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Shelterbelt planning and design

Trees and shelterbelt planting is a long-term investment that requires careful planning and design.

"You have to ask yourself what you want to accomplish by planting trees or shelterbelts on your property," says Toso Bozic, agroforestry/bioenergy specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. "You should involve all family members in this process to bring in their ideas, thoughts and values."

Bozic says trees should always be managed with future generations as well as immediate needs in mind. "The goals can be many ranging from wind protection, reduce the energy cost, increase the property values, providing visual barriers and privacy, increase biodiversity of wildlife species, retain water and many others goals. All of these can be achieved if you plan and design properly."

First step, says Bozic, is to visit already established and mature shelterbelts and tree planting in the local area. "Visit already established shelterbelt and windbreaks and talk to landowners about what did or not work on their property. That'll give you valuable information about potential soil and water problems, maintenance requirements, cost and potential issues, tree growth, reasons to choose different species, various spacing, and weed control issues."

For proper design and planning the most important tools are pencil and eraser. "I can't stress enough that you can change anything on paper but once you put trees on ground changes are costly. You are in a unique position to create something that can be in harmony with nature but at same time very different."

Proper planning and design include several steps:

  • Find an area to plant that combines effective protection from wind and snow with the functional design possibilities to increase aesthetic value.
  • Use an aerial photograph from the local county office or Google Earth to draw a map for the design.
  • Once the mapping is complete, collect as much as information as possible on soil type, drainage, slope, prevailing winds, sunlight exposure, property lines, power and other utility lines, buildings, roads etc.
  • When the site assessment is complete, chose tree and shrub species. "The key thing is to diversity," says Bozic. "Many people just choose very few species such as spruce, hybrid poplar and lilac. There is nothing wrong with any of these species but there is a higher long-term risk for your trees if you only of plant few species. Plant a variety of trees and shrubs on your property. Each species provides unique beauty and benefits as well as challenges. Diversity is key for the long-term viability of your shelterbelts."
  • In natural forest there is no "recommended" spacing as trees, through competition based on site abilities, provide their own best spacing. "While you have to watch for the functionality and effectiveness of your shelterbelt, whether you plant every 8, 10 or 12 or 8 between trees is really up to you. Also, you do not need to plant in straight rows. Be creative."

Once design, site assessment, trees and shrub choice, and spacing requirements are complete, it's time for the hard work of site preparation and tree planting, followed by ongoing maintenance.

"Planning and design is the probably the most crucial steps in long journey of establishment of trees and shrubs on your property," adds Bozic. "It takes detail and thought but is also fun where the creativity and wisdom of your family create something unique and joyful."



March 30, 2015  By Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development


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