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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Italian Cypress Will Work as a Windbreak on 1 Acre But....

Q. I have used Italian cypress in moderate climates with very good success but now I will be moving to the desert in Pahrump on one acre and want to put in about 30-50 of these for windbreak. Is there anything special I need to consider planting these in a desert climate?

Italian cypress if planted close enough can provide good wind protection...but at a cost. Living wind barriers use water. Balance the benefit you get from a living windbreak vs. its cost. Windbreaks are effective up to about five times their height. Place windbreaks close to where you need them. Too far away is a waste of time, water and money.
A. Pahrump gets colder than Las Vegas and will dip down to 10°F. They have trouble growing plants which have less cold tolerance than Las Vegas. The relative humidity can drop to as low as about 10% at times but regularly is between 20 to 30%. Much like the rest of lower elevations southern Nevada, some light intensities can be about 20% higher than in other parts of the United States.

Italian Cypress will work but I also am going to attach a document I wrote on windbreaks for southern Nevada. People in Pahrump love to plant these windbreaks along the edge of their properties but, in my opinion, if windbreaks are not planted in the right locations and the correct distances from the areas to be protected, you are just wasting your money and water. They make a nice wall and perhaps a visual barrier and that's it. I hope you are young man because by the time they get large enough to be of any value as a windbreak at those distances it will be many years.

Watering them on drip irrigation will work. Be sure your size your drip irrigation mainline, sub lines and laterals large enough to handle the irrigation you will expect in the next 20 years. Adding emitters to existing lines to deliver more water as plants get larger will not be a problem. But if you under size your irrigation water delivery lines by not planning for the future now and they are too small to accommodate the increased water use as these plants get larger, then you will be redoing it in a few years.

Drip irrigation requires maintenance. This includes flushing lines on a regular basis and using appropriate filtration or you will have nothing but problems. You can inject fertilizer into drip lines. Expect about 12 inches of growth each year. Windbreaks modify the wind to a distance equal to about five times their height.

Pahrump was a major southern Nevada farming community in the past and has good soils in many locations. Be sure to amend your soil surrounding these plants at the time of planting. I usually recommend about a 50-50 addition of soil amendment to raw desert soil at the time of planting.

Our desert soils are extremely low in organic material. They will also perform better and have fewer problems if you can surround them with several inches of wood mulch. Keep the mulch away from the trunks about 12 inches for the first five years.

Rabbits do not like Italian Cypress but if they are hungry enough and the population explodes due to recent fires, they will be damaged or destroyed by rabbits.

I want to gently remind you that we do live in the desert. And even though there may be only the cost of pumping the water in your mind there are other “costs” as well. I like to call these social and environmental costs. Pahrump’s water basin is already overdrawn (more water is used than is replenished to the aquifer) and we need to consider this when we are designing our landscapes and gardens. We need to find a fine balance between our quality of life and respect for where we live.

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