How to Protect Your Plants Against the Wind

Published on October 13th 2019
an autumnal tree being buffeted by the wind
As welcome as the wind is on a warm summer's day, at this time of year, I do wish it didn't blow so much. It finds every gap in my clothes to go through, reminding me that I really must dig out my thermal clothing. The wind also drives the autumn drizzle, blowing fallen leaves across open spaces and bending anything not secure into twisted shapes.
Over time, plants continually buffered by the wind can grow into hunchbacked shapes, sparking our imagination and inspiring scary stories fit for the upcoming spooky season. However, you may not be so enthusiastic about the severe amount of damage it can do, especially to young or tall plants.
A wind swept young buddleia tree on an over grown bank.
The wind and rain have bowed over this young Buddleia tree on the bank above my allotment

Root rock

Plants such as Roses, Lavatera and Buddleia all put on large quantities of top growth during the summer. This growth can act as a sail during the autumn, catching the breeze and causing the whole shrub to sway.
This rocking loosens the plant and creates a hole around the stem, allowing rainwater to collect around the roots. This excess water can then cause the roots to rot away.
The disturbance to the roots can also reduce the plant's ability to absorb water. It's this lack of water which can do the most harm.
The Japanese pagoda tree at Kew being held up with metal and brick supports.
Styphnolobium japonicum, the Japanese pagoda tree at Kew Gardens, is being supported to prevent it from falling and pulling up its roots

Wind scorch

Throughout autumn and winter, evergreen plants will still transport water to their leaves, albeit a bit slower than in summer months. Evaporation and strong drying winds will wick water away from the plant. This wicking, in addition to the wind drying out the surface soil, can quickly lead to leaves drying out and turning brown, known as desiccation.
A close up of the brown dried up parts of scorched leaves on a plant.
Desiccation can occur throughout the year in windy locations.

How we can help.

  • If you have any shrubs that are particularly susceptible to wind rock, you can give them a helping hand with a light prune around the middle of autumn or later depending on where you live. If you cut back any long stems that have finished flowering by a third, this will reduce their 'sail' and make root rock less likely. However, leave the main prune until early spring, just as the new leaves appear.
Don't be tempted to cut back evergreen plants at this time of year, as the under leaves that are currently protected will be more susceptible to wind scorch.
  • Mulch around plants to help prevent the soil drying out. The mulch will also improve the soil structure, allowing the roots to anchor themselves more efficiently.
  • Move potted plants to sheltered positions, such as against a house wall or the lee side of a shed. Be aware of wind tunnels.
  • Check the supports of young trees and shrubs, tightening, relaxing or replacing as necessary.
  • Make sure to water your plant babies during dry spells, especially evergreen plants in containers. Their foliage will prevent rainwater from getting to the soil surface and will quickly dry out in windy conditions.
A close up of an apple tree being held up with a rope that is rubbing the bark.
Remember to put pads on supports that are in contact with stems. This rope has moved in the wind, rubbing through the bark. If left unattended this could cause the death of the tree.

How to prepare

Providing a windbreak will filter the wind and reduce its strength. Ideally, you can use netting, a woven windbreak material or willow hurdles rather than a solid barrier.
If you have space, then planting a hedge or shelterbelt of trees is a more long term filter. Dense evergreen hedges will defect the wind up and over, funnelling the airflow. This could create some turbulence on the opposite side which could do more damage than good.
The bare stems, branches and twigs of deciduous hedges will filter the wind, slowing it down by up to 60% without causing damage.
A wooden fence being held up by a yellow foot stall duck taped to a lamp post.
A neighbour's ingenious (yet temporary) repair to their solid fence damaged by strong winds.
All plants will benefit from a feed in the spring, and any damaged leaves can be safely removed, returning our green plants to their best.
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