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Landscaping for privacy: Windbreaks and salt buffers

by Timber Press on February 12, 2014

in Design, Gardening

A seaside buffer is provided by an outer row of shrubs with a mixed ornamental border on the inside. Image: Andrew Buchanan

While landscaping for privacy can shield your yard from neighbors, reduce noise, or hide an eyesore, it can also provide protection. In this post, Marty Wingate offers advice on how to contend with two common environmental intrusions, wind and salt.


Urban canyons created by tall office buildings and condominiums channel the wind, which grows fierce as it races through city streets. Heavy winds can also be problematic in suburban and rural areas, depending on the landscape and climate. The wind’s desiccating effects distress people and plants alike. Wind whips moisture away from plant leaves just as it does our skin.

Planted within a few feet of the house, a hedge acts as a windbreak as well as providing a bit of extra insulation. Photo: Tristan Brown

Planted within a few feet of the house, a hedge acts as a windbreak as well as providing a bit of extra insulation. Photo: Tristin Brown

Plants make a better windbreak than a solid fence or wall, because the plants allow some of the flowing air to pass through. When wind encounters a wall, it will find a way to pass above or around the structure. The turbulence created by the wind as it passes over or around a solid barrier can be even more stressful than the wind itself. Because plants allow some wind to pass through, they do not cause turbulence and instead filter the wind and reduce its speed.

A windbreak diverts the wind from five to seven times the height of the plants—in other words, a row of evergreen trees 25 ft. high can divert wind up and over for a distance of 175 ft. Plant your windbreak perpendicular to the wind and on the windward side of your property, like an army waiting to meet an advancing foe.


Weigela hortensis. Image: Kenpei Photo

Plant a windbreak of two or more rows of plants to increase its effectiveness. The longer the rows, the more benefits the windbreak provides, but even a short row of three to five plants will help on a small lot. A mix of broadleaf and coniferous plants will do the job of deflecting wind—lifting it up and over your property—as well as provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Add a row of conifers, such as shore pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta) in a coastal area or Serbian spruce (Picea omorika), and a row of broadleaf evergreen or deciduous shrubs such as Abelia grandiflora (Zones 6–9), Weigela spp. (Zones 5-9), and Philadelphus spp. (Zones 5–9), for the inside areas of the windbreak, where you can also mix in perennials to add color.



Seaside gardens must be able to withstand wind and salt spray. Look to hardy plants such as lavender and ornamental grasses to provide interest and salt and wind tolerance. Photo: Emily Zulauf:

Seaside gardens must often endure salty spray yearround, especially when winds are a constant. In cold regions, gardens suffer from salt spray from another source: Salt spread on the roadway as a de-icing agent, mixed with melting snow, can be sprayed into your garden by passing cars.

If you live at the seaside or along roadways that are salted in winter, you can plant attractive buffers using plants that resist or tolerate the presence of salt that can damage other plants in your garden. Consider planting salt tolerant trees, such as the gingko (Ginkgo biloba), Mediterranean olive (Olea europaea), and Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii). Salt-tolerant shrubs include Escallonia spp. and the sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). Lavender (Lavandula spp.) and many ornamental grasses, such as zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis), also withstand seaside conditions. These plants can tolerate salt on their leaves and (always within limits) around their root systems without the considerable damage this causes to other plants. Also look to see what your neighbors plant in their gardens, or learn about the native plants that grow along the coastline in your area.

You can also look for clues that a plant might be able to tolerate high concentrations of salt. Plants with thick bark, such as the craggy, fissured trunk of a pine, or a waxy cuticle, such as that which covers the leaves of the mock orange (Pittosporum tobira), might help a plant resist salt damage.

Lists of salt-tolerant plants vary with regard to how susceptible a plant may be to the damage caused by salts—one list will label a plant “tolerant” and another labels the same plant “sensitive.” The health of your soil, the maturity of the plants, and the amount of salt present all influence how plants will fare.

Miscanthus sinensis. Photo: Miya.m

Miscanthus sinensis. Photo: Miya.m

Deciduous trees and shrubs have the edge when dealing with salts. Without foliage and with minimal physiological processes carried out in cold weather, these plants may not be affected by salt during the winter. In climates where road salts are regularly used or where sea salts spray into your garden, try tough plants such as chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Siberian peashrub (Caragana arborescens), serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), and hedge maple (Acer campestre).

Few evergreen plants tolerate both salt spray and salt in the soil. Hardy conifers include Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca ‘Densata’), Austrian pine (Pinus nigra), and mugo pine (P. mugo).


wingate_mMarty Wingate is a Seattle-based writer and speaker on gardens and travel. She is the author of three other books: The Bellevue Botanical Garden: Celebrating 15 Years, Big Ideas for Northwest Small Gardens, and The Big Book of Northwest Perennials.



Click image below for a look inside this book:


“Hits the perfect sweet spot, offering property owners an array of usable and beautiful design solutions, [with] endless plant suggestions to achieve sanctuary in one’s front or backyard.” —Debra Prinzing, contributing editor, Better Homes and Gardens

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Susan in the Pink Hat December 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm

A much needed book for myself. I’ll look forward to its release!

2 Candice Peaslee, Marketing Associate January 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

You’ll have to let us know what you think, Susan! :)

3 steve April 22, 2013 at 4:17 pm

This is a good idea for a birthday gift for me.

4 Brian Ridder April 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

Well, here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday, Steve!

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