Learning about wind: those pesky North-easterlies

[You can find another, more recent post on how to manage wind here.]

Cold North-easterly winds have been a big problem over the last month, slowing growth and reducing yields.

Wind is a common enemy of the vertical gardener, growing on exposed balconies and roof terraces. It dries out leaves, batters and tears them, and makes the plant struggle to survive, let alone grow. Even light winds can decrease yields by up to 30%.

In the UK the prevailing winds are South-westerly in summer (warm and wet) and North-easterly in winter (cold and dry). It’s these dry, cold North-easterlys that are a real problem in April and May. Just as we’re trying to nurture young, tender plants to life, these persistent, icy winds batter and gnaw at their stems and shoots, slowing growth. They’re a real problem on my North West facing balcony, and I can’t wait to get the end of May when they tail off!

What can you do to protect your plants from the wind? Things you can try include:

1. Protect seedlings with improvised cloches – you can cover hoops with transparent plastic (I recently learnt a nifty way to do this and will blog about it soon) or use empty plastic drinks bottles – the large ones from water dispensers are ideal if you can get hold of them, but any will do (see photo below).

2. Construct some sort of wind break – this can be a very good solution if you can find a way to do it. The most effective windbreaks are about 50% permeable, allowing some wind to pass through. A completely solid windbreak will create destructive turbulence on the lee side, defeating their purpose.  Good windbreak materials include rush matting, hessian sacking and debris netting – the type scaffolders use (effective but less pleasing on the eye). If you’ve got space you could also consider a living windbreak.  The length of the shelter on the leeward side will be about three times the height of your windbreak – so a 1.5 metre high windbreak will shelter plants for 4.5 metres behind it.

3. Plant later! The other solution is to just wait a bit and plant out in late May when the North-easterlies have passed. For things like runner beans and climbing French beans – which get particularly clattered by the wind – I’m resorting to this solution this year.

I’d love to hear what others have tried and learnt.

Courgette and beans growing under plastic bottles – windbreak netting behind

5 thoughts on “Learning about wind: those pesky North-easterlies”

  1. Would it make a difference to choose low, bush or dwarf varieties of the plants, do you think? I’m thinking they often look more robust… I have a large but windy balcony in Norway and while conditions are otherwise great for growing, I’m struggling with wind all through the season. Last year even the otherwise tough Nasturtium seemed to get more than it could handle.

    1. Yes, Ida, that would help. Plants with shiny or waxy leaves are also often better able to tolerate wind. If you are able to find a place to fix up some sort of windbreak, that will probably make a major difference.

  2. Hi Mark,
    I’d probably go for a heavy duty windbreak in your case. Something like the link I have attached. I use it myself, rather than the debris netting you have shown there. Lasts bloody ages as well!

  3. Hello Mark, I was reading Small-Space Gardening by Roger Doiron in the February/March 2012 of Mother Earth News. I’m a 76 years old women and I live in Elmore, Alabama USA. My problem is the heat in summer, this shortens our growing season. I want to try something new this year, but on a small scale. I have Square Foot Gardening. I tried this when I lived in Upper Sandusky, Ohio USA. My husband and I followed their plan. Now my husband is deceased and I want to garden just using pots. I will look forward to hear from you. Miss Mary

    1. Hello Mary, thanks for writing! I’ll email you a copy of my leaflet, the Art of Growing in Small spaces – hopefully this will give you the info you need to help you get started in your container growing. Do drop me a line if you have any further questions. Mark

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