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living willow fence - hedges as fences ...

paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17407
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
I was just looking at the latest permaculture magazine.  In it, there is a picture of a "living willow fence".    The picture is rather small.

It looks like it could be more like a hedge. 

The little willows were all rather close together.  And there were a lot of them. 

But I wonder .....  would it be strictly ornamental?  Would it grow so thick that some of the willows would die?

Could something like that contain pigs?

Keep out deer?

And what about something similar for areas with less moisture and colder winters?

Anybody have experience with this sort of thing?

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Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Willows planted tightly together intertwine to a degree that can form a natural barrier. Overlap and "braid" young growth togehter and willows are pretty happy developing to full size that close together. At full growth the willows remain intertwined. Takes awhile to get them tight enough though. Should work for pigs. Deer like young willow but should be difficult for them to pass a willow barrier. Planting along a mesh fence to start can help attain the tightness needed. Some interesting websites on English countryside hedgerows. Different growth but same methods for starting and training.
MJ Solaro

Joined: Feb 21, 2008
Posts: 131
Location: Bellevue, WA
Very cool idea! Did it look something like this?

Here's one how-to resource on how to make a living willow fence (also known as a willow "fedge":

Reading about it online says that it probably wouldn't be effective keeping out deer, at least not for the first decade anyway. Deer love to munch on young willow and would graze it to the ground...

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Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I wonder if blackberry bushes might make a fence that would keep out deer and keep pigs in. live productive barbed wire! having blackberry fences has always been in my dream home/property set up plan.

if in a very large area and if the willows were large it seems they might keep pigs in. I only raised them one winter to work a new garden area so I am no expert but they were incredibley destructive. almost managed to tunnel under chain link more than once and escaped electric fence many times by rooting up dirt on a wire and grouding it out. did you know pigs fit in standard tomato cages? at 2am? and they panic and can't get out? ha ha


"One cannot help an involuntary process. The point is not to disturb it. - Dr. Michel Odent
Charley Hoke

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 66
Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
Slaps self on forehead! Why didn't I think of that?

The only challenge I see with blackberries is that after this years canes produce berries they will die, however if they are planted thick enough they just might work.

Years ago I had an Osage Orange bush where I lived. This guy had very long and very sharp thorns. I did some research and found that during colonial times this was planted an a natural fence for cattle. Not sure how it would do in colder climates.
Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
The older canes will die but (at least around here) blackberries put down roots wherever a tip of a cane touches the ground and are very proficient and keeping themselves going! maybe where it gets too cold they woud have a little more trouble re-establishing themselves each year. dunno. I was lucky to live on some acreage for a while that had large plots of wild blackberrys growing on it. the "plots" were at least 20 feet across on the west side of a woodland edge. Absolutely inpenetrable.
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17407
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
I think blackberries would not do well with goats, deer or pigs.  They would eat the canes, or burrow through the thorns.  Plus, I think blackberries shoot out a new cane every year and last year's cane dies back (I could be mistaken about this), so holes in the fence could form from year to year. 

I think this is one of those areas where it would be great to hear from some folks that have real experience with this.

Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
it certainly wouldn't work for goats in any kind of confinement. People use goats to rid themselves of blackberry brambles. I imagine the stand would have to be pretty substantial before it would work and there would need to be plenty of other forage available. I'm not sure( now that I think of it) that the canes die each year. I think they just produce fruit on new growth and people generally kill them back by mowing them down. There is no way that the stand on the old property was one years growth. Even in winter only small animals could get through. I knew where most of the deer trails were also and they never dead ended at the blackberries! there might have been a few "hollows" that deer would use for cover though. I think its a cool idea. now if  only I would win the lottery I would be the guinea pig 
Kelda Miller

Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 765
blackberry: i think the second year canes do die off, or if not that, at least the third years. All that dry stick, poky stuff that makes a blackberry bush pile higher and higher every year. But that's still a deterrent to full on passage through for bigger animals. The only drawback is that if the young canes are always being munched than the inner dead stuff will lack protection and eventually start to break down.

It would be a great way to reclaim a blackberry wildland into a forest garden, etc. Clear enough for it to hold pigs, and see if they push that edge a bit further back every year.

Goats I agree would change that landscape fast enough to escape, would need an additional fence.

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Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
That would explain how the stands I've seen became so huge. They probably had new growth over the top of old dead stuff.
Dave Boehnlein

Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 294
Location: Orcas Island, WA
Living willow could be effectively used to keep critters in. When you plant willows close to one another and twine them together they will actually graft into one another. We had a living willow shelter here at the Bullocks that failed due to a beaver. However, you can see from the remnants that the remaining willows have formed a dense ring almost as good as a wall.

Surely, you won't be able to put animals in it terribly soon, but willows started like the picture above and protected from deer until they were above browse height would make a great enclosure.

This summer we went back to our beaver damaged structure and pollarded all the willows so we could start the weaving process anew. Some of the trunk diameters were as much as 8-10 inches and in spots they formed almost a solid wall.

Also, another idea that Doug saw in Poland was a livestock enclosure made from wattle (google "wattle fencing" for some pics). The people were planting fast-growing trees about 6 - 8 feet apart and letting them grow for a few years. Then, once the trees were about 4-6 inches dbh, they would lop of the tops at about 7 feet. They would take the tops and use them to weave between the trees to create the fencing. Every year they would go out and pollard the trees (that's coppicing up high instead of at ground level) and use the trimmings as the actual fence material. That way you have living fence posts and an unending supply of new wattle to add as the old wattles break down.

I think using biological solutions for fencing is a great idea, even if they take a while to establish. You can always run electric fencing just inside the establishing system until it is fully functional.


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Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
will deer strip the bark?
Dave Boehnlein

Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 294
Location: Orcas Island, WA
If you mean eat the bark, I've never seen it. However, if you're referring to antler rub, that could be a problem when they're young. Deer like to rub the velvet off their antlers on saplings. However, if you protect your willows from the deer until they're well on their way to becoming a wall you should be fine. What deer don't like is getting their antlers tangled in things. Thus they tend to rub on stems that are accessible for them (single trunks out in the open). When things are growing densely they don't tend to rub much. Your living willow fence would, by it's very nature, be very dense and tangled.
Leah Sattler

Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I was thinking eat it. My goats like the bark from particular trees species. They don't touch the pecans but will strip and eat the bark from cedars. The only willows they are around are old monster trees and they can't reach any of the tender parts but they adored cuttings from our weeping willow (before the power company removed it ). I thought deer might too. Hopefully the deer population wouldn't encourage it. But there is always venison!
Jocelyn Campbell

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 3118
Location: Missoula, MT
For our Pacific NW - King County specifically - I ran across thorough instructions for native shrubs and trees that make decent hedgerows for livestock.

It's from a county conservation district whose role, it appears, is to assist farmers in working with (not against) the local environment. Free soil tests are provided to those in the program, there's a manure share program, and then I saw these instructions so I dashed over here to post it.

Myrica is mentioned in the plant lists, which I think Dave Boehnlein said has some permaculture value, though I'm not sure what.

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Susan Monroe

Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
I must have missed this thread....

Unless your barrier has been well-started (several years) and has a large, heavy, strong root system, wouldn't pigs just root through/under the roots as they ate them?

A blackberry thicket may be inpenetrable to humans, but to pigs?  I don't know...

Not all cane berries tip over and root.

Dave Boehnlein

Joined: Jun 10, 2007
Posts: 294
Location: Orcas Island, WA
Jocelyn Campbell wrote:

Myrica is mentioned in the plant lists, which I think Dave Boehnlein said has some permaculture value, though I'm not sure what.

Myrica californica, aka California Wax Myrtle, is great. it is a N-fixing shrub that can handle droughty conditions. It grows somewhat vertically in form, making it a good candidate for screening. It is a broadleaf evergreen, which is nice in the winter. It is closely related to the east coast bayberry (which you may know as a common candle scent). The seeds are actually coated in wax that, theoretically could be used to make candles.

More cool info on CA Wax Myrtle at

Joined: Jun 08, 2008
Posts: 79

Actually, a good living fence, are climbing roses. If there are wild roses in your area-wherever a person might be-they will work really well. Just start them growing on something that will support their weight over time. Deer dont like them-which makes them a good deer deterrant for gardens.

Kathleen Sanderson

Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
Hmm.  I've got some new idea for our garden fence now....the mule deer are really a nuisance here.  We've had as many as eight in our yard at one time, and they come right up to the house and eat Grandma's lilies and tulips.  They are worse than my goats!  I've got some deer fencing that I'll be putting up in a few days, but maybe I can get some willow wands from the neighbors, who have several hybrid willows in their yard that shed branches whenever the wind blows. 

My ex made a fedge on the road side of our garden in New Hampshire by letting some saplings grow up (various kinds, including wild cherries and who knows what else), then when they were about eight to twelve feet tall, he bent them over and wove them into a fence.  It's pretty solid now.  He started doing something similar around his bee yard, too, but I don't know if it will ever keep the bears out.  He has to use an electric fence for that.

Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
well i can tell you in cold temps blackberries do fine, rabbits will eat them if they can get to them..and yes they do tip root.

willows will grow best for a fedge here..the smaller willows would work better as the weeping willows will get about 2' across at the trunk in no time..exerpience.

nearly ALL roses will die to the ground here..and they never quite get thick enough for a fedge..other shrubs that do get thick are honeysuckle shrubs and autumn or russian olive..lots of people plant them for barriers..however..rabbits are small enough to go through about anything..just a tiny opening..deer will nibble through anything they want to get through..and bear..well they'll just root them out (they are pig family ) or tear through them if they want to get through.

i have gobs of pictures in my books on willow worked fences and hedges..alive..also alligator shaped willow tunnels and lots of childrens buildings made out of living willow.. best to use the short growing types.


Bloom where you are planted.

Joined: Nov 12, 2009
Posts: 27
does anyone have experience with living fences?  i agree that osage is ideal, but i have found it to grow very slow.  i have planted osage orange seed and have many seedlings, but the black locust grows much, much faster...and it grows wild in sw virginia.  i'm going to be an old man soon and don't have 30 years to wait for my fedge to mature.  i HAVE to have deer protection before i can plant the bulk of my orchards.  they don't understand the idea of sharing;  they eat everything!

i'd love to hear from people who have experience growing a high fedge for deer protection.  i'm thinking that i need at least 10' for it to be effective.  i have heard they can even jump that, so i think 12 would might be needed.

has anyone mastered the "Approach Graft"?

for protection down low i was thinking of hazels at the base of the locusts. what would folks suggest

kathleen, do u have pictures of your ex's fedge?

Paul Cereghino

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
My favorite topic.

I did my Masters Thesis on field use of un-rooted stem cuttings - there's a pretty good scientific literature review for the super-geeky, and a list of PNW native species.  The readers digest version in on my neglected blog

One of the best references I found was a paper by Corvalis Plant Materials Center that describes relative rooting ability of 22 native shrub species.

Since that time, I have gotten really good growth out of red-flowering current Ribes sanguineum and ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor) and

native plant stakes cost around .25/foot in the reveg industry-there is no custom production at this time, and cultivation could increase both the quality of stakes and the use of harder to wildcraft species.

Hazel (corylus cornuta and kinfolk) would be great, but you'd need to start with layers rather than cuttings.

Cuttings can be planted on the seam between two long strips of woven plastic weed fabric for low labor prep... we've planted into reed canarygrass this way.

Cottonwood would work where maintenance was available... the buds make a lovely medicinal.  The foliage would make good forage, and it shoots like mad after cutting.

Jude Hobbs, a permie from Willamette Valley in PNW got a grant to publish a short blurb on hedgerow function [PDF] by OSU.

And finally 2 living fence pics from costa rica... a little barbed wire and you have a cow or horse fence... with only occasional trips chasing your cow through town.

[Thumbnail for IMG_2489.JPG]

[Thumbnail for IMG_2490.JPG]

Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Matthew Fallon

Joined: Jan 07, 2010
Posts: 307
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
willow is such a cool plant to work with, there are lots of books on working with it .
for the past 5 years or so, ive been going to a nature based artists gathering of sorts
"woodlanders gathering" in warwick ny,usually teach a native bamboo flute-making or rustic woodturning class.. one of my artist friends from that gorup is a master at creating living structures with willow,Definitely go see her work here

we had a willow fence workshop several years, it is super easy.amazes me how just stabbing the fresh cuttings in the ground lets you make living fences,chairs,arbors and more.

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Chelle Lewis

Joined: Dec 10, 2009
Posts: 423
Location: Hartbeespoort, South Africa
I want to make living fences to encamp my rabbits in the day. When I got quotes on fencing I decided to get creative instead. Need too much fencing.

I thought to try Moringa for the posts [pollarded but left growing foliage on top to cut-and come-again for fodder] ....and Cape Honeysuckle [Tecoma capensis] as the laterals.... to fence off these areas for my rabbits...... 3m x 4m camps. Both are good forage and grow really fast.

Between the Moringa trunks plant honeysuckle ...... and closely watch as new branches come out ....... and basket weave them into a living fence more than a hedge... so the vines are doing the fencing. Hope I have described it well enough. Sort of a tight living basketry more than a loose looking trellis "fedge". From what I have seen I think the honeysuckle can handle this. Once this is well-grown and well plaited I could always use sideways cuttings as forage for other livestock too in the summer if the rabbits could not feed on it all. My rabbits will only be outdoors durng the day and these mini-meadows will have a moveable thatch roof .... roofed only where the rabbits are for the day..... resting on 4 gumpole posts... one in each corner. Gates I am thinking of making out of Chinaberry branches.... because so straight.

I may add something else that is good winter fodder to these 2 .... still figuring out what. I have heard of an evergreen mulberry.

I do have Hazel ... new to me so watching it to see how it does and what can be done with it.


Joined: Jan 13, 2010
Posts: 238
Location: swampland virginia
Couple days late to the thread. Didn't see anyone mention this so figured I'd mention hedge laying.  Videos on Hedge Laying. Wikipedia on Hedge Laying.

just something else to add to everyone's bag of tricks. I'm amazed the plants endure all of that craziness. Only downside, you might end up with a hedge hog. 
Doug Gillespie

Joined: May 04, 2010
Posts: 77
I'm WAY late to this party, but this is a subject in which I just got interested, thanks primarily to the MEN article on it that recently appeared.  We're going to need a boatload of fencing on our homestead property in NE Georgia, and a living fence would be ideal in a lot of respects.  The problem I'm wondering about, though, is finding species that will survive as fencing for goats.  I know osage orange and the locusts have some nasty thorns, but would that actually discourage goats from eating them?  I'm not terribly worried about the sheep we plan on keeping, or the chickens or ducks for that matter, but the goats might eb a problem.  Anybody have any experience specifically with living fencing and goats?

helen atthowe

Joined: Feb 25, 2011
Posts: 7
Great ideas! I recently returned from some revegetation projects in Panama that were doing wonderful things with living, fruiting fences. I have had good success with natives Ribes aureum and Prunus americana.  The wild plum is a great barrier to most larger wildlife and livestock as it suckers better than anything I have ever grown. I fill in the first year gaps with native perennial sunflower, Helianthus maximillani. One native I have only grown as an ornamental, but that also suckers well and might make a good barrier is silverberry, Eleagnus commutata. Anyone have any experience with this wonderful nitrogen-fixing plant as a living fence?

Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame

Joined: May 23, 2010
Posts: 488
Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
Plenty of images here:

Willow is particularly suited to living fence because of a couple of its properties, 1) easy propagation by cuttings 2)flexible branches that can be easily woven. 

There are many other trees that fit the propagation criteria, though few as flexible as willow.  Fig and moringa are two food-producing trees that come to mind. 
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
pigs are very closely related to bear, right? bear LOVE blackberries and have no problem going through them ..and yes the canes die down yearly and really should be pruned out to keep the plants I wouldn't attempt to do blackberries for keeping most animals in..however I do have cane fruits along a fenceline..they work well in that forum.

as for the willows, make sure if you use them for a hedge or at all you keep them away from buildings and away from your plumbing
Andrew Schreiber

Joined: Apr 01, 2012
Posts: 168
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
HI all, I am working on utilizing willow to establish living fences/hedgerows/windbreaks to chalk-out perimeter and interior paddocks in a 12 acre silvo pasture system. At this point I am sourcing local willow material to begin cutting and live-stake propagating this Winter. Looking at ~ 3,000 individual plants, with a initial spacing of 1 every 2 feet for this firt year. I am going for length and not density in this first run, and then in coming years I will be planting out other plants that are still getting established or still need to be seeded such as

Upland Willow (Salix scouleriana) - more tolerant of dry mountainous conditions, common in dryland pine forests acros the US

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) - n2 fixing, coppiceable (AKA thick near the base), easy to propagate
Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhannoides) - n2 fixing, thorny, dense shrub
Siberian pea shrub (Caragana arborescens) - n2 fixing, kind of thorny, dense shrub
Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) - wikedly thorny, spreading sucking shrub
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) - fast growing, spreading, more vertical growth habbit
Mountain Alder (Alnus incana) - n2 fixing, fast growing, spreading, more vertical growth habbit
Roses (Rosa Woodsii, R. Rosa nutkana, R. rugosa, R. gymnocarpa) - squat and thorny for the interior base of hedges

Things I will likel end up plating on the exterior sides of some hedges where animals won't get to
various types of naturalized plums and cherries - tend to form thickets to fill in hedge
Saskatoon/Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
hazelnuts, nut pines, and chestnuts.

and of course, all these things are productive for humans, I just wrote why it's relevant as a living fence. Also, these are plants which I have around locally, and can easily collect large amounts of seeds and/or cuttings from.

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Cj Sloane

Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 3580
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
Andrew Schreiber wrote:Looking at ~ 3,000 individual plants, with a initial spacing of 1 every 2 feet for this firt year. I am going for length and not density in this first run, and then in coming years I will be planting out other plants...

I've planted 350 trees this spring, 2' apart eventually to be pollarded for fodder.
I planted:
3 different types of willows
Black Locust
Honey Locust
European Mountain Ash
Russian Mulberry
Hybrid Poplar.

I planted them on swales (on contour). I think I will be able to take cuttings in further years to expand the system.

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Agriculture collects solar energy two-dimensionally; but silviculture collects it three dimensionally.
leila hamaya

Joined: Jun 30, 2012
Posts: 998
Location: northern northern california
yes it seriously takes a very very very long time to grow a fence/hedge like this.

my last project was all surrounding a living fence that i constructed over several years of mostly willow making the framework. there were also tons of huge established blackberries that filled in the gaps and made it more solid. i coppiced and pollarded the existing willows which were there for many years previously (native), but had gotten very tall and, like willows do, started falling over everywhere. so i kept trimming them (like hundreds of sessions of trimming and replanting)
and replanting them around really thickly and shorter, to fill in the bottom and expanding it to be thicker.

i also cut down some of the the willows that were not in a great place and immediately moved them to spots which needed more fence built up, by laying them horizontally, from where they re rooted came up in straight lines from the horizontal trunks. this is basically what the willow does naturally, when it gets too tall it falls over and then re roots itself horizontally. thats where the fence is thickest and best, especially if a few fall in the same area, or one moves bigger established trunks and lays them horizontally.

in front of that i added some sections of a built up fence, using willows i cut to be posts and nailing on some free pallet boards. then i built my gardens around that, using the built up fence and the willows as a trellis.

heres some pics, and a link to the project thread i made where i talked a lot about it.

this work is so slow! in a few years though it will be looking awesome, finally having filled in and the small willows i kept adding by trimming them and sticking them in the ground to fill in will have finally taken off and filled it in.

subject: living willow fence - hedges as fences ...