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Monitor drifts now to plan future living snow fences

Ag News Wire
By Kathy Zuzek, University of Minnesota Extension

snow-fence.jpgST. PAUL, Minn. (11/15/2010) —From November through April, winter winds often whip up snowfall to create drifts in Minnesota. These snowdrifts disrupt daily life by blocking roads and creating dangerous driving conditions. They also cause problems on the farm.

In pastures, feedlots and open natural areas, snowdrifts increase livestock mortality. They dramatically increase snow-removal labor and cost in farmsteads and feedlots. In fields and pastures, wind removes snow that would have been an important source of soil moisture for next year's crop and forage production.

Living snow fences--densely planted windbreaks that have been specifically designed and planted to reduce blowing and drifting snow--can reduce the effort spent on managing these problem areas. University of Minnesota Extension has developed educational resources that can help landowners plan and create living snow fences.

A variety of trees, shrubs, forbs (wildflowers, milkweed, sunflowers, etc.) and prairie grasses can be used to plant a living snow fence. The species you choose, and the design of the snow fence, will depend on the climate and soil characteristics of the site, available space and setback requirements, and the plant height and density required for the snow fence to store the desired amount of snow.

While many of the common plants used for snow fences require planning during planting season, multiple rows of corn can be left standing to serve as a living snow fence with less planning. Because snowdrift problems often occur in the same places year after year, you may wish to monitor snowdrifts and document the problems you observe on your property this winter in order to plan a more robust snow fence for the future.

Once established, a living snow fence alters wind speed and direction, allowing snow to settle in a designated storage area before reaching roadways or other important areas such as farmsteads and feedlots.

Lower density snow fences are often planted next to fields and pastures. Rather than storing snow, these snow fences are used to disperse snow evenly over cropland and help to provide more uniform soil moisture as snow melts occur.

For educational information on living snow fence designs, visit the University of Minnesota Extension website at For more information about plant selection for living snow fences--including marketable crops--visit

Any use of this article must include the byline or following credit line:
Kathy Zuzek is a horticulturist with University of Minnesota Extension.

Media Contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237,

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