Screens and Windbreaks

I’ve never been a tidy person. Organized? Yes. Tidy? No. I still remember a Professor in a cranky mood who demanded to know how he could believe scientific results that came from a desk looking like mine. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. I still have an untidy desk and as well, I have an untidy area in my yard. That leads to the gardening topic of how to camouflage a piece of the yard, or avoid looking at something in someone else’s yard, or maybe just conceal a few windows that we’d rather keep private.

The fastest way is to build a tall fence. It’s not always practical though to have a fence running through the middle of the yard, and fences are expensive. Thick evergreen trees work well too, if you don’t mind waiting for 10 or 20 years. Not even hard core gardeners are that patient, though it might be a plan to put in the pines, firs and spruces and plant faster growing plants in front of them. Evergreens usually get quite big too and are not always something that will fit into an area. In my case, I needed to screen off my pile of pots and garden work area, without creating any shade for the solar panels on the roof, and I wanted it screened NOW.

There are quite a few plants that will grow fast and they all have the same thing in common. They need LOTS of water. Put in the watering system first. If you try to water by hand, it just won’t be enough. Your plants might grow, but you want them to grow fast, and nothing helps that like a steady, reliable supply of water.

There are a number of websites advertising fast growing trees. Many of these have fancy names, but are mostly hybrid willows and poplars, and they do grow fast, but are not necessarily thick and dense. They would be a good choice if you needed tall trees to screen some upstairs windows. The tees that I really like are birch trees. They don’t grow as tall as poplars, but they don’t send out new trees from the roots either, as poplars do. My neighbors on both sides have cut down poplars that were sending up new trees many feet from the original tree. Aspen are very pretty but they also form large groves. There are many varieties of birch, and most of them are quite hardy in our climate. I’ve got several varieties and the only one to have a problem with last winter was the River Birch (Betula nigra) which did not leaf out until July. Starting with 1 gallon sized plants you should have good sized trees in about 5 years.

Just in case you have a non-gardening spouse who wants to see a tall tree and fast, you can go out and buy big trees at high cost. Just be aware that in about 5 years the big tree will be no bigger than a small one planted at the same time. Being confined to a pot, even a large pot, really does a job on the root system, and it takes years for the cramped roots to grow well enough to support a bigger canopy, while the small tree can get its roots down into the ground right from the start.

For a fast growing screen or windbreak that doesn’t have to be much taller than 15-20ft, you just can’t beat shrub willows. The local shrub willows can get a bit unkempt looking but there are hundreds of willow varieties to choose from. I got several from ForestFarms over in Williams. If you don’t want to spend money on willows then you can always go find one that you like, break off a small branch and just stick it in the ground. As long as it gets regular water, it will soon grow roots. Although they are not evergreens, the shrubs become so dense that they do provide a screen, even when the leaves have fallen. Within 3 years you will have a functioning screen or windbreak.

And for a quicker screen? In one area I planted raspberries, and in another, Karl Foerster feather reed grass. They were taller than me in about a year.

screens and windbreaks


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