In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

Urban Gardening: Bringing Nature into the City and Food into Your Tummy

What is healthy, full of green leafy things, and lives in an apartment?

An urban garden!

Sure, your vegan neighbor also qualifies, but for the purposes of this article we’re focusing on plants — small ones, big ones, in different varieties and shapes, that can grow in the most urban of environments. Urban gardens have started to become a fixture in busy cities, and you’ll often find them in patches of earth between buildings, on rooftops, and even on apartment balconies.

balcony garden

The Roots of Urban Gardening

Gardening in the city isn’t an entirely new venture as many urban communities have been growing their own greens for years. In New York for example, the Bowery Houston Community Farm Garden holds the distinction of being the oldest community garden in the city, being established in late 1973.

The 70s were a tumultuous time for New Yorkers. The city was suffering a financial crisis, apartment buildings were falling down, and neighborhoods started declining, prompting people to seek better conditions elsewhere. Buildings were abandoned, and empty lots sat fallow and generally neglected. It was a bad, bleak time.

The community garden movement in New York was borne of a great desire to beautify the urban eyesores with greenery. The Green Guerillas, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserve urban gardens, began throwing “seed bombs” over fences to empty lots. These seed bombs were packed with seed, water, and fertilizer. A crafty and clever move, and it worked. Soon these vacant lots started growing life, and the greening of the city became not only an act of an environmental group but a grassroots program that fostered the participation of the entire neighborhood.

Liz Christy was the founder of the Green Guerillas. With the help of the Lower East Side community, Christy started greening the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Bowery and East Houston. Soon they were harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes, and hosting a diverse array of insects and birds.

News of the Green Guerillas’ exploits reached the other boroughs of the Big Apple and beyond. Community gardens began sprouting in earnest, and the local parks department started supporting urban gardening initiatives. After Christy’s death, the Bowery garden was renamed the Liz Christy Memorial Garden.

Today, New York’s urban gardens and farms not only grow nutritious food and encourage members of the community to come together and get their hands dirty, but also teach people about sustainability, expand awareness about climate change, and help those in need. And the movement is not confined to New York, either — other city dwellers in the United States, and in different countries around the world, have begun to create their own urban gardens, whether in an empty lot, rooftop, or even a window box.

You can grow your own urban garden too, no matter the size of your available space. If you need a little more convincing, here are more reasons to get started on creating your own patch of green amid the concrete.

urban garden

Top 10 Benefits of Having Your Own Urban Garden

1. An urban garden provides you with fresh and nutritious ingredients and is a great way to teach kids to eat their veggies!

2. Growing your own food reduces your risk of ingesting chemicals, which are usually in food bought from the supermarket. You have full control over what you eat!

3. Connecting with nature through gardening is a relaxing and rewarding activity that relieves stress, something that city dwellers experience often.

4. Growing plants in your home improves indoor air quality.

5. Growing your own food works out to be cheaper than buying produce at the grocery.

6. It decreases and may also eliminate food miles, or the distance from where food is grown to where it’s eaten.

7. It can be a source of income.

8. You can get funding from the government for starting your own urban gardening initiative.

9. You do your part in reducing waste because you do away with food packaging — simply harvest the greens that you need, wash them, and eat!

10. You contribute to food safety, especially when you share your bountiful harvest with the other members of the community.

connect with nature

Getting Started on Your Urban Garden

Any available space can be utilized to become a garden in the city, no matter how small. If the place you live in already has community gardens or urban farms nearby, sign up to take part in their gardening efforts. You can also create your own small-scale garden at home — here are some great urban gardening projects you can get started on today!

Indoor Gardening Tips

When growing your urban garden indoors, it’s best to plant vegetables that are productive and take up less space, such as peppers, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, carrots, and spinach. Choose your favorites and grow them in abundance!

• Choose a space that gets morning sun — as little as two hours will suffice.

• Use a certified organic potting mix for best results.

• Start small — some of the easiest plants to grow are tomatoes, beans, and herbs such as parsley, basil, rosemary, and mint.

• Container gardening lets you grow healthy food in pots, empty tin cans, and just about anything that can hold a bit of soil and have drainage holes (you can make these yourself!).

• No horizontal space? No problem! You can try out window or vertical farming to make the most of the space you do have. A vertical garden system by the window, patio, or a wall that gets sunlight has a reservoir at the bottom that collects the water that is not absorbed by the plants and pumps the water back up.

• If all the available space you have is a window ledge, don’t worry — you can grow a windowsill garden instead.

• When growing from seeds, do your research or ask your local gardeners about the seeds that grow best in your area.

• Join a local urban gardening group to learn more about indoor gardening, swap seeds and seedlings, and get advice from fellow urban gardeners.

• Recycle as much as you can by using plastic bottles and other discarded materials.

garden space

Hydroponic, Aeroponic, and Aquaponic Gardening: The Basics

Gardening technology has also brought us hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic methods of growing food. Here’s a quick look at what these “soilless” gardening methods are to entice you to learn more about them and try them out in your urban gardening efforts.

Hydroponic GardeningHydroponics makes use of water with nutrients to grow plants.

Aeroponic GardeningAeroponics involves growing plants in an air/mist environment, requiring very little water and no soil.

Aquaponic Gardening — two in one! In aquaponics, you grow both plants and fish and use the waste from one to feed the other. To illustrate, you use fish excrement as plant fertilizer, and water waste from the plants (as well as some green bits) feed the fish.

So, when are you getting started on your urban garden? Which plants are you most interested in growing? Let us know!

Photos by Shutterstock.

Sharon Delaney is an aspiring writer. Her favorite topics are home design, gardening, and DIY projects. When she has free time, she tends to her front-yard garden. She dreams of becoming a famous landscaper someday.

Native Plants for Easy Container Gardening

Whether you want to add some decorative pieces to a space or continue your gardening practice in a simplified manner, container gardening is an excellent way to do so. The containers themselves make for lovely accents for patios, porches, steps or anywhere you want some extra color. The best container gardens are the ones that are low maintenance.

Low maintenance container gardening means using plants that only need to be occasionally watered, and maybe some deadheading done to get the best look. The maintenance of the plant also requires little work. Plus, if you use native plants to where you live, the upkeep is even less because the plants are adapted to that area.

There is a reason for wanting plants which are low maintenance for container gardening. Low maintenance plants are perfect for people who love flowers but don't have a lot of time to take care of them. They’re also great for seniors who may not move around well, as well as being perfect for people who like gardening but don't have a lot of room around the home.

There are endless options, depending on your location, when it comes to choosing plants for your containers. The plants below are only a few of the ones you can choose which are native to the specified hardiness zone listed with them. This means that they will do well in those zones, in containers, if the proper care is provided.

echinacea plant information
Photo courtesy 

1. Echinacea

Also known as purple coneflower, this robust and attractive plant can be grown in containers as well as in your garden. It's a native of the central and southeastern United States. These plants can grow 2-5 feet high and up to two feet wide. The soil needs to be well-drained and echinacea loves full sun, as well as partial shade. Coneflowers will attract bees, butterflies, and birds. They come in an assortment of colors such as purple, crimson, pink, yellow, white, orange and; believe it or not, green.

2. Japanese Pieris

This is an excellent shrub to grow in a container and its deer resistant. It’s an evergreen, but likes all seasons. The spring growth varies from glossy red to a salmon pink before turning to a creamy white. The flower buds in the winter are dark red with shades of pink. The bloom in the spring is urn-shaped which is white, with a hint of scent. The branches of this shrub will drape gracefully over the edges of a container. It will grow in Zones 6-8, so check your Hardiness Zone before purchasing them.

3. Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can be grown in containers in Hardiness Zones 3-10 depending on which grass you plant. For example, Bamboo Muhly can be grown in containers in Zones 8-11 which is the southern half of the United States. While, Blue Lyme grass grows in Zones 4-10. Check what zone you live in before purchasing an ornamental grass for your container.

desert savior succulent plant information
Photo courtesy LawnStarter

4. Succulents

A few examples of succulents are aloe, sedums, cacti, and smaller ornamental ones such as, the desert savior. These plants grow in Hardiness Zone 3-9 and are native to dry, desert climates, which you need to mimic as best as you can in your containers. These plants need less water than most in containers, as long as the containers aren't clay since clay pots dry out too quickly. Succulents actually do better with a bit of neglect; it's better to underwater them than to overwater them. If they are overwatered, succulents will get mushy and rot. When they appear a tad limp, then they need to be watered.

5. Fuldaglut Sedum

This plant will grow in Zones 4-9 and has bronze-red leaves which turn to red in the winter. It will grow in partial shade, but it loves full sun. It does have larger leaves than most sedums do. Its scalloped foliage gives it a delicate appearance. The flower bloom will last about three weeks in the summer. The plant is about 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide and looks lovely as a cut flower in a small bouquet.

Container gardening can be just as rewarding as planting in a larger garden plot. Just make sure that you choose plants for your container that will grow in your location’s climate, or bring your gardening indoors.


Birds and Blooms
Fine Gardening

Preparing Your Garden for Cold Weather

When winter comes around, it might be tempting to let everything go dormant — from your garden, to your compost, to productivity, to anything that requires you to step outside into the frigid weather. Personally, if I had the choice, I would prefer all chores to be done for me while I lay cozy in bed until spring rolls around again — but unless you’re a grizzly bear, that’s not really an option.

Getting things in order before the snow falls, however, is the best way to make sure winter gardening goes off without a hitch — not to mention, a better chance at success when everything comes back to life again in a few months when the weather starts to warm up again.

compost bin
Photo by Pixabay


Because food scraps don’t stop when it starts getting cold outside, keeping a compost pile or bin during the winter might take a little more effort than during the warmer months, but you’ll still be able to rest well knowing leftovers from the kitchen aren’t just going to waste in the trash bin.

One of your first steps is making sure the compost bin is airtight to allow the microbes inside to remain warm and active. If they freeze, not only will it slow down the composting process and possibly kill the necessary microbes, leaving you with a frozen block of scraps until spring comes around to thaw them out. Be sure to avoid allowing snow and other unnecessary moisture into the bin, and the chemical reactions inside will keep themselves warm.

dead leaves on tree branch
Photo by Pixabay

Second, be sure you’re balancing “green” scraps (nitrogen) and “brown” scraps (carbon). describes how you can use dead, dry leaves from fall as sources of carbon to balance out the nitrogen of the kitchen scraps, and offers methods for keeping your leaves dry and crunchy throughout the cold season. Not only do the leaves provide a balance to the chemical reactions occurring inside, they also help absorb any extra moisture that would otherwise leave your compost soggy and useless.

Some people also opt for an indoor compost bin, located somewhere out of the way like the garage. This way, you’re not forced to brave the cold to deposit scraps or turn the already-existing compost. However, indoor bins like these can cause some of their own problems, namely, an unwelcome aroma, as well as the possibility of a messy floor. When it comes down to it, neither is necessarily a better choice than the other; it just depends on your personal preference.

small container garden
Photo by Pixabay

Preparing the Garden for Spring

Other than deciding whether or not you want to let your plants go to seed or clean up after them, there’s a lot more to be done than just letting the ground freeze and deciding you’ll pick up again only when it warms up.

While it’s fine to let most non-food garden plants go to seed and rest there over the winter, it’s another story for many fruits and vegetables you have perfectly lined up in garden rows: If you don’t clean up well enough at the end of the season, your garden risks contracting late blight, an infectious organic disease that can travel on the wind, even between neighboring gardens.

The blight is strong enough to survive through the winter, meaning it’s critical to cut away and quarantine, or dispose of all plants that might have been vulnerable to the disease, as to avoid any possible issues in the next season.

fallen dry leaves
Photo by Pixabay

After cleaning away dead plants, smooth out the remaining soil either by hand or with a portable rototiller, depending on the size of your plot. Next, spread a layer of new soil and/or mulch, to boost the garden’s nutrients for next spring.

The end of the season is also the best time to expand your garden, especially since you’ll be laying new soil anyway, so take some time to decide if you think you’ll be planting more, or new things come spring. You might also consider planting some winter cover crops, which are sown in fall and then harvested in the oncoming spring.

Don’t forget to gather as many fallen leaves as possible for your garden’s mulch layer, as well as for your wintertime compost stock — chances are you’ll have plenty lying around, so don’t wait until the last minute. The leaves might go soggy any day now, which makes them useless for storage!

kale in green smoothie
Photo by Pixabay

Enjoying a Mini Indoor Garden

Falling snow doesn’t mean the end to gardening — at least, not completely. When your large plot outside hibernates for the winter, consider growing another indoors to keep you company. Smaller plants, ranging from basil to green onions, make perfect indoor companions and mean you’ll have plenty of fresh herbs and spices to use on the stored harvest from the outdoor garden.

Even if you don’t want to go the route of growing more vegetables or fruits, consider a small family of succulents, flowers, or other easy-to-grow plants, to remind you of the warmer weather to come again. Especially if you suffer from illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) brought on by the low light of winter, keeping plants indoors is proven to help boosts spirits, even if just a little bit, just like keeping a larger plot during the warmer months can help ease things like depression and anxiety!

fresh produce
Photo by Pixabay

Whether you choose to take a break during the winter months like a grizzly bear, or continue on your journey of composting, gardening, and preparing for spring, there’s so much you can do — even during the cold months to keep your thumb green. Those things could range anywhere from growing things indoors with you where it’s warm, to dreaming of the things you’ll plant in a few months when the sun comes out again.

Either way, it’s a time to appreciate all the work you did the season prior, and enjoy your harvest of tasty, fresh fruits and vegetables!

Noah Yarnol Rue is always looking for where his next trip will take him. When he's not traveling the world, he's writing articles on all the new things he learns!

Make a Gorgeous Garden with Landscape Design

When it comes to garden décor and landscaping, many people like to take things into their own hands, which seems to be fine considering that you are aware of some of the basic principles of landscaping. However, it should be remembered that these landscape design tips would help you in not only demarcating boundaries and getting a gorgeous garden, but also helps with easier maintenance in the long run.

backyard landscape
Photo by Shutterstock

Ensure Clear Boundaries

One of the most critical mistakes of landscape design would be not adhering to boundaries. Do remember that like the rest of your home, your outdoor area needs to be divided via physical or even some decorative boundaries. This is important because you do not want areas to get interconnected and then end up with trouble fixing them. For example, if the patio area is covered with too much grass on the sides, then it will mean cleaning hassles and the inflow of insects and other elements into your home. Hence, you need to strike a balance between restricting areas and letting them interconnect. Here are ideas that can help:

• Reduce the clutter on the patio from there on making sure that the landscape design is more about plants and other decorative elements.
• You can encircle a driveway turn around with a path or fountain, if space permits.
• Do not merge too many things, as it would seem a mess. Let each landscape design stand on its own while maintaining a flow.

stone walkway
Photo by Shutterstock

Regulating the Line

There is an important feature in landscape design, but do not worry: it is not something that you cannot handle. It implies that any kind of architectural elements, like the door or the foyer, help create an imaginary boundary. This is particularly useful in outdoor areas and landscape design.

For example:

• You can have a prominent tree as a landscape feature and place a bench underneath for lounging.
• In the same way, having boulders along the driveway is not an interruptive feature, but helps mark the boundaries subtly.
• Along the way to the swimming pool, if you do not want any balustrades then opt for a natural stone, which is slightly elevated and can then, also, move on to the garden.

These are just a few simple ideas on landscape design. Along with this, here are some other principles that you should try to follow:

• Get the proportions right. Unless you are confident with the imaginary design, you may end up with a piece that is shoddy looking rather than gorgeous.
• Also, try to start with smaller scale projects instead of renovating the entire place at once. For instance, you can start with the flower bed, then move on to simple ideas like a stone bench or even using pebbles to set up a Zen garden. Later, move on to driveway renovation and other larger areas.

Ensure that you have a plan in mind regarding your budget and all that you want to do. This will help you delegate and devote time to each section as per your requirements. Moreover, gradually, you will be able to create that perfect landscape design that you’ve always wanted without having to spend a lot on hiring experts and professionals landscape designer.

Adam Wilson is a writer who shares his experience by providing valuable information about home improvement, business, health, automotive and fashion subjects in order to help readers gain more awareness. He also loves to help people grow their visibility online. Follow Adam on Twitter or Google+.

8 Homemade Insecticides to Save Your Indoor Garden

Indoor plants bring life to your home; however, it is imperative that you take proper care of your favorite plants to ensure that they thrive. One of the biggest challenges that your garden faces is an infestation. While insecticides work miracles in relieving your plants of annoying pests, it is important for you to choose your options very carefully.

Harmful chemicals commonly sold at your local drug store not only kill pests but also harm the overall health of your family. Therefore, it is suggested that you choose a healthier alternative and rely on homemade insecticides that are safer, cheaper and, interestingly enough, more effective. Here are eight natural homemade insecticide sprays that you can use to make your indoor garden a bug-free zone.

indoor plants and decor
Photo by Adobe Stock/

Soap Spray

Soap spray is a very easy to create, yet a very effective insecticide for getting rid of beetles, whiteflies, mites, and aphids.

• 1-1/2 teaspoons of any mild liquid soap
• 4 cups of water

Mix the liquid soap with the water, pour in a spray bottle and spray the mixture directly on your indoor plants to keep them free of any hungry insects.

Oil Spray

The oil spray is very effective in taking down armies of insects such as mites, thrips, etc. by forming a thick coat on the bodies of the insect and causing them to die of suffocation.

• 1 cup of vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon of any mild liquid soap
• 4 cups of water

Mix the ingredients, pour in a spray bottle and shake well. Sprinkle the mixture on your plants and enjoy an insect free garden.

Rodale's Organic Life’s Safe and Efficient Spray

• 1 bulb of garlic
• 1 onion (small)
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
• 1 tablespoon of liquid soap
• 4 glasses of water

Chop, grind and puree the garlic and onion. Add the cayenne pepper and let the mixture steep for about an hour. Strain the mixture, add the liquid soap and mix. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and apply it on the upper surfaces and undersides of the leaves of your plants. Store the remainder of Rodale's Organic Life Spray in the refrigerator. 

Neem Oil Spray

Apart from vegetable oil based sprays, neem oil spray works wonders in repelling aphids, mites, scale and other insects. Here is what you need to create your very own neem spray:

• 2 teaspoons neem oil
• 1 teaspoon mild liquid soap
• 4 glasses of water

Add the three ingredients, mix well and spray the mixture on affected plants or the entire garden as a precautionary measure to prevent your precious darlings from getting infested.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is an excellent insect repellent and is effective on wide range of pests. This spray can be made with a variety of peppers including black pepper, chili pepper, dill, ginger, and paprika to fight mites and other pests.

• 2 tablespoons red pepper
• 6 drops of mild dish soap
• 1 gallon of water

Mix the ingredients and sprinkle the solution on the plants as needed to get rid of unwanted insects.

Pyrethrum Spray

• Handful of dried chrysanthemum flowers
• 4 drops of mild dish soap
• 4 glasses of water

Grind the dried chrysanthemum flowers, add water and dish soap to create the mixture for the spray. Sprinkle the mixture on both the top and bottom surfaces of the leaves during the evening to ensure maximum efficiency. This late afternoon shower usually brings the insects out of the hiding and kills them.

Homemade Herbal Spray

• Handful of any heavily scented herb
• 1/2 gallon of water
• 3 drops of gentle dish soap

Crush your selected herb, and place it inside a mesh sack. Pour water into a bucket, put the mesh in it and leave the bucket out in the sun for around four to six days. Remove the herb pocket from the liquid and pour the mixture into a spray bottle and add the dish soap. Shake the bottle well before coating your houseplants generously with the mix.

Vinegar Spray

• 1 cup vinegar
• 3 cups water
• 4 drops of mild liquid soap

Start by combining the water and vinegar and then add in soap. Stir the mixture, pour in a plastic spray bottle and shake well. Spray well on your plants.

If you’re concerned about your family’s health, then chances are you only buy fruits and vegetables that haven’t been exposed to pesticides and other chemical applicators. The same ‘chemical free’ approach should be used for your home garden. These eight very easy to create homemade solutions protect your indoor plants from pests. They also ensure that your family remains safe from harm often caused by off-the-shelf insecticides that are not only expensive and ineffective, but also toxic to health.

Everywhere the Light Falls: Mapping Sun Exposure in Your Garden

There are some plants that can’t help but grow whenever and wherever you put them in soil, but the most beautiful and advantageous garden plants tend to be a bit more finnicky. To thrive, seeds and shoots must be planted at specific depths and distances apart; they must be watered according to their individual needs; and they must receive an appropriate amount of sunlight. Fortunately, savvy gardeners can build stunning outdoor spaces by maintaining complete control over their garden space — even the sun.

shadow on grass
Photo by Shutterstock/All Around Photo

Light is fuel for plants, but just like you shouldn’t pour diesel into your hybrid, you shouldn’t assume that all plants require the same amount and type of light. While you can’t turn off the sun, you can map where light and shadow falls throughout the day. This guide will help you understand your garden’s exposure and give you ideas for planting a healthy garden.

Mapping the Analog Way

It doesn’t take high-tech gadgetry to obtain a practical understanding of the light in your garden. In fact, all you really need is a pencil, paper, and diligence. The process can be incredibly simple:

Wake up just after dawn.
Draw a map of your yard.
Using different shading or colors, label which areas are in full sun, partial sun, and full shade.
Repeat, every three hours, until sundown.

The night before your experiment, you should produce as many maps as you’ll need throughout the day — which will vary depending on your latitude and the time of year. You need more than one map because as the sun travels through the sky, shadows will fall differently across your yard. Then, you can set alarms to remind you to check your garden every three hours. You should consider repeating this experiment at least three times, so you know how light behaves in different seasons.

If it isn’t clear, full-sun areas are regions in your garden that are not touched by shadow; partial sun areas are a mixture of light and shadow; and full shade areas are dark and untouched by light. By adding the data from your multiple maps, you can determine which areas get several hours’ worth of sunlight and which get none.

Mapping with Digital Tools

If all that drawing and observing seems like a terrible chore, you can simplify your exposure mapping with a few digital gardening tools. You can place one or more sunlight calculators in your yard to read the light in various places. More advanced sunlight calculators can also track the sun’s position and report it to a mobile app. Alternatively, you can use an augmented reality app, like Sun Seeker, to learn about solar paths, and daylight hours in your area.  It is important to remember that these might not be able to accurately predict the exact light conditions in your yard.

You can still use high-tech devices without investing in dedicated gardening gadgetry. For example, you can use security cameras to watch your yard throughout the day, and then you can fast forward through the tape to determine which areas were sunny and shady. Alternatively, instead of hand-drawing all those maps of your garden, you can print out aerial views of your home from services like Google Maps and mark the moving sun and shade on those. Technology offers plenty of solutions for making gardening easier, if only you use your devices creatively.

garden sitting area
Photo by Shutterstock/Klem Mitch

What to Do with Your Exposure Map

Once you have a comprehensive understanding of the light and shadow in your garden, you can begin planning which plants to place where. This is called exposure gardening, and it gives you the best chance to grow exceedingly healthy flora.

Most plants are labelled according to their sun exposure needs:

Full-sun plants require more than six hours of light.
Partial-sun plants require three to six hours of light.

Still, rarely are plants’ light needs so simple. For example, tomatoes tend to benefit by plenty of early-morning light, but they will languish under afternoon sun. That’s why creating several maps of your yard is so beneficial: You gain near-complete knowledge of sun conditions in your garden.

Meanwhile, any areas that are cast in darkness for the entire day will likely not be able to sustain any plant life and should be filled with other decorations, like birdbaths, fountains, or seating. Every area of your yard has a purpose, even if that purpose is a place to sit and admire your healthy, green kingdom.

Jackie is a content coordinator and contributor that creates quality articles for topics like technology, business, home life, and education. She studied business management and is continually building positive relationships with other publishers and the internet community.

Plant for Protection: Designing Natural Windbreaks

Mother Nature provides us with so many benefits. She feeds us, she gives us water and fresh air, and she protects us too. Unfortunately, she can also be a powerful and destructive force as we have seen with recent hurricanes in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Southeastern United States. But this does not mean that we must suffer the full brunt of nature’s wrath.  If we follow her simple landscaping guidelines we can add additional protection to our home landscapes, lowering the risk of damage to our properties and destruction to our coastal cities.

I’m grateful for making it safely through Hurricane Irma. I give most of that credit to the biodiversity of the foliage and the windbreaks surrounding the area I live in.  It was in the aftermath of all the devastation that I realized that coastal communities may not be taking full advantage of nature’s landscaping guidelines and benefits.

Nature plants in biodiverse layers. This creates water and air filtration, helps control snow drifts, provides food and shelter for wildlife, reduces soil erosion, cools the environment and saves energy, and it creates wind protection.

layers of natural windbreak
Example of the layers in a natural windbreak at Savannas Preserve State Park.

Photo by Stephanie Montalvo

Our homes protect us from harsh weather conditions. The trend has been for developers to strip down the landscaping nature created and replace it with individual free-standing trees, minimal hedges, and sometimes if we are lucky, some low-lying ground covers. By doing this we leave ourselves open to severe damage from the sun, water, and winds.

A house standing alone with one large shade tree in the yard cannot withstand the powerful winds of a hurricane like a house surrounded with a biodiverse windbreak. 

A windbreak can help slow the winds down before they approach your home, they can capture flying debris. If planted lower than your home, they can also capture water and give the rains a place to drain.

The protective power of a windbreak all depends on the selection of the plant layers chosen, as well as the density. Plant selection is a vital step in determining the strength of your windbreak. You want to choose plants with deep taproot systems that are flexible and perform well in your area.

natural windbreak
Impact of a multiple-row windbreak on the movement of wind. As wind moves from the shorter outer row to taller inner row, the wind is deflected upwards.

Photo by Bijay Tamang/University of Florida

Your first step is to determine the type of windbreak you would like and what your end goal or purpose for that windbreak would be. The more you plan the better your chance of creating an effective protective layer for your home.

Plant your windbreak 40 to 100 feet away from your house so the root systems do not interfere with your foundation or plumbing.

The second step is deciding how dense you would like your windbreak. Plant wind-resistant trees with solid central leaders as your tallest layer, or upper canopy. Then, smaller wind-resistant trees in your lower canopy layer. Your next layer is your shrub layer. Choose dense shrubs that don’t require a lot of maintenance or trimming.

Always research the maximum full height and width each plant species will naturally grow to, and allow them to grow to that size, making sure to plant them in the right layer. Taller trees in the back, shorter trees next, then shrubs, and if you are looking for that extra layer of protection, ground covers.

Planting for the maximum height and width of each species relives you of additional labor and allows your windbreak to grow as it would in nature. If possible choose younger plants and let their roots develop into strong, deep systems naturally. Transplanting larger trees does not create as strong a windbreak.

This doesn’t mean you need to have a wild forest surrounding your home. By following the natural size and growth patterns of the species chosen you can create a gorgeous protective wind barrier that your neighbors will envy.

Now the fun part! This is where your creativity comes into play. I suggest that you always start by choosing foliage native to your area. Take some time to research their shapes, leaf colors, brittleness, growth speed, abscission, full height, and width. Your local Master Gardeners are a fantastic resource for this information.

With a well-designed windbreak, you will have additional protection from inclement weather. The bonus is during good weather you can bask in the privacy and beauty Mother Nature will bring to your yard.

For inspiration take a walk in nature and see how Mama does it. You know what they say “Mama knows best.” Stay safe and I look forward to hearing about your windbreak creations.

Stephanie Montalvo is a Master Gardener and Master Naturalist in Broward County Florida. Learn more about Stephanie and her efforts to educate the public about humane, ethical animal and environmental care through Brighter Future Foundation.