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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Living Windbreaks Use Water - A Major Concern in the Desert


Q. We just moved from Las Vegas to Pahrump We bought a home on an acre of land - I'd send a picture but - to be honest  - its just bare high-desert land As far as we know Pahrump is considered Zone13 (Sunset). We would like your advice on trees for wind barriers. We have been told by locals that there are several pine trees that would make a good wind barrier. Judging by the look of the town, most properties have planted the pines around the perimeter of their properties.
After reading SNWA desert planting ideas and other high-desert websites, we thought we would start with the pines and then layer from there (inward) For example:pines fruit or other shade trees large bushes or grasses edible and low bushes finally, low growing plants.  We want to encourage birds, hummingbirds and butterflies and we will add raised beds for veggies.
Could you give us your advice on the types of pines and other trees that would grow in this area. Could you please comment on the layering plan or give us some indication which direction we should head?

A. I would refer you to a fact sheet I wrote a couple of years ago which can be found at http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/ho/2006/fs0688.pdf

It basically says that the windbreak will affect an area downwind equal to about five times its height. Windbreaks need to be multilayered when possible with a combination of trees and shrubs. A variety of plants, not just one kind, is more desirable. The biggest mistake I see done in Pahrump is putting a big line of trees right on the border of their property. It just does not make any sense to me. If they need a fence there is a lot of things you can build that don't require water. If it is a windbreak then it is too far from the living area to be very effective. You need to answer the questions where does the wind come from that you are trying to stop. What time of year is it a problem.

Design your outside living area first. Then go ahead and place your plant materials for screening, visual barriers and windbreaks. Windbreaks integrated into your landscape can use smaller plants. Remember big plants use more water than little plants and if you put a whole bunch of trees on the perimeter of the property what good does that do except use up a bunch of water unnecessarily. Plants need to be concentrated near living areas and they need to be part of the outside living area, usually defining the "walls" and "ceilings" of these spaces.

Fences on the perimeter of the property may be expensive at the beginning but they are lower maintenance and use less water than a living fence on the perimeter. In the fact sheet I purposely stay away from recommending plant materials. There are plenty of places that can recommend plants for your area including your local garden club, nursery and extension office. The extension office in Pahrump has a great little garden area that demonstrates some plants for the area. They have lists as well.

Basic recommendations for trees for the desert are to keep them in scale with the house and property, and put them where they will do the most good and you can appreciate them. Every plant you put in the ground should have a good reason for being there. This is the desert and water is precious. I hope this helps a little. this is a big topic to cover.

1 comment:

  1. http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/climate/windrose.html

    http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/ftpref/downloads/climate/windrose/

    prevailing winds by month, direction, percentage...also good for pollen season (often local hospital web sites have listing of pollen season in your area and types detected if you want to orient your trees).

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