How to Build a Willow Trellis

Written by beth asher
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Willow trellises are natural and useful garden ornaments that can be quickly made. You may want to choose willow for a first project in rustic weaving because it's extremely flexible and easily worked when freshly cut. Rustic structures such as the willow trellis are made using twigs gathered when young and springy then woven and allowed to dry. Dried woven willow trellises can be used to support clematis, jasmine and other lightweight garden beauties. Willow trellises are also useful for supporting vegetables such as climbing beans and peas. Encourage children to help with the project; slight imperfections will add woodsy charm.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Pruning shears
  • Loppers
  • Twine
  • Willow sections
  • Vines to wrap joints (optional)
  • 16-gauge wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Chalk and flat workspace
  • Measuring tape
  • Two stakes cut to 48 inches
  • Mallet

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Gather your willow material as green wood, using loppers for larger pieces and pruning shears for long twigs. Bundle with twine for easy carrying. Use an old golf bag for gathering several 4-foot or smaller lengths.

  2. 2

    Use saplings and branches cut no more than 24 hours before you intend to weave them for highest moisture content. More moisture content makes supple and easy-to-weave willow. Hold willow more than 24 hours by soaking full length in a trench lined with plastic and filled with water to prevent brittleness. Vines must be cut fresh for best results.

  3. 3

    Gather willow in these lengths: four 6-foot sections for the uprights, one 8-foot section for the arch and six 5-foot sections for the crossbars. Cut smaller twigs to length and use to form a fan from the top of the rectangular panel to the arch as desired. Uprights and crossbars should be ¾ to 1 inch in diameter; arching pieces need to be ½ inch to ¾ inch to allow for the bend.

  1. 1

    Mark a grid on your flat workspace with chalk using your measuring tape. Your rectangular panel will be 4 feet wide by 6 feet high, so begin by marking out a 4 by 6-foot square. Add gridlines for the two inner uprights 1 foot in from each side of the rectangle.

  2. 2

    Lay the uprights on the grid. Add the top crossbar and wire tightly at each joint using 16-gauge wire. Measure up 6 inches from the grid base and lay bottom crossbar across uprights. Wire tightly at each joint. Trim protruding ends of the crossbars with loppers as desired.

  3. 3

    Mark uprights for remaining crossbars at 16 ½ inch intervals, measuring from the top of the panel down. You should have four sets of marks for the four remaining crossbars.

  4. 4

    Weave remaining crossbars in and out around uprights at marked intervals and wire tightly at each joint. Trim off ends that stick too far out. Weave crossbars by eye without measuring for a truly rustic look, or add more crossbars between the originals to create a basket-style weave if desired.

  1. 1

    Position one end of the arch piece against the top of the outside left upright with the tip 8 inches below the top crossbar. Wire tightly around arch piece and upright slightly above the tip and where the arch meets the top crossbar.

  2. 2

    Bend the arch gently toward the right side of the panel till the other tip is positioned in the same way against the right outside upright. Wire tightly near the tip and where it joins the top crossbar.

  3. 3

    Wire fan pieces on the arch if desired, and weave vines around joints to cover wiring.

  1. 1

    Stand the trellis up in the garden where you want to mount it. Mark the points where the uprights touch the earth. Drive stakes into the ground at both spots, leaving 16 inches above the ground.

  2. 2

    Hold the trellis upright and match outer uprights to the stakes. Wire uprights tightly to stakes at several points on each side.

  3. 3

    Plant your climbers and enjoy.

Tips and warnings

  • Use only lightweight climbers like morning glory or clematis on your trellis. Rustic arches like a willow trellis won't support heavy climbers such as wisteria, climbing roses or grapes.
  • Use untreated copper wire that weathers to a soft green, or brown-treated craft wire for different effects.
  • Always ask permission before going onto private property to gather materials.
  • A willow trellis is fragile and may need guy wires to withstand heavy winds or snowfall.
  • Willow sprouts extremely easily; trellises cut fresh, made the same day and put directly into the ground may produce shoots. Best practice is to mount the trellis on stakes or rebar since willow roots aggressively seek water and sprouting trellis roots may ruin sprinkler systems. Keep fresh willow trellises that have been put directly into the ground well away from piping and sewer lines.

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