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How to make willow trellises & arbors

Updated April 13, 2018

Willow whips are pliable willow branches that are traditionally used to weave baskets. Willow is fast-growing, and one year's growth is usually enough to cut for decorative projects. You can bend and weave willow whips to make arbors, trellises and other types of plant supports. Design possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Use different sizes of willow whips for sturdiness or to create decorative features. Practice basic methods and techniques, and you can create original willow pieces of garden art that are also functional parts of your garden.

Cut willow whips as long as possible. Collect whips of different diameters so you have some for sturdy framework and some for bending and weaving. Use willow whips when they are fresh and green so they will be as flexible as possible. Spring and summer cuttings are the most pliant. Good working sizes of willow whips are anywhere from 6 to 9 feet long, about the length of a season's growth. Shorter pieces are useful for weaving in details.

Collect some small vines to use for tying or winding to secure the willow whips in place. Honeysuckle, vinca and other small vines work well. These, too, should be cut green during the growing season so they are supple.

Strip the leaves from whips and vines.

Lay out the framework of your piece using the sturdiest pieces of willow. Use the heaviest part of the framework whips at the bottom for stability, leaving the top, more flexible parts of the whips free for shaping and weaving.

Fasten the framework together. For large projects, use a small nail or screw to connect the joints. Further secure the joints and create a rustic look by wrapping vines around the intersections. As the vines season and dry, they will tighten and become firm in the shape of the winding.

For additional strength on projects that will need to bear weight, wrap wire around the joints before using vines--copper wire lasts a long time and will not rust. A wire wrap takes the stress off the vines, allowing them to be more of a decorative element.

Begin weaving smaller willow whips through the framework. Leave long ends extending beyond the edges of the framework. Wait to trim them off with pruning clippers until you complete sections of the project. If you need to adjust the whips as you work, you may need the excess.

Weave beginning at the bottom of the piece and work your way up. Add looping designs or other shapes made with the finer sized whips if you wish. Rounded designs such as curved arches and heart shapes are popular design elements that a beginner can easily create simply by bending the willow whips in the desired shape and securing them onto the framework.

Tip

Do not allow the willow or vines to dry out. Soak them in water if necessary to keep them pliant as you work. You can use hemp twine instead of vines. It is easy to work with and has a rustic appearance that complements the willow. In many areas of the United States, willow grows wild along ditches and banks, where it is often controlled by mowing or spraying. Farmers are usually happy for you to cut out wild willow, but you should always check with the landowner before doing so.

Things You'll Need

  • Sharp pruning clippers
  • Willow whips, various sizes
  • Small vines
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Small nails, optional
  • Fine wire, optional
  • Small hammer, optional
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About the Author

Fern Fischer's print and online work has appeared in publications such as Midwest Gardening, Dolls, Workbasket, Quilts for Today and Cooking Fresh. With a broader focus on organic gardening, health, rural lifestyle, home and family articles, she specializes in topics involving antique and modern quilting, sewing and needlework techniques.