If you live in an area with harsh winters, strong winds and steady snowfall can create a lot of drifting snow. Believe it or not, this presents you with a great opportunity to conserve water. By installing a snow fence, you can effectively capture snow and create drifts in areas where you need additional snow to melt in the spring.
How Snow Fences Work
The principle behind how snow fences work is simple: fences act as windbreaks that slow down the speed of wind-driven snow and cause it to be deposited as drifts. This makes snow fences a simple and effective device for things like reducing the amount of snow on roadways, controlling avalanches at ski resorts, and preventing the erosion of sand dunes on beaches. Here's how snow fences can help in the garden:
- acts as a windbreak to protect plants
- diverts snow away from driveways, paths, and walkways
- conserves water by allowing you to intentionally collect snow in dryer areas
- helps prevent soil erosion
- filters sunlight and shades plants
- collects and traps leaf debris for easier fall clean-up
Living Vs. Man-Made
There are two type of snow fences: man-made and living. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The type you choose depends on your budget, and whether or not you want the structure to be permanent or temporary.
Man-Made: Man-made snow fences are usually constructed of wooden slats (held together with wire) or from a lightweight, plastic mesh. They are inexpensive, easy-to-install and remove, and can be "fine-tuned" to control the effects of snowfall.
Advantages: Inexpensive, easy to install and remove, adjustable.
Disadvantages: Not as attractive, eventually needs to be repaired or replaced.
Living: Living snow fences can be made from trees, shrubs, native grasses, or even landscaping berms (small hills). They come with a higher initial installation cost, but once established add increased value to your landscape.
Advantages: Attractive, adds value, provides additional food for you and/or wildlife.
Disadvantages: Increased installation cost, needs time to grow, non-adjustable.
Planning Your Snow Fence
To control snow, determine the prevailing wind direction, and position the fence upwind of the desired drift area. Height: The taller the fence, the more snow that will be trapped. Most commercially sold snow fences come in 4 foot heights.
Length: Extend your fence approximately 30% wider on either side of the area you are trying to protect/control.
Set Back: Various formulas exist regarding how far back your fence should be set back from the desired drift area (e.g. a distance of 30 times the height of the fence). Most formulas are based on controlling snow near large open spaces like fields along roadways. In less open areas (like gardens), a bit of guesswork is involved. In general, you can expect drifts to accumulate on the leeward side of your fence at a distance of anywhere from 5 to 15 times its height. The determining factors include the average snowfall in your area, wind speeds, and the proximity of nearby structures.
- The higher the bottom of the snow fence is off the ground, the further away the drift will start. Position the bottom of the fence at least 5 inches but no more than 2 feet above the ground. If the fence is directly on the ground, it will be buried in the drift and lose its effectiveness.
- For man-made fences, install fence posts at 8 foot intervals, and the end post should be braced with a steel post driven into the ground at an angle so it supports the top of the end post.
- An effective snow fence will consist of about 1/2 solid and 1/2 open spaces. Slats that run horizontally are said to be more efficient at containing snow.
- You can create a temporary living snow fence at the edge of your vegetable garden by leaving a few rows of corn standing at the end of the growing season.
- Before investing in a permanent living snow fence, test out your ability to control snow in the area with a temporary snow fence.
- If you're installing the fence to cast shade, place the fence on the south or west side of the plants to be shaded.