Ash trees and windbreaks

ash area
Ash grove in red (April 2018)

We are concerned about the central area of the tree field where we have planted a band of ash trees.  In retrospect I wish I hadn’t planted quite so many in such a large band, but I did have my reasons.  I had read that planting larger groves of the same sort of tree is better – they look better together than smaller groves or a complete mixture.  Also the soil there seemed a little shallow, not really thin – just over a spade depth generally, and I’d read that ash trees have shallow roots, so thought logically that they wouldn’t mind the soil being shallower.  So far so good.  However, the ash hasn’t grown that quickly.  Particularly below the trackway.

view summer 2018
Ash trees on right not as well grown as those on left (August 2018)

I think there are three reasons for this. First they don’t take exposure too well – there is quite a bit of dieback overwinter and those that are more sheltered suffer less.  Secondly the area which I planted them in is just slightly well drained, and shallower on the downhill side.  This is a good thing in some ways; ash trees don’t like to be sat in water.  However in the spring when we get a nice dry spell, I wonder if the trees are getting slightly starved.  There is competition from the particularly fine vigorous grass that likes the same well drained drier conditions.  Those that we managed to mulch along the track edge have done better.  The third aspect that I wonder about is that I found what appear to be vine weevil larvae all over the field, and again they like the drier conditions in this area.  Maybe they are also eating the ash roots?

vine weevil
Evil weevil grub

In the longer term I expect that we will have to replace the ash trees with something else (something that will like shallow drier soil…).  In the meantime I’ve obtained some spruce and pine seedlings and have planted them to form extra windbreaks in the future.  Hopefully they will give the ash trees a little more protection in the medium term, and if we do need to remove the ash due to chalera dieback, will protect whatever we replace them with as they get established.  I have marked the position with hazel stick cut from new hazel trees that were a birthday present.  These were rather larger than I have planted in the past, so I trimmed them back when planting so they would not suffer too much from wind rock.  We will aim to mulch some of these new spruce to give them a head start against the grass, but there are so many other things needing doing…. at least we will be able to find them from the hazel twigs when we do get round to it.

dog help
Dog help.

Although the spruce trees are tiny, I have planted them in a double spade width hole as I did with the original plantings.  It is easy to see now which way the prevailing wind is, by the direction of the grass strands across the turf.  I managed to plant a couple of bands of spruce perpendicular to the wind direction two or three trees deep amongst the ash trees.  The pines I mostly planted at the edges of the trackway and the very edge of the tree field where the track goes next to the southern boundary.

combed grass
Easy to see wind direction

12 thoughts on “Ash trees and windbreaks

  1. I have also read that “thicker” windbreaks work better – they lift the wind better “up and over”, but also if they are grown more like a dome than a straight vertical wall (if that makes sense?), so I don’t think your planting in a band is wrong.
    What bothered me when I read your post was the vigorous grass competing with the shallow ash roots. That would surely have an effect, especially while they are young. Maybe de-grassing and mulching them would help – but on that scale it’s a massive job!

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    1. Mulching to keep back grass does have a big beneficial effect, even (especially?) on really shallow soil like ours. We rarely have a real shortage of rain, two or three weeks is the most we can hope for, but grass also has an adverse allelopathic effect.
      I did manage to mulch the edge trees with newspaper and haylage, but as you say, it was just too much to manage on a large scale like this. If you find us on google satelite, some of the pictures, you can see the mulch circles!
      I’m reasonably happy with my windbreaks, although they could have been wider. I did them three trees deep, but the more the better, in this environment. Also, I wish I’d planted far more alder, and spruce. I thought the birch in particular would do better than it has.

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      1. Thanks for the suggestion Helen. I have sown some seed this year – it is an annual so it can be tricky to get established. I think I have seen it also right down by the river a few years ago, so maybe it will spread of it’s own accord. Eventually the trees do shade out the grass, but that doesn’t help them get established!


  2. Nancy do you cut the grass in the field at all?
    Yellow rattle, I have it on my wildflower slope, it is just starting to grow, if you buy seed and it does not grow, it could be bad seed, I sowed it several times and kept failing, then another garden blogger said it might be bad seed, I bought seed from a different seller and it took first year and self sows every year since,
    I have tried to spread it around and have gradually, however, I have learnt by experience you have to cut the grass and yellow rattle down and remove the clippings, preferably in August/September or at least best before the end of the year, if you do not then the YR does not grow as well next spring and sometimes does not grow at all, but, I have found that using the cleared clippings as a mulch else where is the best and quickest way to introduce YR in other areas,

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    1. That’s useful information re. yellow rattle Frances. We don’t generally cut all the grass in the tree field. S. would like to cut more, but I like to see the flowers, and neither of us really has time to do more. I have read as well that cutting the grass can actually increase it’s competition, by stimulating growth. I have been interplanting extra trees in the windbreaks, and sticking in fruit bush cuttings as well. Most of the trees are doing pretty well now.

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      1. 🙂 Nancy by cutting the grass at least once a year you will see more flowers not less, the grass inhibits the growth of wildflowers by smothering them and squeezing them out, also if the grass isn’t cut there is no bare soil for the annuals like YR to sow seed and germinate, just make sure S does not cut the grass and YR until the YR has set seed, usually around August, as you are a bit south of me it might be a bit earlier than up here, and remove the cut debri to reveal the bare patches so the seed can germinate, and reuse as a mulch all grass cuttings with yellow rattle as there will be YR seed in it,

        yes, cutting the grass does stimulate growth but in this instance that is a good thing as it means the grass root has to expend more energy and so it becomes weaker, also wild flowers get a chance to seed into the gaps between the weakened grass provided the clippings have been removed, YR helps speed up this process,

        one year we had so much rain from Aungust to April I didn’t get the wildflower slope cut until nearly May the number of flowers that year was very low, infact I thought I had lost most of the yellow rattle and would have to reseed, but it and the other wildflowers made a wonderful recovery the following year, now I have made it an absolute must that the slope is cut before the end of the year, I’ve also found that if the grass is short over winter it helps keep some of the moss down,

        thanks for the info on the evil weevil, Frances

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks for this detail Frances. I guess each environment is different. Removing the grass debris is part of the key, as that depletes the soil. Richer soil also encourages grass growth iver wild flowers. So far I’m assuming that my soil is depleted by rain as much as anything, since there is no shortage of flowers as yet!
        I am creating several habitats here. In the short term, the whole field looked like a meadow, with the wildflowers that were already there. Now in areas the tree are startting to shade them out as well as the grass. We still have areas like this where the trees are sparcer, which will remain quite grassy, and the trackways which S. insists on mowing and I do try to restrict him to before the flowers grow, and after they set seed!

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  3. I also think you need to keep the young trees grass free, if not at least cut it a couple of times from around the trees so it is not as vigorus,
    I am starting to find close plantings are working better and the plants seem to love it, they are growing faster and looking better, with the winds we get I think planting closer gives them shelter,

    the Evil weevil grub, have you had them before?
    for the first time this year I have been finding them, odd ones and twos in some cultivated areas at first, but this last week I have been clearing a wild area and there were quite few there, the most I’d seen, doing a search I’ve found they are native to northern Europe, they seem to have a lot of predators, but I am concerned,

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    1. Vine weevil. Yes we found them in the tree field from the first year planting there, right spdown by the river, and pretty much through out. I have them in the polytunnel as well, although I don’t see as many as I used to, and can’t particularly say they are to blame for any plant failures. I have watched a ground beetle devour an adult with relish, so I guess there must be some sort of balance.

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