In late December, in the wake of the storm that didn’t give us the snow that was predicted but did deliver the winds, I took a woodland walk with my family.
As we stepped outside, the effects of the wind could be heard and seen, roaring through and tossing the tops of the trees with great vigor.
At ground level, though, it was much more calm. We sauntered along the path, enjoying the sunshine, which has seemed too-often absent lately.
As we approached the western boundary, which runs along open pasture and cropland, we suddenly felt the full force of the wind. It now felt much colder. We pulled our scarves up over our faces and our hats more securely down over our ears and hurried along the edge of the woods, eager to make the turn once more into the protection of the forest.
Protection from the full effects of the wind is just one more benefit that trees provide. While a deciduous stand of at least 35 to 50 feet wide will provide a nice windbreak, even single rows of evergreen trees on the north and west sides of your house will do the same.
By reducing the speed of air flowing over your home, a windbreak reduces the rate of cold air infiltration and slows heat transfer from inside to outside, reducing your heating costs up to 25 percent.
Foundation plantings around your home create a still air space between them and the house wall, further slowing heat transfer through the wall. However, on the sunny sides, it is good to let the sun strike the wall of the house and shine through windows to add interior heat and slow heat conduction from the inside to out.
Trees planted for summer shade should be deciduous, and their branches should be removed until relatively high above the ground to take full advantage of the winter sunshine.
You might think that planting trees to save energy isn’t really worthwhile because they take too long to grow. But most trees grow pretty rapidly when they’re young, so it doesn’t take long to reach a height that will start blocking the wind. This is especially true if you start with 3 to 5-foot trees rather than seedlings
Of the evergreens common in our area, blue spruce is an example of a slow grower, and white pines and Norway spruce are examples of fast growers. If you want to plant a double row you can place slower growing varieties to the south and north (closer to the house) than the faster growers and create a beautiful, varied array of textures and colors.
Even if you move away before you reap the savings on heating costs, you will have the pleasure of their beauty and that of the birds and other creatures who will be drawn to the habitat you created. And they will be extracting and storing carbon as they grow, doing their part to combat global warming.
Trees do provide an enormity of benefits. In storms and high winds, though, they can drop branches or uproot, sometimes causing harm to people and property. To minimize this risk, it is important to prune your trees from time to time.
Always remove dead or damaged branches as soon as possible, and promote symmetrical growth and balance between the tree’s height and spread. Trees planted for windbreaks should not have their lower branches removed, but they might benefit from lateral trimming of branches to reduce spread and decrease the risk of breakage in heavy snow and ice storms.
In very high winds, skip the woodland walk for an activity away from trees.
Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board. Visit the board’s Web site at www.wcfb.sailorsite.net to learn more about forest communities and projects you can do.