Shrub row repair for shelterbelts

Farm Forum

Many shelterbelts have lost all or most of their shrub rows and this is a problem. These thin or missing shrub rows are detrimental to shelterbelts and should be repaired or reestablished. This is because weak or missing shrub rows allow snowdrifts to form on the leeward side instead of inside the shelterbelt. Snow drifts inside the shelterbelt are necessary to provide moisture for the trees. Without the moisture from snowdrifts, healthy trees slowly decline over a period of years and eventually die.

Ideally every shelterbelt should have two shrub rows, one on the windward side and one on the leeward side. Small shrubs should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart, branches close to the ground, mostly alive and have very few weeds or grass underneath.

If your shrub row is mostly alive but lacks low branches and foliage, the fix is quite simple. Regenerate the existing shrubs by cutting them down to a 6 to 12 inch height. Hollow or small stemmed plants can be cut with a power sickle mower. Larger stemmed plants will require a powered circular saw.

If some of the shrub row is missing and the live ones are open at the bottom, the fix is a little more complicated. Regenerate the existing shrubs by cutting them down to a 6 to 12 inch height. Hand plant new shrubs in the open spaces. Also, fall apply herbicides labeled for use in shelterbelts in a 3 to 4 foot wide band on the entire renovated row.

If long stretches of your shrub rows are missing, the fix is almost like getting ready to plant a new row. Fallow the area for a year before planting new shrubs. Use manmade snow fence to trap snow on the tilled area in order to bank some soil moisture.

If no shrub rows were planted or they died out many years ago, there are two alternative fixes. One or two new shrub rows can be added to the shelterbelt or if the shelterbelt has 6 or more complete rows of trees cut down one or two of the windward rows. The stumps of the cut trees will re-sprout and function as shrubs. This works well with Siberian Elm and Russian Olive trees.

If an existing shrub row is overtopped and suppressed by an adjacent row of trees, there are two alternative fixes depending on the site. If there is plenty of room, plant one or two new shrub rows 30 to 50 feet away from the tall trees. If there is not enough room cut down the tall trees and treat the stumps to prevent suckering.

There many shrub species to choose from when doing shrub row repair. Following are types of sites with alternative shrubs listed: WET SITES – Dogwood, Elder and Cranberry, SHADY SITES – Chokecherry, Current, Dogwood, Nannyberry and Serviceberry and SANDY SITES – Rose, Lilac, Plum, Buffaloberry, Caragana and Serviceberry.

My source for this news release was the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, Division of Resource Conservation and Forestry. If you would like more information about “Shrub Row Repair for Shelterbelts,” contact Bob Drown @605-244-5222 Extension 109 or by e-mail at