To homeowners, a fence that’s economical, attractive, easy to build and maintain sounds like a pipe dream. But with planning, patience and a little effort, a living willow fence can quickly add beauty to anyone’s landscape. Unlike many plants, willow trees can be grown from supple branches or “cuttings” taken from living trees and thrust into the soil. This makes them an easy–and economical–option for anyone wanting an attractive barrier or fence. Any gardener, novice or otherwise, can create an attractive living willow fence that, with a small investment and little maintenance, should last for years.
Measure the length and width of the fence area to figure the number of willow cuttings needed. Plan to use a minimum of four cuttings per yard lengthwise. For a stronger willow fence, add additional cuttings per yard, up to a maximum of eight. Widthways, the area should be a strip at least 2 feet wide for a single row of cuttings. For wider barriers or fences, allow at least 1 additional foot between each additional row of willow cuttings. Don’t obtain your willow cuttings until ready for planting. Fresh cuttings work best.
Remove any large rocks or debris from the willow fence area and cultivate the soil to loosen it and kills any weeds. If your soil is hard, such as clay, till in some compost to help lighten the soil. Adding compost to heavy soil will help the tender willow cuttings quickly establish new root systems. Work slow-release fertiliser into the top 2 inches of loosened soil.
Rid the area of weeds. Tender willow cuttings need tender loving care, and competing with weeds can nip their growth in the bud. Many weed suppressants exist on the market, from chemical applications to landscaping fabric. Determine which application works best for you. If using chemical applications, work it into the soil according to the manufacturer’s directions. If using landscaping fabric, lay it in wide strips across the cultivated area. Secure loose ends with soil or mulch.
Plant the willow cuttings. Using pruning shears, remove any side growth from each willow cutting, and make a fresh angled cut on one end, forming a point. With the pruning shears, cut a small gash in the landscaping fabric at each point where you wish to establish a cutting. Take a willow cutting and push the diagonal end through the hole into the ground roughly 1 foot deep. Continue planting each cutting in a similar fashion, one row at a time. Water well and mulch to retain moisture, suppress weeds and to hide the landscaping fabric if used.
Train your willow cuttings to any shape desired. Young willow is flexible, fast-growing and cooperative, so now the real fun begins. As your fence grows, get creative by training it into any number of shapes-- whether it be a traditional fencelike structure, or something more fun like an arbor, archway or tunnel.
Willow falls dormant through the winter months, so living willow fences are best established between October and March. Also, while willow cuttings can be purchased online and through nurseries, a more economical route is to collect cuttings from a friend or neighbour’s tree. Always ask permission, however, before taking cuttings from someone else’s property.