Some are evergreen, Nitrogen Fixer, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  13. Fever Bush Garrya elliptica - Evergreen
  14. Salal Gaultheria shallon - Evergreen, Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  15. Juniper Juniperus communis - Evergreen, Edible Fruit
  16. Oregon Grapes Mahonia spp. - Evergreen, Edible Fruit
  17. New Zealand Flax Phormium tenax - Fiber, Twine
  18. Ninebark Physocarpus spp. - Erosion Control, Nectar Source
  19. Trifoliate Orange Poncirus trifoliate - Edible Fruit
  20. Nanking Cherry Prunus tomentosa - Edible Fruit
  21. Currants Ribes spp. - Edible Fruit, Leaves (tea)
  22. Roses Rosa spp. - Edible Fruit, Edible Flowers (great in salads)
  23. Chinese Bramble Rubus tricolor - Evergreen, Edible Fruit, Groundcover
  24. Willow Salix spp. - Basketry, Nectar  Source
  25. Snowberries Symphoricarpos spp - Nectar Source
  26. Gorse Ulex europaeus - Nitrogen Fixer, Nectar Source


  1. Honeysuckle Lonicera spp. - Edible Fruit, Wood for tools and crafts, Nectar Source
  2. Roses Rosa spp. - Edible Fruit, Edible Flowers (great in salads)
  3. Blackberry Rubus fruticosus - Edible Fruit, Nectar Source
  4. Chinese Bramble Rubus tricolor - Evergreen, Edible Fruit, Groundcover
I'll update this article, and lists, from time to time as I get more research completed.


  1. Hi John,

    Love your, very interesting, blog! Thank you!
    Something about Gorse (26): I once read advised planting Gorse in a chicken forage system because off the eddible seeds (for chickens - not human) the plant contains the toxic cystisine. Some research: in the past it was also fed to horses and cattle, for dying (yellow), as fuel, manure and more. This information came from old books, so either it is valuable information forgotten or it is out-dated. Today this easily burning shrub may be very usefull for Biochar. But will it be off some benefit for my chickens and horses? never the less, very beautifull when blooming!

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