Shelterbelt Primer

Maintenance and Care

Maintaining and caring for your shelterbelt and surrounding area is incredibly important to retain shelterbelt health, integrity and longevity in order for it to properly and continually fulfill its purpose. 

Maintenance and care includes weed control and management. This can be done mechanically and/or chemically. Controlling weeds is Important to limit competition and subsequent nutrient deficiencies that shelterbelts may face.

  • Chemical weed control includes applying herbicide around and in between the trees and shrubs and close surrounding areas (but, of course, not directly on them). Glyphosate is a popular broad-spectrum herbicide to be applied at the planting site. It can be applied one or two weeks before tilling in order to kill the weed root system. This makes tillage easier as well. 
    • Please see “HFIT” for more details on herbicide application.
  • Mechanical weed control includes tillage. Tillage is the mechanical cultivation of the soil in order to create a suitable seedbed, eliminate weeds and therefore competition, and improve soil conditions and productivity.  
    • Tillage equipment can include disc harrows, cultivators, plows, rototillers and rotary tillers. 
    • Please see “HFIT” for more details on tillage.
  • Controlling weeds between tree rows can also be done by planting a noncompetitive turfgrass in between the rows. 
  • An effective alternative to chemical and mechanical weed control is mulch. Mulch is a protective barrier of organic or inorganic materials placed on the soil surface below the shelterbelt plants. This mainly mitigates weeds by blocking sunlight from reaching the weeds below the mulch; thus, mulch forbids weeds from growing in the area. Plastic mulch is a popular inorganic mulch material, and wood chips, straw, hay, etc. are popular organic mulch materials. 

Pruning your trees and shrubs is also a very beneficial way to maintain shelterbelt health, integrity and longevity. 

  • Pruning is the act of trimming or cutting away certain branches or stems of a tree or shrub to help the them thrive and to increase productivity, fruitfulness and growth. 
  • Pruning is done for three main reasons:
    • Trimming dead, diseased or broken branches
    • Trimming branches interfering with power lines, machinery operations, or that have the potential to damage property
    • Trimming suckers and branches for appearance and aesthetic purposes (but useful branches should not be removed if only an eyesore)
  • Pruning can be done at multiple times of the year, and is regularly done in early spring, late fall, or winter.

How to prune: 

  • Appraise the tree and area to see what needs to be cut and how to do so without damaging the environment or any property (to the best of your abilities). 
  • Then, cut the limbs necessary. The 3-step cut method is a popular way to successfully cut large limbs. 
  • Pruning equipment includes handsaws, polesaws, bucksaws, chainsaws, secateurs and lopping shears (although chainsaws are not recommended). 
  • Note: when pruning, it is important to maintain the natural form of the tree, especially when cutting pyramidal evergreens, and to remove only what is necessary and no more than 25% of living tree parts per season.
Image 1. A polesaw being used for pruning.
Image 2. Lopping shears being used for pruning.