A windbreak of evergreens

Hold on to your hats! It is windy here in Illinois. Wind can be destructive to our homes and landscapes, plus it can make being outside miserable. This is why many Illinoisians plant windbreaks around their homes to keep that biting wind from causing a drafty house, prevent drifting snow, and make being outside tolerable.

Unfortunately, not all goes as planned with windbreaks. Some of these problems can be avoided with proper planning and choosing plant species suited to your location. Following are some tips for windbreaks.

Barrenwort leaves

Our landscapes are more than flowers and trees. Within a natural landscape, you will find multiple layers starting at the ground level and moving all the way up into the canopy of the trees. Wildlife utilizes these layers depending on their needs like nesting and breeding or gathering food. Plants will intermingle creating communities based on the conditions present such as shade, heavy clay soil, or a steep slope. Many of our home landscapes have unique site conditions.

arrows pointing every which way in the lawn

In all walks of life there are do’s and don’ts, but in my world of teaching horticulture a very rare word to use is “should.” I don’t like to use the word should. The word “should” tends to turn people off when receiving advice. When people call the Extension office, I make a conscious effort not to “should” all over them.

However, there are a few rare occasions I do use the term should when it comes to landscaping. Following are a few of those instances.

Japanese gravel garden with mounded plant forms

From a horticultural perspective, the term “habit” is not what you think. Though there are certainly some bad habits in gardening like not cleaning soil off tools or buying plants with no feasible location to plant them. When you hear a horticulturist say the term “habit” what we are referring to is the form or shape a plant takes.

It has begun. The corn has turned. Transforming much of the Illinois landscape into a sea of tan. The soybeans are following with their yellow hues. Combines churn away, as the heavy scent of plant debris permeates the truck cab. Bright seas of goldenrod sway in the wind, as if a welcome mat laid down for autumn. Within the goldenrod mass, you may spot dots of purple asters. I was once told the colors of Western Illinois University were inspired by the fall colors of the prairie – goldenrod and purple aster.

landscape fabric fail

Landscape fabric. It’s what goes under the mulch. Right? I’ve had several conversations with home gardeners looking for a permanent solution to keeping the weeds down and each time I warn them about the use of landscape fabric.

If you’re thinking, “Hang on! Landscape fabric doesn’t work?” Of course, you’ve seen people on TV and perhaps watched professional landscapers roll out the black landscape fabric before spreading mulch. And why does every garden center sell the stuff if it doesn’t work?