Zone 5 drought-resistant conifers for windbreaks?

katskan41August 29, 2008

I didn't want to hijack Ken's thread so I began a new thread.

Does anyone have suggestions on which conifers are best suited to survive hot, dry summers within Zone 5 and would be best suited for windbreak purposes? Our windbreak area is quite far from our house and the water supply so we can't water those trees on a regular basis. We're located in west Michigan, across from a 500-acre soybean field, so we receive a considerable amount of western wind.

I've done a bit of reading on this forum and on other web sites and it sounds like there are several possible choices for my area, including Picea abies, Picea glauca, and Picea glauca. var. densata among others, although some souces conflict when it comes to drought resistance.

Obviously there are many other drough-tolerant conifers but either they are not zone 5 compatible or are difficult to find in our local area. I was also thinking of trying Pinus strobiformis, but although it might have good drough resistance when established I doubt it would handle winds very well.

So far our Picea pungens are suffering most from the drought. We've lost several small ones over the last few years. Our Picea glaucas are doing well, as are the Picea omorikas, although I'm sure all the conifers need water.

My wife and I really enjoy Abies (fir) trees because of the upright cones, but very few firs I'm familiar with can tolerate drought conditions for very long.

Any suggestions for a good drough-tolerant conifer for windbreaks?



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Once established, P. pungens, glauca, abies, omorika, and orientalis should all be able to handle a Michigan drought. It's getting them through the establishment period that can be tough.

For firs, A. concolor & cephalonica will be good once established. Don't forget the Douglas Fir (Psuedotsuga) as well

Pines are usually more drought tolerant than spruce and fir but they don't make for good windbreaks when planted in a single row since they tend to loose their lower branches as they age. The hard pines are more drought tolerant than the soft, but are also not as dense.

P. strobiformis is going to get wind burnt over the winter for you.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 9:43AM
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Norway spruce, in my experience, is one of the most drought resistant conifers I know. Just for one story: in 1988 and 1989 we had two consecutive drought years. In both years there was a period where in a period almost two months long, there was only one inch of rain, my Norway spruce trees, of which I had thousands, were the most drought resistant, with the possible exception of the oaks. In my conifer plantations, I had a few white pines die, a few red pines, but no Norway spruce even showed any stress at all! In fact, as near as I could observe, the growth of my Norway spruce trees was completely normal--the same as in other years.

Also, Norway spruce trees become established very, very fast compared to most other trees. If you plant bareroot trees--"transplants" about 30 inches tall with roots 15 to 18 inches long that you can get deep into the soil, they should be rather drought resistant the second year, and by the third or fourth, drought proof! The first year you can carry gallon jugs to each tree every week that you don't get good rain. Keep the weeds from shading them, and you will have one of the very toughest windbreaks any tree can provide.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 10:28AM
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Eastern Red Cedar is the workhorse for conifers down here. They make good windbeaks, are very drought-resistant, and are rated for up to Zone 3 or 4 if I remember right. Normal growth is about 18" year, and with regular watering they will approach 24-28" down here. Very tough adaptable conifer.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 11:11AM
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Thanks for all the replies so far on this thread.

Spruce: Somehow I knew you were going to recommend the Norway spruce! =) We have several mature NS on our property and they do well. The local farm market has several small potted (2 gallon?) NS trees on sale so I might check them out.

smivies: Thanks for the ideas. We do have a couple of mature Douglas firs as well. They're fast growing for sure, but our particular specimens don't look all that great. Ours are not very dense, and you can see through them easily, so I neve really considered them as a possibility. We've never had any A. cephalonica so I'll ahve to do some research. Our white pines are quite drought tolerant but as you say, the soft wood makes for a poor windbreak. Our white pines, though beautiful, quite often drop branches during winds and storms. I'm growing several P. strobiformis from seed and they did very well this season (their first year). We'll see how they do this winter. The blue-green color is great!

scotjute: Thanks for suggesting the Eastern Red Cedar. I'll take a look at that as well. We don'thave any of them so that might be interesting as well.

Thanks again! We're open to suggestions =)


    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 11:45AM
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hello katskan.I am thinking of planting a wind break myself and my choice will probably be the Austrian black pine.They have been planted here for the last century or so in the most unlikely places mainly to slow down dramatic soil erosion due to overgrazing by sheep;in fact in some places there appears to be no soil-just limestone rock detritus.Apparently hundreds of brave little foresters carrying huge rucksacks full of tiny pine seedlings climbed up the steep slopes,poking holes in the "ground" into wich they dropped their babies.These are now impressive forests.As you walk through them when it's very windy you notice those trees don't "break" the wind,they buffer it/slow it down if you like.Far from being an expert,I do know that a windbreak wich is too dense becomes like a wall and can create as many problems as it was supposed to solve.Turbulence is the main one:you could be sitting next to your windbreak thinking all is well while your neighbours washing is being ripped apart!PS:There are some excellent sites on creating windbreaks.Tune.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 9:51PM
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Thanks tunilla. Yes there are many Austrian pines in my area as well. I thought of using them as a windbreak but a few years ago I read that most pines lose their lower branches as they age. I've seen quite a few large Austrian pines in my are with missing lower branches, but it's possible that homeowners have removed them as well.

I understand that once established they do well in dry soil and are drought-tolerant.



    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 7:09AM
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You should definitely consider western varieties (preferably from AZ or NM) of Douglas fir and Abies concolor; they are very drought tolerant here. I have seen Abies concolor in the foothills of my nearby Sandia mountains growing among cactus and bananna yucca in good low elevation microclimates! It is almost on par with Ponderosa pine for drought tolerance in this area IMO. Douglas fir is also found in some unexpected spots. Both of these species took a couple 95 degree hot and dry days in my garden this summer as well with no problems.

See the very extreme bottom of the linked picture for isolated specimens in dry, mountainous environments. The trees that appear to be conifers in the picture (green specs) are either Ponderosa pine or white fir with a few scattered pinus edulis which doesn't grow well on steep slopes for some reason.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:10AM
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Thanks for the many suggestions. Based on feedback here and my own reading it appears that some good conifers for drought resistance are white pine, Norway spruce, Black Hills spruce, Douglas fir, Austrian pine and white fir.

As mentioned, these trees will be used in a windbreak where regular waterings is not possible. We also have a deer issue in that area as well.

Since the trees will be planted as a windbreak, the white pine is not a good choice due to soft wood and storm damage issues. Both Douglas fir and Norway spruce are fast growers, so either of them would be a good choice. Both seem to resist storm damage and wind from what I've seen.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 7:13AM
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picea(6A Cinci- Oh)


IS there a source for concolor from your area that would be more drought tolerant? David

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 11:20PM
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I would definitely pay attention what to tunilla is telling you. It is very true that the winds can be a lot stronger 50' past the wind break then without it & you may be defeating your purpose. Like tunilla said there are a lot of web sites out there that will give you the exact measurements of this.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 9:34PM
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Thank you lala...I am still working on my windbreak concept.I may plant some brooms or other whippy shrubs between or in front of the pines.I may even go for Arizona cypress;they're also widely planted around here.Bye.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 5:13PM
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Regarding southwestern sources for Abies concolor, I know Plants of the SW in Santa Fe and Albq. has White fir seed which is likely locally sourced. I honestly wish I knew myself where to find the local species in bigger sizes. I have read in local hiking books that the Sandia white fir ecotype has been collected for nursery stock, but I never found out more than that. I need to collect my own seed in the local mountains.

Most of the nurseries here have 'Candicans' and other White fir from unknown provenance (at least to my knowledge). I will say that A. concolor 'Blue Cloak' was an absolute champ this summer in the Albuquerque high desert heat, though. Great plant and it looks like it will be fast growing. I would imagine Utah, Northern AZ, and Southern CO nurseries might have some good plants too. As a rule for most southwestern conifers, the more glaucous it is the more likely it is drought tolerant, too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plants of the SW - a great nursery BTW

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 10:43PM
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