FAQ: Shelterbelt Planning

FAQ: Shelterbelt Planning

  • The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada-Prairie Shelterbelt Program (PSP) promoted the environmental and economic benefits of agroforestry/shelterbelts through research, technology transfer and the provision of tree and shrub seedlings to Prairie farmers. The PSP – administered by AAFC’s Agroforestry Development Centre, based at Indian Head, SK – was available to eligible clients in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Peace River region of British Columbia.
  • The Program’s objectives included protection of soil and water resources, improvement in air quality, enhanced wildlife habitats, increased economic returns for farmers, and a better quality of life for rural residents. 
  • The Centre (formerly known as the PFRA Shelterbelt Centre) was a diversified research, administration and tree nursery facility based on 640 acres (256 ha.) where it was established by the government of Canada in 1901.
  • The Centre provided hardy tree and shrub seedlings to rural landowners, distributed technical and public information, and conducted environmentally and economically significant applied research. Each year the Centre distributed approximately 5 million tree and shrub seedlings to about 8,000 applicants.
  • The Centre was closed by the Government and all seedling production operations were discontinued in 2013.
  • No. More information on planning and species selection is available from the AAFC – Agricultural Practices –  Agroforestry -Shelterbelt Planning and Establishment website by clicking here.
  • Our Saskatchewan Shelterbelt Carbon Tool (Belt-CaT) is also designed to help you make a decision about where and which species to use for your new shelterbelt, so that the highest possible amount of carbon is accumulated in your trees and the soil beneath. You can access the the Belt-CaT tool for your location by clicking here.
  • Shelterbelts can play an important role in the protection of livestock, especially young animals. A properly designed shelterbelt will provide shade and allow summer winds to circulate in the pasture or feedlot area reducing heat stress to animals.
  • In the winter, the amount of feed required to maintain body temperature in cattle is reduced when they are protected by shelterbelts. Livestock are not efficient at converting feed into energy under prolonged exposure to cold. When the air temperature falls below an animal’s comfort zone, the animal must expend energy to keep warm.
  • Shelterbelts provide significant benefits to producers in the form of reduced feed requirements, increased weight gains, and improved animal health. As well, shelterbelts reduce the amount of energy needed to heat confinement buildings.
  • Shelterbelts also improve the working environment around feedlots, barns and pastures. People are even more sensitive to wind-chill than livestock.
  • Utilizing shelterbelts around the farm will improve working conditions for humans as well as livestock. Working environments can be screened off from the home and road with shelterbelts. Also, if properly planned, shelterbelts may provide relief from odour problems through filtration and improved air mixing/circulation. 
  • Shelterbelts must be fenced off from livestock to avoid damage and possibly death of the trees.
  • ​Renovation will depend on many factors around the farmyard such as: where the rows are located, how far the rows are located away from buildings, roads and other structures, what other trees exist in the shelterbelt, or how much room is available to replant inside or outside the existing shelterbelt.
  • It may be necessary to establish a planting plan allowing for staged progressive removal of existing dead and dying tree species and the planting of new seedlings. If possible, it is recommended to establish a new shelterbelt, either inside or outside of the existing belt before removing the dead or dying trees.
  • If there is limited room available for planting on the inside of the existing shelterbelt, it may be necessary to plant a shrub species, and one or two deciduous rows, to the outside.
  • If possible (and room is available), plant at least one row of conifers to the inside of old shelterbelts.
  • Plan to remove dead and dying trees along with stumps and roots from the planting site before establishing any new rows of trees. This will facilitate ease of planting and maintenance.
  • The best plan is to implement the renovation before older trees have to be removed.
  • There are two main differences in the poplars. The first difference is whether the poplar is a male or female clone.
  • Female clones produce a cottony seed fluff, and the male clones do not.
  • The other difference is in form; some poplar species have an upright branch structure, while others have a broader growth habit.
  • Hybrid Poplars are now bundled together to promote genetic diversity. This new approach ensures that poplar plantings will not be as vulnerable to a single disease or insect that would have normally caused extensive damage to monoculture plantings.
  • The following poplars were distributed from the Agroforestry Development Centre:
  1. ​Walker – female clone, produces a cottony seed fluff; good cold hardiness; Upright form; moderately susceptible to disease and insects; narrow crown; resistant to canker, leaf rust and poplar bud gall mite; occasionally shows winter injury; mature height of 20-25m.
  2. Assiniboine – male clone, produces pollen; narrow crown; good winter hardiness; resistant to insects and disease; mature height of 25m.
  3. Hill – female clone; extreme cold hardiness; branches are spread wide from the base and taper to a narrow crown; moderately susceptible to disease and insects.
  4. Katepwa – male clone; extreme cold hardiness; resistant to poplar bud gall mite and tolerant to common poplar diseases; mature height of 18m.
  5. Okanese – male clone; extreme cold hardiness; resistant to disease and insects; very fast growing rate.
  • Fast growing species, such as poplar, provide some early benefits; however, they are usually short-lived.
  • If you choose to integrate a fast growing tree into the planting plan it is recommended to also use a combination of dense shrubs and several rows of long-lived deciduous and coniferous tree species.
  • ​You should not plant only fast growing trees otherwise you will jeopardize the longevity, diversity and overall function of your shelterbelt. If you plant poplar into areas where they are short-lived (e.g. coarse, dry soils), it is advisable to plant them to the outside row of the shelterbelt to allow for easy future removal.
  • ​A properly planned shelterbelt incorporates many different types of trees and shrubs and will provide both quick shelter and long term benefits. For more information,  please refer to the AAFC – Agricultural Practices –  Agroforestry -Shelterbelt Planning and Establishment website by clicking here.
  • Careful consideration is required to select the appropriate species for each shelterbelt design and planting site.
  • The environment varies greatly across the prairies and from site to site. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the condition of the site prior to selecting the appropriate species.
  • Note moisture availability, soil conditions and fertility, topography, climatic conditions and site location. Compare these site characteristics with the species descriptions (recommendations and limitations) to find out which trees are best suited for the planting site.
  • ​We also recommend that you learn more about the shelterbelt land suitability rating of your farm by clicking here.
  • The number of trees you need to order will depend on the species selected and the recommended spacing for each – the minimum recommended within row spacing will determine the number of trees required in the planting.
  • ​Most shrubs are recommended to be planted 3 feet (1 m) apart, the deciduous trees 8 feet (2.5 m) apart and coniferous trees at 12 foot (3.5 m) spacings.
  • To determine the number of trees required first measure the total distance of the tree row that you want to plant. The next step is to divide this number by the recommended spacing for the species to get the number of seedlings needed for that row. A convenient shelterbelt tree calculator is accessible by clicking here.
  • We also recommend that you use the Belt-CaT tool for your farm location to:
  1. draw the shelterbelt length on a map, and
  2. set the number of rows in the tool, and
  3. select the species, and
  4. set the spacing between trees, in order to estimate the number of trees needed for your entire shelterbelt.
  • Always order a few extras for replacements.
  • Bare root means that the seedlings have been lifted from the ground during their dormant period and the soil around the roots has been removed in the process.
  • Containerized seedlings were grown in a pot or plug and will have a root ball with soil attached.
  • Bare root seedlings have a shorter shelf life (usually 5-7 days) as they are considered more perishable.
  • Containerized seedlings have a larger window of planting/storage times.
  • The site should be summer-fallowed the year prior to planting and be in garden like conditions when you are ready to plant.
  • ​If the site is in pasture or grass it is recommended to apply a systemic herbicide to kill vegetative growth first, then break and cultivate throughout the summer for planting the following spring.
  • Properly prepared sites will provide better seedling growth and survival and will ensure proper planting and mulching with the mechanical equipment.
  • Stake the rows prior to planting, to assist the tractor operator and to ensure trees are planted in a straight row.
  • ​For more information, please refer to the the AAFC – Agricultural Practices –  Agroforestry -Shelterbelt Planning and Establishment website by clicking here.

The following steps should be taken to increase planting survival when using bare root seedling:

  • Pick up the trees immediately after notification of delivery.
  • Check condition of seedlings upon arrival by opening the box and bag. Check to see if the seedlings are moist and humidity levels are high. If not, add a small amount of water to the bag and reseal. Do not store in water. Molds are seldom harmful. 
  • Plant trees as soon as possible. Bare root seedlings have a 5-7 day shelf life.
  • If planting is delayed for a few days, store boxes in a cool, dark location, such as a cellar, barn or storage shed, but do not store in water. After a couple of days, open the bags and check to ensure the roots are still moist. Moisten and reseal the trees if necessary.
  • Delays in planting, beyond the recommended time frame, can lead to deterioration and decreased survival of seedlings
  • If the shelterbelt cannot be planted within five days, “heel-in” the seedlings by planting them into shallow trenches for longer-term storage:
  1. Dig the trench in a shady location, deep enough so the soil will cover the entire root system and part of the lower stem.
  2. Spread the seedlings out along one side of the trench. Fill in the trench with loose soil; pack the soil and water as necessary to keep the roots moist.
  3. Heeled-in seedlings require water up to twice a week particularly during dry, hot weather.
  4. These seedlings should only be moved again when they are dormant, in the fall or following spring. This will ensure the greatest planting success as it means reduced transplanting shock.
  • Like the above ground parts of trees, roots are variable in their shape and habit. Rooting habit varies among species and this has to be considered when choosing trees and shrubs for shelterbelts.
  • The root systems of some species are very fibrous and competitive. These species include willow, maple and poplar, and therefore these species are not recommended for field shelterbelts or for planting close to gardens or orchards. In these species, root spread (or length) is too great.
  • Root length is defined as the measurement from the trunk of the tree to the root ends.
  • Root depth varies among different species, but it does not affect the competition within the shelterbelt or field.

Between trees the spacing recommendations will depend on the species used:

  • Plant all shrubs at 3 ft (1 m). If not under plastic plant caragana at 1 ft (.3 m)
  • Plant tall deciduous trees and larch 8 ft (2.5 m) apart
  • Plant spruce and pine 12 ft (3.5 m) apart

Between row spacing recommendations depend on the species used:

  • between adjacent deciduous rows – 16 ft (5 m)
  • between adjacent deciduous and coniferous rows – 20 ft (6 m)
  • between coniferous rows – 16 ft (5 m)
  • distance from buildings and access roads – 100 ft (30 m)
  • distance from dugouts – 65-165 ft (20-50 m)
  • Please, check with your local RM and Highway Department regarding planting along road allowances and highways.

The above are minimum recommendations.

  • Tree rows or species planted too close together will compete with each other for light, moisture and nutrients. When plants are under stress (moisture deficit caused by competition), the chances are greater for insects and diseases to take over.
  • In dry years (drought), if trees were planted too close together, a decline in survival and health may be even more noticeable.
  • For more information, please refer to the the AAFC – Agricultural Practices –  Agroforestry -Shelterbelt Planning and Establishment website by clicking here.

Agroforestry practices, such as shelterbelts, can provide multiple environmental and economic benefits to Canada’s agricultural landscape. When properly planned and maintained, shelterbelts can provide the following benefits:

  1. Field Shelterbelts will trap snow for moisture and reduce soil erosion by wind. Fields protected by mature shelterbelts develop an average yield increase of 3.5% for wheat and up to 6.5% for alfalfa. Percentage yield increase, due to shelterbelts, is usually higher in drier regions and/or in drier years.
  2. Shelterbelts planted along roadsides will help trap and reduce blowing snow leading to better driving conditions.
  3. Trees will to help provide food, cover (protection) and habitat for wildlife.
  4. Livestock protected by shelterbelts require less energy and therefore less feed to keep warm. Benefits are in the form of reduced feed requirements, increased weight gains, and improved animal health. Shelterbelts also reduce the amount of energy required to heat confinement buildings (barns).
  5. If planted along streams and river beds (riparian areas), tree roots can filter out agricultural fertilizers, soil and other contaminants from running off into waterways, keeping our water cleaner. Shelterbelts can protect and conserve water. Buffer strips can be used between agriculture and riparian areas to protect and manage the health of the riparian zone.
  6. Trees are a valuable tool in the fight against climate change; shelterbelts are extremely useful in sequestering atmospheric carbon (greenhouse gas). Please refer to our carbon stocks webpage by clicking here.
  7. Shelterbelts also reduce energy usage. While a homestead is protected by a mature shelterbelt, heating bills will be reduced by as much as 25 per cent. This means a reduction in fossil fuel use. These savings are a result of reduced wind speed, which lowers the rate of both conduction and infiltration (heat loss).
  8. Shelterbelts can be used to trap more snow for dugouts and to decrease evapotranspiration (loss of water) from the water surface. They can increase the quality and quantity of available ground water. A diversity of trees and shrubs that are planted in a shelterbelt system will increase biodiversity.
  9. Shelterbelts also provide diversification opportunities, such as fruit and maple syrup production.

Trees can help in a number of ways:

  1. Reduce the amount of energy consumed in a farm
  2. Remove some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. There are many ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but one of the easiest is to plant trees.
  3. Multi-row shelterbelts planted around farmyards, buildings and barns provide protection and also reduce the amount of energy needed to heat or cool the structures. Shelterbelts can reduce energy use by up to 25 percent.
  4. Trees also help the environment in many other ways:
  • Shelterbelt trees reduce soil erosion
  • Trap snow and improve soil moisture retention
  • ​If planted along streams and river beds, tree roots filter agricultural fertilizers and other contaminants from spring runoff, keeping our water clean.

Trees are excellent at removing CO2 from the atmosphere (carbon sequestration). As trees grow, they take CO2 out of the air and turn the carbon into wood, a long term storage solution. 

  1. Therefore, a tree is a carbon sink – a filter to clean the air. Large, mature trees, although they may not be growing much, are still a large reservoir of carbon.
  2. ​Old, decaying trees, that fall over and rot, are returning the stored carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 – they become a carbon source).
  3. Trees will not remove carbon from the atmosphere forever, but they will store carbon for up to 100 years until a more permanent way is found to deal with the problem.
  • Trees should be planted at least 20-50 meters (65-165 ft) from dugouts, depending on drainage.
  • ​If the land slopes away from the dugout, then plant the shelterbelt closer to allow the trapped melting snow to drain into the dugout.
  • Do not plant any closer than 15 meters (50 ft) to prevent the shelterbelt (roots) from using stored water and contaminating the water with foliage.
  • Multiple rows of shrubs such as caragana, lilac, choke cherry, buffaloberry, hawthorn and sea buckthorn provide a dense effective snow trap.
  • Adding conifers like Colorado spruce, white spruce and Scots pine can be used for greater year round wind protection.
  • ​For more information, please refer to the the AAFC – Agricultural Practices –  Agroforestry -Shelterbelt Planning and Establishment website by clicking here.
  • Suitable grasses must not be invasive or competitive like quack grass.
  • The recommended grass should produce only one seed crop per year and must be hardy, drought tolerant and resistant to snow mold.
  • Bunch grasses are recommended for planting between tree rows because they have a number of desirable characteristics – they are short, relatively drought-tolerant, shade-tolerant, slow-growing, and require little maintenance (2 mowings per season).
  • There are a number of bunch grasses for use as grass covers in shelterbelts and orchards. These grasses include:
  1. Sheep’s Fescue
  2. Hard Fescue
  3. Alpine Bluegrass, and
  4. a Parkland Mix (mixture of aforementioned grasses)