LINDSBORG, Kan. – In the 1930s and 1940s shelterbelts were planted around many homesteads in Kansas. After years of breaking the wind, providing habitat for birds and animals and stopping soil erosion, those old tree rows are breaking down. That was the case for the two shelterbelts on either side of Suzan Fitzsimmons and Chris Anderson’s acreage southwest of Lindsborg. For their efforts in re-establishing their shelterbelts, the couple is being recognized with the 2017 Windbreak Award by the McPherson County Soil Conservation District.
The couple took on the project when they realized the trees in the established shelterbelts were beginning to thin and die.
“We knew how important the trees were in slowing down the wind, especially in the winter,” Fitzsimmons said, adding that they knew the windbreaks made a difference in heating and cooling their home and the comfort level in their yard.
When planning the project, the couple decided to establish new tree lines outside the boundaries of the old shelterbelts, which were located close to the house. They purchased additional acreage from their neighbors as the old shelterbelt was on their property line. They had a reason to do it that way rather than just planting new trees where the old ones were thinning out.
“We had a fire in the field across the road from us, and knowing how cedar trees can explode in a fire, we decided to plant the new trees a bit farther from the house,” Anderson said. They anticipate that the old trees will be removed as they deteriorate, providing more space between the trees and the house.
The couple and their then-teenage sons tackled the project themselves, researching trees that work well in windbreaks. The south windbreak was planted in 2004 and the windbreak on the north side of the yard was planted in 2007-08. Both windbreaks have two outer rows of red cedar. The south windbreak has rows of shumarti oak and burr oak between the newly planted cedars and the cedars of the old windbreak. The north plantings include shumarti oak and chiquipin red oak, a tree variety Suzan had discovered while riding horses in the Milford area.
“It’s not a tree you see growing much around here, but it’s amazing how well they do,” she said.
Fitzsimmons and Anderson couldn’t remember how many trees they had planted, but they did remember the process of putting them in and keeping them alive. They said the ground was so hard that they borrowed a neighbor’s post hole digger to make the holes. That proved to be a good solution – not only was it easier than hand digging, it left a nice wide hole for the trees. While many people plant bare root, just started trees, they planted trees with more growth and a better-established root system, so the larger holes provided plenty of room to spread the roots out. The trees were ordered from a nursery in Montana. The trees were watered as needed with a drip system for four years until they were established.
Fitzsimmons and Anderson are pleased with how the trees have added to their property – not only do the shelterbelts break the wind, they are a draw for wildlife of all kinds, particularly birds.
“We see deer and other animals on a regular basis right next to the house,” Fitzsimmons said. “We have even seen a bobcat sunning itself on the edge of the yard. The birds just love it.”
They currently have about a dozen pairs of cardinals frequenting the yard along with a number of other song birds. The birds, in particular, like the cedar berries and the shelter from the wind. In addition to the shelterbelts, the couple have two water features in their yard that are winterized so birds have a place to get a drink and through the year have lots of flower and shrub plantings, which also draw birds. The old shelterbelt also has an undergrowth of old-fashioned honeysuckle, which is particularly attractive to cedar waxwings, Fitzsimmons said.
The couple feel the work put into establishing the new windbreaks has been well worth it for both comfort and aesthetic reasons.
“I would encourage others to restore or replace old windbreaks,” Anderson said. “But it’s important to remember that this is a long-term project. We may not be able to enjoy mature trees from what we planted, but someone will.”
“Of course, we do live on the prairie. Trees weren’t supposed to grow here,” Fitzsimmons said reflecting on the work that went in to keeping the trees healthy and growing. But, she said, the couple has certainly enjoyed the trees.