Windbreak

Protection is critical in the forest garden and windbreaks provide habitat and food as well as protection from the wind.

Cornus windbreak hedge, view over valley
Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' windbreak hedge by the polytunnel

Windbreak hedges are essential for protecting plants in the forest garden. There is always a balance to be struck between protection and sunlight. Generally, plant the tallest windbreak to the north, less tall to the east and the shortest on the south and west.

If you can afford the space, plant a double thickness hedge, and try to avoid gaps by using baffles or overlapping hedges.

The protection offered is about 7 times the height of the hedge eg a 5m hedge protects about 35m into the garden.

Do combine a windbreak hedge with a dead hedge, particularly in exposed spots as the dead hedge will give the windbreak a better chance to get established. It’s even easier if you use an existing stock hedge as one side of a dead hedge.

Species

To support wildlife, plant native where you can. In West Wales, these are some of the best performing native hedging plants:

And these are the non-natives:

Plants For A Future have a list of plants suitable for hedging and windbreaks.

If you have the time, buy a few cultivars of your hedging plant and propagate them from cuttings. This is a cheap way to have a hedge that fruits well.

Mulching

Woodchip mulch on gap between sheet mulch

Mulch the gap! Otherwise, there will be weeds!

Oftentimes, you’ll have a neighbours bramble and nettle to deal with. These are fine forest garden plants in their own right but not what you want in the midst of an establishing windbreak hedge.

Woven plastic sheet mulch (use a good quality brand like PhormiSol or Mypex) comes into its own here, as it provides a barrier against tip-layering bramble until the hedge is established enough to block the light out from the bramble.

Plant a single line between the two rows, so that the sheet can be re-used. Use metal pegs to temporarily hold down the sheet but it’s imperative to put lots of really heavy objects down, otherwise the sheet will take off in the next storm! Also, be sure to put down some wood chip or hay mulch between the gaps.

Illustration showing how to sheet mulch new windbreak hedge in weedy area

Highly detailed illustration showing a mulching technique for a windbreak in a weedy spot

In year 2, totally remove the front row of sheet mulch and fold back the rear row onto itself, and then plant the second windbreak row. Then aply a thick wood chip or bark mulch and a plant cheap and cheerful ground cover plant (Glechoma hederacea is a favourite, as it grows well locally).

When the hedge is thick enough, remove the remaining sheet mulch.

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