In selecting, placing, and caring for shrubs, potential wind damage should be considered. Wind damage is often associated with other winter storm damage, but wind can cause landscaping problems at any time of the year. Aside from the expected broken branches caused by gusts of storm-generated winds, steady wind can be responsible for drying leaf, needle and branch tissues to the point that shrubs cannot sustain growth. Wind may also cause or contribute to soil erosion and root damage. Selection, protection and prevention strategies are all tools that let you grow thriving shrubs in windy areas.
While varieties differ, depending on local hardiness zones, many local county extensions and nurseries keep lists of wind-tolerant area shrubs. If possible, start wind-protection at the selection level, buying shrubs that do well in your area's windy conditions. You may be surprised at unexpected bloomers that have relatively high wind resistance, like lilacs.
Assess the wind exposure shrubs may experience in choosing their locations. Local weather information can give you an idea of prevailing winds: storms in your area are driven mostly by winds from the south, or what they have in Kansas today, you're likely to have Tuesday. Knowing the most likely sources of damage lets you plan ahead to protect shrubs. Given two sunny locations, your lilac may survive the wind in the more exposed area, but you'll get a lot more lilacs to enjoy by choosing the slightly more sheltered space.
Selection: Companion Plantings
Choosing plants that can help your big shrubs weather the wind can make a difference in their growth. This is especially true in areas where wind contributes to soil erosion. Surrounding your big shrub with day-lilies, iris, ornamental grasses or carpet junipers provides it with soil- and water-holding allies, preventing wind erosion and root damage.
Different winter conditions demand a variety of protection strategies for shrubs, including protection from wind. In very cold, windy areas, you may be building fabric shelters and filling them with compost. Fall pruning strategies may include anticipating snow, ice and wind damage. Teepees of cut branches may be needed to shelter shrubs from ice storms (a perfect way for your Christmas tree to end its holiday service). Follow suggested protection strategies for your area, but remember to factor in wind damage as one possible cold-weather problem. That may mean building taller barriers than you expected or keeping the hose out and running in shrub beds until the first hard frost. Keep wind damage in mind.
A garden paradox: One way to prevent wind damage to a house is to shelter it with shrubs; and one way to prevent wind damage to shrubs is to plant something else. Certainly, pioneer prairie farmers saw this as making perfect sense, setting wind-break rows of cottonwoods and poplars across open land to interrupt wind that blew for miles and days. For a smaller modern backyard, the strategy remains the same--cut down on the wind before it damages the shrubs--but the work is far less. Many of the best wind-break materials for residential yards are non-living. Shelter your new hedge evergreens with a picket fence for several years, until they are solid enough to tolerate the wind. Build a railroad-tie or brick-and-rebar, open-bottomed box around a free-standing new shrub to keep wind off stem and roots. Look at existing structures like fences or trellises and how they can shelter shrubs--and you--from damaging wind.