Shelter from the Storm

aldersShelter makes our land energy efficient.

Without shelter vegetables and animals produce less, bees hate the wind so our fruit trees don’t get pollinated, blossoms and fruit get blown off. If we don’t protect ourselves – we use more energy to produce less, simple as that.

Before we can create good shelter, we must understand the winds at our place.

Don’t presume the nor wester arrives at your house directly from the nor west. Wind is fluid, it responds to sand dunes, hills, valleys and buildings. It alters direction, getting funneled into small areas making it colder and stronger. For clues as to your winds look at the shapes of the trees around your place, ask neighbours (the ones with dirt beneath their nails!) and set up wind flags. Strips of rag tied to stakes and banged in round and about are great indicators. Most of all get out in it, and experience it.

Once you understand exactly where all the winds come from then you can set about creating safe havens – little warm sheltered pockets for your food growing enterprises. Start by eliminating cold wind tunnels in those narrow gaps between buildings or beneath tall trees.

Effective wind shelter:

  1. Filters the wind. A solid wall or dense row of trees can create havoc on the otherside as the wind slams up against the solid block and hurls itself over whirling like a dervish. Slat fences and windcloth are excellent examples of filtering not blocking.
  2. Lifts the wind and sends it over the top. Create a ramp with your plantings or by mounding up earth and planting this out. Choose rugged varieties as your first layer of defense. Flaxes or toetoes are fabulous at the bottom of the ‘ramp’, in the brunt of the wind.
  3. Pushes the wind out past the area you want to protect. A semi circle is a really strong shape for a shelterbelt. The outside curve is the windy side and the inside circle the haven. The centre is the point of impact. Layer plants and/or fences and/or windcloth to create three layers at this point. The arms of the semi circle go past the impact of the wind, tapering off to one layer. This shape closes your garden in a warm hug while leaving it open for sunlight.

For every 1metre up count on 6metres protection in front. You don’t need huge trees! The smart gardener chooses trees that match the height they need and avoids the annual hassle of tree trimming. Besides, tall trees can create cold wind funnels underneath. In urban environments stick with low growing, multi branched hedgers like corokia, flax, toetoe, coprosma, rosemary, hebe, muehlenbeckia etc. Fine or rubbery leaves cope best with winds. Use deciduous trees if you need taller specimens to allow winter sun through.

It’s incredible the difference one well placed tree will make.

Get out your pencil and paper and sketch your land and buildings, draw in your winds and then have a play with clever wind solutions before you put in any gardens! Rubbing out mistakes drawn in pencil is a heck of alot easier than rebuilding a garden. It’s the best investment in time you’ll make.

What other benefits can your windshelter provide you with?

  • suntrap – block out the south, hold the sun
  • food eg: wind hardy fruiters like fejoas
  • firewood eg: manukas or coppiced trees
  • privacy
  • housing for beneficial insects
  • food for beneficial insects eg: hebes and corokia
  • a place for prunings to rot down in
  • stock fodder eg: tree lucerne, alder, willow
  • nitrogen fixation eg: tree lucerne, alders, kowhai

My Favourite Natives for shelter

For small places

Corokia: flowers and habitats for beneficials, berries for birds, excellent wind shelter, hedges from the ground up, prunes well, coloured cultivars not as robust as green ones, suits dry to wet

Coprosma: Suited best to dry/ free draining (except ‘propinqua’ for wet coastal), berries for birds, prunes well, salt wind ok, coloniser plant

Olearia: Suits free draining, flowers for beneficials, ‘Paniculcata’ is fragrant, delicate, light green foliage, prunes well, hedges from ground up

Flax: excellent wind shelter, from ground up, habitat for beneficials, nectar for bees and birds, suits dry to wet, coloniser plant

Muehlenbeckia Astoni: Suits dry or freedraining, twiggy and dense providing habitat for beneficials, prunes well, pretty.

For Bigger Spaces

Toetoe: suits dry/ free draining, excellent to beat weeds out, habitat for beneficials, coloniser plant, excellent shelter for stock

Manuka: flowers for bees and habitat for beneficials, trunk, frost tender when young, suits most soils, useful wood and medicine, wont prune, 5m, coloniser plant.

Ngaio: pale green, round tree from the ground up, frost tender when young, suits sandy, freedraining, 6m, coastal, fast growing

Hoheria: fast growing, 6m, suits heavier soils, trunk, flowers for bees, fragrant, prunes well

Kanuka: 8m, coloniser, flowers for beneficials, firewood, medicine

Myrsine: pretty wavy pale green foliage, red stems, fast grower, flowers for beneficials, 5m, suits dry to heavy soils but not wet, prunes well

Pittosporum: flowers and habitat for beneficials, trunk, prunes well. For clay: pittosporum eugenoides; pittosporum mountain green;  pittosporum tenuifolim. For sand: pittosporum crassifolium; pittosporum stephens island



For more detailed information I recommend Rosemary Morrows book “Earth Users Guide to Permaculture”, her diagrams are really helpful.