Ultimate Guide to Best Natural Snow Fences: Top Picks and Benefits

When it comes to managing snow drifts, I’ve found that living snow fences, traditionally used by WisDOT, are a cut above the rest. These natural barriers, made up of rows of trees and shrubs, not only look great but also come with a host of advantages. They’re less expensive, require less maintenance, and don’t need to be put up and taken down each year.

Snow fences are all about balance. The best ones are about half solid, half open. The solid part slows the wind, while the openings cause pressure changes that make the snow drop. It’s a clever and effective way to prevent snow drifts that could lead to accidents or stranded motorists.

In this article, we’ll delve into the specifics of what makes a good natural snow fence and how it can help reduce roadway maintenance costs. We’ll also look at how these fences can provide food and shelter for wildlife, and potentially even become an alternative income source.

What is the Best Natural Snow Fence?

Picture this: a scene of white winter wonder. The key to managing this seasonal beauty lies with living snow fences. Why are these the best choice, you might ask?

Living snow fences are crafted through rows of trees and shrubs, a method traditionally practised by organisations such as WisDOT. The advantages are countless. They’re less expensive and visually appealing compared to commercial wood slat or polyethylene snow fences.

Once these natural barriers are established, they’re almost maintenance-free. There’s no need for us to install and remove them each season – a common drawback with commercial alternatives. This aspect alone saves both cost and time. It’s a win-win.

Consider safety. Heavy snow drifts might paint a pretty picture but they can result in crashes, leaving motorists stranded. This is where living snow fences come in. They prevent this potentially hazardous event, thereby reducing roadway maintenance costs by cutting down on plow time and salt usage.

But what makes a snow fence effective? The key lies in the balance between solidity and openness. The optimal snow fences are about half solid and half open. How does this work, you’re wondering? The solidity slows the wind, and pressure changes due to the fence openings cause the snow to fall as the wind sweeps through. Magic!

In case of long-term drift problems, permanent, tall fences should be built, without any holes or gaps between panels. This could be supported by steel or wood posts set in the ground or a surface-mounted framework.

Many people opt for synthetic fencing materials like woven fabrics and extruded plastic net. They boast no significant snow-trapping differences considering materials with 40% to 50% porosity. If true, let’s remember the additional advantages living snow fences offer. They enhance the landscape, provide food and shelter for wildlife and even act as a potential alternative income source.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Natural Snow Fence

Climate and Snowfall Patterns

When choosing a living snow fence, you first need to consider your climate and snowfall patterns. The severity and frequency of snowfall can greatly impact the success of your snow fence. Areas with frequent heavy snowfall and high winds may require a denser, more robust fence.

Remember, a living snow fence takes a few years to establish a beneficial snow-trapping height and thickness. But, the rewards are immense. A more permanent living fence traps and controls snow-drift, enhances the landscape and provides food and shelter for wildlife. It also has the potential to be an additional income source.

Available Materials

Though they require minimal annual maintenance, the choice of materials for your fence is also critical. Synthetic fencing materials, such as woven fabrics and extruded plastic net, show no great snow-trapping differences among materials having 40% to 50% porosity. Although natural elements, like trees and shrubs, are a more permanent and attractive option.

Horizontal boards, 6-in wide with 6-in gaps (50% porosity), are amongst the best materials for such fences. Whether you’re dealing with long-term drift problems or just need a fence for a season, these resources come with their own set of benefits.

It’s worth repeating that the best snow fences are about half solid and half open. This design optimises the snow trapping function, slowing wind and causing pressure changes that lead to snowdrop.

Landscape and Site Conditions

Before planting your living snow fence, evaluate your landscape and site conditions. Do you have a vast, open field or a small backyard? Is there room for a single row of trees or can you accommodate multiple rows? Each different condition will affect the type of plants you choose and the design of your fence.

When selecting plants for your fence, always consider using native plants when possible. These plants tend to thrive best, providing robust and sustainable barriers against snow drifts. Shrub willows, for instance, not only provide a robust barrier but also provide multiple benefits – from bioenergy to decorative florals and multiple products.

Remember, the primary goal is to prevent snow from blocking critical areas, and good planning along with careful selection of materials can make this a reality. Be prepared to monitor the site every other month in summer for weeds, plant health, insects or diseases.

Expert advice and assistance can also make the entire process a breeze. For example, initiatives like the County of Wellington Living Snow Fence Programme provide mentoring and support for people willing to erect these eco-friendly barriers.

All these will certainly play a role in ensuring the success of your living snow fence, making it an ideal, sustainable solution for managing snow drifts.

Types of Natural Snow Fences

Different Types of Natural Snow Fences

Let’s delve a little deeper into the specific types of natural snow fences. It’s important to consider the unique benefits of each type, considering factors such as their cost-effectiveness, long-term sustainability, and visual appeal.

Living Snow Fences

First off, there’s a prominent type known as the living snow fence. Wildly popular because of its sustainability and cost-effectiveness, a living snow fence comprises trees, shrubs, and native grasses. These formations work remarkably well in managing blowing and drifting snow, protecting roadways, farmsteads, and communities. The strategic natural barriers are perfect wind-breakers, slowing down the wind to a point where it drops its snow load before it reaches the protected areas.

Perhaps one of the most notable benefits of the living snow fence is its potential role in increasing soil moisture, which further aids vegetation enhancement. Additionally, it serves as valuable wildlife habitat and can potentially raise crop yields by 10 – 25% in some areas.

Windbreak Fences

Next up, we have Windbreak Fences. Protecting roads from blizzards is a formidable challenge, but the perfectly designed windbreak fence is just the right solution. With their ability to trap drifting snow and sometimes augment local water supplies, windbreak fences are also a solid choice.

It’s advisable to construct permanent, tall windbreaks when dealing with long-term drift issues. Perfect windbreaks should be built in one continuous line with no holes or gaps between panels. To safeguard against the wind, the structure could either be post-supported or anchored. If your fence is porous, remember, the lesser the porosity, the better the performance in snow containment.

Tree and Shrub Barriers

Finally, let’s talk about Tree and Shrub Barriers. Serving a similar purpose as living fences, these plant barriers are specially designed to contain drifting and blowing snow. They can be planted in single or multiple rows, and the species can be mixed to enhance the look and variety of your landscape.

Adding to their appeal, mixing species also means providing different food types for birds and small game. In fact, mature shrubs can become a source of colourful and intriguing stems during the early winter. Given their features, tree and shrub barriers can also be seen as a visually appealing alternative to traditional fencing.

The Benefits of Using a Natural Snow Fence

Experiencing the brunt of winter often involves dealing with masses of snow. However, with a natural snow fence in place, you can effectively manage snow build-up and enjoy other numerous benefits.

Reduced Snow Accumulation

The most discernible advantage of a natural snow fence, be it a living barrier or a windbreak fence, is its ability to significantly reduce snow accumulation in key areas. From a practical standpoint, having less snow pile-up in your driveway or walkway means fewer hassles during every snowstorm. Furthermore, a well-installed snow fence slows the wind, causing the drift to pile up on the downwind side instead. Should you wish, you can use the collected snow for springtime melt, making way to refill ponds or watering holes.

Protection for Roads and Highways

Road safety during winter can be particularly enhanced by the utilisation of natural snow fences. They can increase driver visibility, prevent snow drifts which might lead to accidents and substantially cut down roadway maintenance costs. MnDOT traffic safety data indicate that the strategic implementation of living snow fences can curtail crash severity by as high as 40 percent. Achieving this reduction involves designing the roadway aptly to promote snow deposits in ditches instead of the road, ensuring blowing snow moves across the road without drifting. Stranded motorists and big snowdrifts can be a memory of the past with the right type of living snow fence.

Conservation of Energy and Resources

Natural snow fences have far-reaching implications beyond just the convenience of snow management. They serve as cost-effective alternatives to commercial wood slat or polyethylene snow fences, without needing annual installations or intensive maintenance. The overall reduction in plow time and salt usage results in fewer fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, they can control soil erosion and mitigate spring flooding, demonstrating how these fences contribute to broader environmental sustainability.

Drawing from these, a natural snow fence appears as a responsible choice considering its multiple benefits spanning from practicality to environmental consciousness. The key is to select high winter hardy plants that suit the climate, reaching a mature height of 6 to 12 feet tall, and typically planting two rows to reduce snow drifting problems.

Installation and Maintenance Tips for Natural Snow Fences

Getting the most out of your natural snow fence requires careful installation and regular maintenance. Here are some tips to help you make the best use of your natural snow fence.

Proper Placement and Orientation

Proper installation of a snow fence starts with aligning it perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing wind. Additionally, it’s recommended to leave a 6-inch gap at the bottom to trap the maximum amount of snow. Importantly, don’t make the common mistake of situating your fence too close to the problem site. A good rule of thumb to follow is to position the fence 35 times its height away from the area you’re striving to keep clear. This helps avoid unwanted pile-ups, resulting in a more efficient snow fence. Regularly fine-tuning your fence’s placement, utilizing the knowledge from previous winters, can significantly enhance its effectiveness.

Selecting and Preparing the Right Plants

Choosing the right plants for snow fences is crucial. They need to be hardy enough to survive winter, plus suitable for your locality’s climate, soil and site. Plant selection plays a pivotal role in the longevity and effectiveness of your natural snow fence. Consider species like shrub willows which are not only cost-effective but are also ideal for living snow fences. If using multiple rows in your natural snow fence, each row should comprise a different species — this increases diversity and resilience.

It’s also essential to note that some plants extend additional benefits like providing biomass energy, or are useful for arts and crafts. Always strive to use native plants when possible. Prepare your plants adequately by giving them regular water – about 2 to 5 gallons every 2 to 3 weeks if conditions are dry. Ensure they get the right care, including protection from pests like deer and rabbits.

Regular Inspection and Maintenance

As is the case for anything subject to weather conditions, your natural snow fence calls for continuous monitoring and maintenance. Periodically checking your fence — especially after storms —magnifies its lifespan. Look out for broken limbs and severely damaged trees. Pruning trees or shrubs contributes to their long-term growth, form and health.

It’s also crucial to control competing vegetation and protect your plant barrier from insects or diseases. Using fabric weed barriers or mulch not only helps control unwanted weeds but also conserves water. The practice of coppicing — cutting at the base after the first growing season can yield multiple stems. This is a common, beneficial procedure for growing willows.

Remember, when applying any herbicide, always follow labelled directions to ensure safe and appropriate usage. The label, as I often say, is the law.

Right plants for Natural Snow Fences


We’ve journeyed together through the ins and outs of natural snow fences. The right placement and orientation of your fence can make all the difference in managing snow accumulation. Choosing the right plants is another critical step in the process.

Don’t forget, regular check-ups and maintenance can’t be overlooked. They’re what will ensure the longevity and effectiveness of your snow fence.

By adhering to these guidelines, you’re on your way to creating a robust, sustainable, and cost-effective solution for your snow problems. And let’s not forget the added benefit of improving road safety.

So, I say, let’s embrace the winter, and let your natural snow fence do the hard work for you!

Curb Wise