Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Save Money in 2009: Plant a Shelterbelt

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: trees, shelterbelt, wind break, planting, farms, save money,

 Shelterbelt near Atkinson, Nebraska.

The Kansas Forest Service brochure for tree and shrub seedlings arrived in the mail yesterday.  The form notes that the special pricing on these trees is available to anyone willing to plant them for conservation purposes … not for landscaping or nursery purposes. That seems fair to me, especially since I believe in hedgerows and shelterbelts. Last year I planted some 200 Forest Service tree and shrub seedlings  … this year I am tempted to put in another shelterbelt … using this program, I can plant 100 trees for less than $70.

 Shelterbelt protected farm in central Indiana.

Shelterbelts became popular in the Great Plains and Midwest as a result of several land rushes. My great grandfather, Oscar H. Will, and his son George, capitalized on the need to shelter fields and pastures from the wind, and to populate tree claims with timber by supplying millions of Cottonwood, Ash, Boxelder and other seedlings to homesteaders, farmers, the railroad and various municipalities. Those early shelterbelts were created with seedlings that sprouted freely along the banks, and on the sandbars, of the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota (Dakota Territory initially). Oscar, and later, George put together crews of young men to pull dormant seedlings, bundle them and float them down the Missouri River to Bismarck in flatboats. Some collecting crews ranged as far as the upper reaches of the Missouri, deep into Montana.

 Shelterbelt in Northeast Indiana.

Shelterbelts save money by reducing convective heat loss from buildings and providing shade. They also filter dust from the breeze, which substantially lowers summertime home maintenance expenses. Shelterbelts reduce livestock feed costs in all seasons because they protect animals from exposure to extreme weather, and they protect tender crops and gardens from the ravages of hot dry winds.

 Shelterbelt near Harrisburg, South Dakota.

When we built our first farm in South Dakota, we planted more than 2000 feet of 5-row shelterbelt to protect the building and garden sites from cold north and west winds. More than 90 percent of the seedlings survived the first season. The Soil Conservation Service (as it was called in the early 1990s) required that we cultivate the ground bare between the tree rows for at least three years after planting. That we did, and today those Ash, Locust, Blue Spruce, Russian Olive, Manchurian Apricot, Nanking Cherry and Lilacs have achieved a height and density that gives the homestead’s current owners plenty of privacy and wind protection. The fact that the tree planting created a few acres of wildlife habitat is an added bonus.

 Lovely ranch barn protected by mature Cottonwood shelterbelt near Bartlett, Nebraska.

Unless you already live in the woods, you can save some money on your heating, cooling and snowplowing bill by planting a shelterbelt. Ideally, the shelterbelt should consist of a minimum of 5 rows of trees and shrubs situated around 150 feet from any buildings in the protected area. Check the USDA’s website for more information on designing a functional shelterbelt.