Horticulture Magazine

59 Tolerant Plants For Windy Garden Areas

reeds blowing in the wind with cloudy sky in the background

Finding the right plants for the right places is crucial, and this is especially true in a windy garden.

If you live in a coastal spot, or high up further inland, you might have a windy garden. Windy gardens do pose certain challenges. But with the right strategies, and exposure tolerant plants, you should still be able to create a beautiful and abundant garden.

Many different plants can be grown in windy garden areas, but only when initial planting provides some protection from the strongest winds. Carefully choosing trees or shrubs for a windbreak hedge or shelter belt is the best way to get started – to reduce exposure, and to increase the number of different plants that you can successfully grow.

Borders with taller wind tolerant grasses and perennials can also be useful – softening winds without casting a lot of shade or obscuring beautiful views. They can often be useful where you want to temper winds to a degree without blocking your sightline to the sea or over the surrounding countryside.

Once some wind protection from initial planting is in place, you can populate the rest of your garden with a much more varied selection of different plants.

Trees for Windy Areas

a pine tree on a hilltop
Pine tree shaped by wind

Trees frequently won’t grow as tall in very windy areas. But choosing trees which can withstand the winds in crucial to create micro-climate conditions for other plants. Trees can potentially be used to create shelter belts to the windward side of a garden. But also also be used individually on a smaller windy site.

Of course, when choosing trees for a windy site, it is also important to think about other environmental factors. It is important to consider whether the site is coastal, and whether specimens will also have to tolerate maritime exposure. And also to think about sunlight and shade, water availability, and soil characteristics.

However, across the UK, some of the top trees for windy locations include:

  • Alders
  • Aspen
  • Birch
  • Cedars
  • Cypress
  • Dogwoods
  • Elder
  • Goat Willow
  • Junipers
  • Oaks
  • Pines
  • Poplar
  • Rowan
  • Whitebeam

In a windy garden, it is important to understand that placing living plants as wind breaks or shelter belts is always better than placing solid walls or fences. Wind will deviate around solid and impenetrable barriers, while it will be filtered through a living planting scheme to a degree. When solid barriers are created, this can actually increase turbulence and wind issues on the other side. (For example, it may be very windy at the centre of a walled garden, even though it will be more sheltered around the edge.)

When planting a wind break for a windy garden area, it is generally best to opt for a scheme with as much diversity as possible. Include trees if possible, and plenty of shrubs. Include both evergreen and deciduous species for the most effective designs.

Even in a much smaller windy garden (including gardens on roof tops of balconies), trees can be included in your design to break winds and reduce exposure. Many trees can be grown in pots and placed cleverly to reduce the impact that stronger winds have on the other plants that you grow. Place these in the right ways and you can grow all the usual common edible crops and many other beautiful plants even in a very windy and exposed location.

Shrubs for Wind-Break Hedges

orange berries of sea buckthorn up close
Sea buckthorn

Shrubs are often the most important features in a windy garden. They can be included in border planting or windbreak hedging to provide more sheltered microclimates within a garden. And so are often crucial in creating a successful garden in windy areas.

If you play to create a windbreak hedge, or shelter planting around the garden borders, some good shrubs to consider (which can even work well in areas of maritime exposure, as well as in windy locations inland) include:

  • Berberis
  • Blackthorn
  • Brachyglottis
  • Broom
  • Cotoneaster
  • Elaeagnus (Silverberry)
  • Escallonia
  • Euonymous
  • Gorse
  • Griselinia
  • Hawthorn
  • Hazel
  • Hebe
  • Holly
  • Hornbeam
  • Mahonias
  • Pyracantha
  • Rosa rugosa
  • Sea buckthorn
  • Viburnum tinus

Of course, there are also many other shrubs to consider, and which one will be right for you will depend on other conditions in your area. But when making selections, these plants can be a good place to start.

If you are planning a wind break hedge, of course you will need to think about the prevailing wind direction. A wind break hedge placed in the right location and including the right plants can protect a substantial area behind it. Generally, a hedge around 2m tall will protect an area beyond it of approximately 60m. It will also reduce wind on the wind facing side for about 4-8m . The wind will rise up when it approaches the hedge before it drops down again on the other side.

To increase this effect, the most effective wind break hedges are created to form a triangle shape, with taller shrubs in the centre, and shorter plants to each side. The length of wind break hedges should also be considered, to minimise any turbulence round the edges. The shrubs in a wind break should usually (depending on species) be planted at a spacing of between 30cm and 90cm.

But as well as including shrubs in wind break hedging and around the edges of the space, it can also be helpful to place shrubs (and perhaps smaller trees) scattered throughout the garden to break up the wind, and create a series of more sheltered micro-climates through the space.

Smaller shrubs which can be wonderful in windy gardens include:

  • Heathers
  • Hyssop
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Thymes

Of course, shrubs can also be placed in containers to provide a space-saving way to reduce wind exposure in a windy garden. Many shrubs grown in pots can be carefully positioned to create more sheltered microclimates for other plants.

Wind Tolerant Grasses and Perennials

small pink and purple armeria flowers in focus
Armeria

Further planting for windy garden areas will usually follow after the initial trees or shrubs have been placed to mitigate against the strongest winds on the site. However, in certain locations, wind tolerant grasses and perennials can also be useful in creating a design.

The best grasses and herbaceous perennials for windy gardens usually fall into two categories. They are either taller plants which are happy to sway with the winds. Or they are sturdy, lower growing plants. They are not plants with shallow roots which cannot tolerate wind rock, nor are they fragile plants which can easily be knocked over by gusts of wind.

Some grasses and perennials which prove useful in many windy gardens include:

  • Achillea
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Alliums
  • Armeria (sea pinks)
  • Aster alpinus
  • Aubretia
  • Carex
  • Catnip
  • Cortaderia selloana
  • Crambe cordifolia
  • Crocosmia
  • Echinops
  • Eryngium
  • Erysimum
  • Gaura
  • Hardy geraniums
  • Japanese anemones
  • Salvias
  • Stipa tenuissima
  • Veronicas

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list. But could offer you a place to start when choosing plants for a windy herbaceous border. Many short-growing, mat-forming alpine plants are also ideally suited to sunny, exposed locations can also thrive in many windy gardens. So alpine plants are another key category of plants to consider.

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