When Kent and Nancy Rawson built a house down the road from the farmstead where Kent Rawson grew up, there was one thing they knew they wanted to include — a windbreak. The Rawsons are the 2016 McPherson County Windbreak Award winner and were recognized at the McPherson County Soil Conservation Banquet and Annual Meeting.
The windbreak, two rows of cedar trees providing a barrier between the road ditch and the yard, was built in 1990 when the Rawsons built their home. Nearly 27 years later, the bareroot saplings they planted have grown into a nearly solid barrier protecting the house from Kansas’ south winds and dust and noise from the road.
“Our primary goal was cutting down on the wind and providing some wildlife habitat,” Kent Rawson said. “Nancy is big on having trees around the house. She likes birds, and we see a lot of them. We even have hummingbirds around now.”
A covey of quail has taken shelter in the windbreak this fall.
The Rawsons have seen other benefits from the windbreak. It has cut down on dust blowing in from the road and they believe it helps moderate both extreme cold and heat.
Planting a windbreak is not for the impatient, but well worth the effort. Kent Rawson estimated it took about 15 years for the trees to make a good solid stand and required some tender loving care the first few years to become established. Except in years of extreme drought, the windbreak now takes care of itself.
The approximately 100 trees originally purchased for the windbreak were ordered from the Kansas Forestry Service housed at Kansas State University. Rawson did a staggered planting for the two-row windbreak, which stretches on either side of the Rawsons’ driveway, sheltering the entire building site. Consulting with Dale Ladd, McPherson County Extension agent at the time, he killed the grass in the area and planted the trees according to recommended spacing. Black plastic soaker hose was laid between the rows. They heavily mulched the windbreak with wheat straw the first few years to help retain moisture and hold back weed competition with the young trees.
“Some people are using black plastic between the tree rows instead of mulch. But, I never tried that,” he said, adding that the straw worked well and was available to him.
The windbreak has required little maintenance to keep it healthy, but it isn’t problem free. One of the biggest threats to windbreaks are bagworms. They have had to spray for bagworms five or six years, spraying three to four times a season to kill the pests. Bagworms can kill even a mature tree if not treated. They did water the trees, using the original black hose left stretched through trees, during the drought of 2010-11.
The Rawsons have replaced six or seven of the original trees, using volunteer cedars dug up from a tree line of hedge, oak and hackberry growing along the creek on the north side of the building site.
The Rawsons make every effort to control cedars growing in pastures, but they are difficult to contain.
“The birds like to eat the (cedar) berries and wherever the birds go, you’ll find little cedar trees,” Kent Rawson said. “Those little trees did work great to fill in the holes where we lost trees.”
To give the young trees a chance to thrive among the older ones, Rawson sprayed the planting site to kill grass, planted the new trees and supplemented water so they could compete with the established root structures of the older trees.
This was not the Rawsons first experience with planting and maintaining a windbreak. The original farmstead — established in the late 1800s and where the Rawsons’ son, Aaron Rawson now lives — had an old windbreak/tree row along the cattle pens. Many of the original trees had died and volunteer trees of various species had grown in it. In 1980 they planted a new cedar and pine tree windbreak to provide shelter in his calving pens.
“We don’t like wind on baby calves during calving season. The windbreak helps a lot with the calf’s ability to thrive. We’ve found that the windbreaks also cuts down on feed consumption of the older cattle. Wind chill below 32 degrees is hard on cattle and they eat more to maintain. Cutting down the wind makes a big difference,” Kent Rawson said. Unfortunately, most of the pine trees have succumbed to pine wilt.
The Rawsons shouldered the costs of both the 1980 and 1990 windbreak plantings, but pointed out that the trees were available at a very affordable cost and the replacement cedars were free. They believe that the benefits of the windbreaks far outweigh the initial costs and the time spent those first few years to establish the windbreak. Kent Rawson commented that the trend in recent years has been to push out older tree rows and shelterbelts along fields, but he believes that there are good reasons to keep the trees and plant new windbreaks and shelter belts. He encourages others to think about whether a windbreak would make sense on their farmsteads. And he has some advice for those who decide to plant trees that will be enjoyed by future generations.
“Take pictures when you plant the trees and as they grow. Sometimes things you do turn out really good and it’s nice to have a record of it,” Kent Rawson said.
For photos, click here.