For log home owners looking for an interesting and fun landscaping project, a willow sculpture, arch or living fence is a charming addition to gardens. Willows have been a feature of English-style gardens for centuries. With their flexibility, quick growth and low maintenance, willow structures couldn’t be easier to try out.
Willows rods can be easily harvested from riverside locations or from a neighbor’s existing trees (with permission, of course!) One company in Canada, Blue Stem Nursery offers bundles of 6’ – 8’ willow rods (ten rods per bundle) in dozens of species. The company can provide information on each species as to rate of growth, diameter of growth, bark color and other factors. Willows will root in just about any temperate climate given good soil, watering and fertilizer. Blue Stem ships their bundles of rods during a short time period in the spring: March through May. If you do order, US customs require a phytosanitary certificate with the shipment for an additiona $12 fee. Alternatively you can grow your own rods from willow cuttings also available from Blue Stem, which involves about a two-year timeframe before the rods reach sufficient size for larger structures.
How to start a living willow fence
Getting started with willow structures is not difficult. Using a stick the same diameter of the willow rods you’ll be using, poke a hole in the soil, fill with water and fertilizer, then insert the willow rod holding firmly at the base. For a fence or arch structure, start with the verticals, then add the diagonals in one direction, then weave the diagonals in the other direction. For an arch effect, make two rows of fence then connect and interweave the ends of the rods together overhead. Water well and let the willows do their magic! You’ll need to plan on pruning about twice a year to promote growth and keep the structure looking tidy. Other shapes and structures follow the same techniques.
Avoiding Willow Invasiveness
Because they are so prolific, willows can develop runaway growth if not monitored closely. One established, their root systems are extensive, so it’s a good idea to keep willow plantings away from foundations and drain fields.
In addition to living sculptures, willows can also be harvested for decorative wattle fences using dried branches that are woven between uprights spaced 12 – 14 inches apart. These fences can provide a rustic accent in gardens or along pathways, and will last a couple of years before needing to be replaced. A good primer for a wattle fence can be found in this Chicago Tribune article.