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Living snow fences provide wind barriers, wildlife habitat

A living snow fence (upper right) planted using shrubs manages blowing and drifting snow to protect roadways, farmsteads, animals and communities. (Contributed)

Editor’s note: The following was contributed by the Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry.

It’s been a long, cold winter and while we’ve recently experienced signs of spring, we haven’t forgotten the sight of unending snowdrifts in the driveway, roadways and other areas around the house or farmstead.

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Planting a living snow fence is an excellent way to manage blowing and drifting snow. A living snow fence is a variation of a windbreak or shelterbelt, which are plantings of single or multiple rows of trees, shrubs and/or native grasses that protect or shelter areas prone to troublesome winds. These natural fences slow the wind and cause the snow to deposit downwind of the planting.

Living snow fences have multiple benefits. They can protect driveways and roadways, reduce wind erosion and manage soil moisture, provide a windbreak for animals and growing plants, provide an urban sound or visual barrier, and create wildlife and pollinator habitat. They are also cost-effective, have a long life and once established, require little maintenance.

The type of living snow fence you plant will depend on your needs. Before you buy your shrubs and trees, you will want to consider the height, density, length, location and design of your planting.

Once you’ve decided on the location and design of your living snow fence, you will want to prepare the site by removing any herbaceous vegetation that will compete with the new plants. Using a commercial weed barrier or mulch for weed control and water conservation will also increase survival and growth.

A drip line or trickle irrigation, though initially more costly, are efficient methods of supplying supplemental water for the first few years after planting, especially on well-drained, sandy soils and during dry, hot periods.

Once established, a living snow fence will provide permanent, affordable and low maintenance protection against wind and snow and can provide high-quality wildlife habitat.

There are many resources available to those interested in planting a living snow fence, windbreak or shelterbelt.

Some opportunities exist for cost share programs and financial incentives to landowners. For technical assistance, contact the local offices of the Soil and Water Conservation Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources or the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Private nurseries, the DNR Minnesota State Forest Nursery (mndnr.gov/forestry/nurseries) and the local Soil and Water Conservation District offices are excellent sources for tree and shrub seedlings.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has a standing corn row program that pays farmers along wind prone stretches of state highways to leave a minimum of six rows of corn in the field in the winter (www.dot.state.mn.us/environment/livingsnowfence/).

For more information on living snow fences, visit www.extension.umn.edu.

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