• Heidi Konesko

Winter Windbreaks: Living Snow Fences


This winter has sure been a cold and windy one! One thing I’m grateful for is the living snowfence that we planted along our driveway when we moved to our house 20 years ago.

Our place is exposed to the west, and during our first winter there we experienced repeated drifting of snow, blocking a good part of our long driveway with snow again and again. The next fall we bought 5 rolls of wooden slat snow fence and installed it beside the driveway. Because the wind comes primarily from the northwest, and that part of the driveway runs north-south, we learned that the most effective layout for the snow fence was to have it in a herringbone pattern of 50’ long rows, 50’ apart.


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The rows are perpendicular to the prevailing winds and oriented to collect the snow as it blows across the field and before it hits the driveway. It was effective at reducing snow drifts on the driveway, and we could see that we needed something bigger and more permanent for the long term, so the next step was to plant a “living snowfence” of trees in the same pattern, just behind the snow fence. As the trees grew taller they took over the job and eventually we removed the old snow fence.

Among the added benefits is that the area behind the living snowfence is sheltered from the fierce winds, making it a nice place to walk the dogs, even in the worst weather! We have put sheep and cattle between the rows in the summer, where they graze the grass and take advantage of the shelter and shade provided by the trees. The birds love it too, sheltering in the trees year round.

When planning a living snowfence, the rule of thumb is that most of the snow will drop in an area 2x the height of the snowfence. So a 10’ tall row of trees will accumulate a large amount of snow within about 20’ in front of it.

Here are some links to living snowfence and windbreak design guides:

https://www.arborday.org/programs/graphics/conservation-trees/living-snow-fences.pdf

https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/documents/workingtrees/brochures/livingsnowfenceforweb.pdf

https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/eden/Disasters/Tree%20Windbreaks.pdf

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1167383.pdf

Written by: Heidi Konesko

NRCS Soil Conservationist

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