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Gardening on a windy site

Q: The constant, driving winds atop the scenic hill where I garden certainly pose a challenge. I have lost plants reportedly hardy in my zone, and keeping my plants upright is a perennial problem. Can you provide some tips for gardening on a windy site, and suggest plants that would do well in these conditions?

Rose McCutchin, Glenwood City, WI

A: Dan Hinkley, co-proprietor of  Heronswood Nursery  in Kingston, Washington, replies: Seeking out hardy trees and shrubs to establish as wind blocks is one way to approach this problem. However, planting a large windscreen may block your scenic views. Instead, smaller selections of hardy evergreens can be used effectively to create protected sites while framing your views. Dwarf cultivars of Thuja occidentalis such as ‘Holmstrup’ will grow into a low, dense hedge that would protect plants from savage winds during the winter and summer alike. 

For immediate results, consider erecting small, stone walls or decorative wooden barriers to protect some of the herbaceous plants particularly affected by the wind. Place these barriers in strategic locations throughout your yard, like outside a kitchen window, where the garden views can be enjoyed most. Also consider using large rocks to create small, protected niches on windy slopes and throughout your garden.

Lainie Thompson, demonstration garden designer at  Greenhouse Garden Center  in Carson City, Nevada, replies: In the nursery garden, I choose plants of modest height that sway easily and won’t snap or break easily in strong gusts, and save tall, stiff plants for a location where wind is not the dominant environmental factor. Nasturtium species and Zinnia ‘Thumbelina’ are favorite annuals of mine that tolerate wind, while perennials such as daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.), tickseeds (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ and ‘Zagreb’), penstemons (Penstemon spp.), pincushion flower (Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’), and shorter varieties of Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum X superbum) are fine choices in windy gardens for flowers from spring to fall. Small, stalwart shrubs such as Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica) and shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) provide a wind buffer for perennials as well as long seasons of colorful blossoms.

To keep the wind from drying the soil around dormant plants’ roots in winter, add an extra layer of mulch after the first frost and remove it at the first signs of spring growth. This will help retain moisture while preventing wind-driven plant loss.

From Fine Gardening 62, pp. 16