The last few weeks have had some extremely blustery days. Last week at a picnic in Rio Vista, I watched the potato chips fly right off my plate. When I first moved to Fairfield, I suspected the wind was going to be a part of my life when I noticed that many of the trees were growing at a slant.
But I was busy moving and starting a brand new landscape on my barren lot. I planted groundcover in the front yard and carefully mulched around the new plants with a mixture, romantically called Forest Floor Blend. At the end of the day after hauling multiple loads of this mixture, I was quite proud of myself. Imagine my surprise the following morning when I discovered that every bit of the lightweight mulch was gone, blown into my neighbor’s yard.
Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve learned a few more things. I could always predict the first big wind storm of the spring. It would invariably occur just as the iris bloom spikes in the front yard reached their top height and began to open. It was heartbreaking to see them end up in tatters. After a few years, I moved most of my irises to my fenced and more protected, back yard.
Wind can damage plants in several ways. It can physically bend the trunks, stems or branches of the plants, causing them to break off if they are rigid or brittle. It can shred large leaves like those on a banana tree. It can also stress or kill plants by causing them to dry out.
Wind can also impact our gardening practices. If you are watering with sprinklers, wind can carry the water far away from your plants. Setting your sprinklers to go off at a time when it is less likely to be windy can help. Drip irrigation is less susceptible to the effects of wind.
If you are planning to apply any treatments with a sprayer, you have to take the wind into consideration. Whether you are talking about dormant oil for your fruit trees, an insecticidal soap treatment or a herbicide, it is not safe to apply on a windy day. Wind can carry the treatment away from the intended plant onto other surrounding plants in your yard or your neighbor’s with devastating results.
So what can you do to make it easier to garden in a windy area? One direction taken by a wealthy landowner in Scotland was to first plant rapidly growing shrubs and trees in a perimeter around his property. After five to ten years they planted a lovely garden within its wind breaking perimeter.
Now most of us don’t have the acreage, the budget, or the time that this would entail. However we can strategically plant trees or build fences that will help block the wind and create more sheltered areas for our plants.
The other thing we can do is choose plants that are wind resistant. Look at what is thriving in established plantings in neighborhood or commercial landscapes in your windy area. By established plantings, I mean those that have been there a few years and are passing the test of time.
There are also lists of wind resistant plants. Sunset Western Garden Book has such a list in their plant finder section. Some of their suggestions that might work in our area include, for large trees: Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), Olive (Olea europaea), Privet (Ligustrum lucidum), Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Holly Oak (Quercus ilex), Western Cedar (Thuja plicata), and palms.
For wind resistant shrubs and small trees in our zone 14 they suggest Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos), California Lilac (Ceanothus), Rockrose (Cistus), Hop Bush (Dodonea viscosa), Lantana, Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), Lavender (Lavandula), Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica), Oleander (Nerium oleander), Pyracantha, and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
For perennials they suggest Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus), Jade Plant (Crassula ovata), Daylilies (Hemerocallis), Geraniums (Pelargoniums), Phormiums, Sages (Salvias), Agaves, Yuccas, Euryops, and Euphorbias.
Now in the interests of full disclosure, I have to mention the good aspects of wind. Wind aids in seed dispersal and, in some plants, pollination. The increased air circulation minimizes risks of many fungal diseases. And perhaps most importantly, it gives us cooler temperatures in summer. Without it, we would have temperatures more like Vacaville and Davis.
Karen Metz is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.