The wind in the willows sang softly to me
Follow my voice wherever it leads
From mountains, through valleys, to deep rolling seas
Born on the wings of a breeze
~ Ralph McTell, The Wind in the Willows
As gardeners, we work our sites to make them accommodate our needs or we adapt to the site’s natural conditions. When soil is poor, rocky, chalky or sandy, we amend it or build up berms. In dry, arid locations, we add irrigation systems or xeriscape. In windy sites, we plant windbreaks or select plants that not only tolerate thee conditions but also beautifully sway and dance in the breeze.
High winds not only damage plants with weak root systems or branches, but they cause plants to dry out quickly. Planting large plants as windbreaks is a common solution to windy gardens. Large evergreens with needle-like foliage can soften high winds. Broadleaf evergreens, needle-leafed evergreen, as well as deciduous shrubs can be planted as a straight shielding hedge or staggered to break the intensity of the wind. However, not all yards have the space for these large plants. In city lots, for instance, wind can be intensified as it bounces off buildings, walls and fences.
In some cases, gardeners must simply grow plants that can tolerate windy conditions. These plants sway and bend, not snap and break. They also tolerate dry conditions and do not have high water needs. The effect of wind can actually add more interest to certain plants; for example, the beauty of grass blades and plumes swaying in the breeze or the soothing sound of quaking aspen leaves rattling against each other in the wind. Below are the top 10 plants for windy areas:
1. California Lilac (Ceanthus spp.) – Hardy in zones 8-10. California lilac plants can be shrubs or trees depending on variety.
2. Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp.) – Hardy in zones 3-7. Mountain ash trees are not true ash trees. They are actually town trees and thrive in wind-prone landscapes.
3. Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) – Hardy in zones 7-9, crepe myrtle trees offer attractive summer blooms and interesting peeling bark. Many varieties tolerate wind well, making them suitable for planting in these areas.
4. Hawthorn (Crategus spp.) – Hawthorns look great when planted in groups and can provide much needed screening from harsh winds. They’re hardy in zones 3-9.
5. Olive Tree (Olea spp.) – Hardy in zones 8-11, olive trees add ornamental appeal to the landscape – the fruit is a bonus. They make great screens in wind-prone areas.
6. Century Plant (Agave spp.) – Some varieties of agave are hardy down to zone 5, but most are hardy in zones 8-11. They make exceptional specimens in the garden and tolerate windy conditions.
7. Juniper (Juniperus spp.) – Hardy in zones 2-10, there are a number of juniper shrubs that will tolerate windy landscapes.
8. Japanese Silvergrass/Maiden Grass (Miscanthus spp.) – Miscanthus grasses look attractive as they move and sway in the breeze. They are hardy in zone 4-9.
9. Sea Holly (Eryngium spp.) – Hardy in zones 4-9, sea holly not only adds interest to the garden but tolerates both windy and arid conditions.
10. Gazania (Gazania spp.) – Some varieties of gazania are hardy down to zone 4, but most are hardy in zones 8-11.