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Living fence

 
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Hi Everyone!

I want to plant a woven living fence around my garden beds to keep hogs and people out.



I've heard that willow's roots seek out water in the ground and damage water pipes. Because of this I was wondering how close the willow fence can be to the annual vegetables. Any suggestions?
Are there any other plants that are good for a living fence application?
 
master steward
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Can you tell us a bit more about the usual climate that you'll be growing the fence in? Is willow a natural plant in your area?

Do you have a willow with a naturally short height? My concern would be shade if I'm trying to grow annual vegetables. (but then, sun is my main limiting factor for growing, so I'm naturally very sensitive to things blocking my sun!)

I do think the concept is a beautiful and functional one, although I'm not sure it will keep rabbits out which is a current problem in my ecosystem. Thankfully we don't have hogs...
 
Zoltán Korbel
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Willow grows in groves near rivers and ponds in my area but I've seen big willow trees on a hillside with no still water or stream near by. Unfortunately I think I can't harvest branches from these trees. There are nurseries selling cuttings online.

The weather has been getting hotter (I'm in zone 7a) in the last 20 years so shade might not be a bad thing after all.

More specifically what I want to know is how far do the roots of a let's say 5 feet = 153 cm tall living willow hedge spread horizontally, because it would determine how close to the willow fence I can grow annual and herbaceous plants.
 
master pollinator
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Perhaps you could look at this from alternate angles.

How close to your garden do you have water pipes? If your garden is further than 20 feet from your water lines, this may be a non-issue. Trees tend to have roots slightly further away from the trunk than trees are tall. When they are cut back, there is a die-off in the root system about equal to how much of the tops were removed. This is not bad. The decomposing roots will feed your garden.

Are you going to try to be no-till? if so, there will be minimal problems with the tree roots. Myself, we selectively use a "hand tiller" of unknown parentage, from a yard sale. We mostly do some minor damage to some of the trees' feeder roots. The trees appear unaffected. This is within 5 feet of the below mentioned maples.


Image from here.

When I started gardening, it was a near-blank canvas of decapitated grass. Eeewww! One apple tree and one maple tree in the front yard, and assorted brush and a few willows around the pond. My region wants to be forest, so I have thousands of seedlings every year. If a spot does not get mowed, voila, a tree! At any rate, my acre is oriented lengthwise east and west. At the summer solstice, the sun passes directly over the center of my property. My point here is that I have two 30-foot-tall maples in the northwest corner of my garden. A 25-foot-tall fruitless mulberry in the southwest corner. Fruitless. Grumble.  A 30-foot Bradford pear near the center. A 25X25 foot "forest" of volunteer trees at the northeast corner. More tall trees 15 feet away on the southern property line. Giant oaks on the neighbor's yard to the south. I just planted a mess of willow stakes 2 feet from my garden beds on the north border. These will be cut back yearly in the winter for garden structures, or basketry, or biomass, or RMH food. (When I get around to the RMH)

In my situation, all these trees help my garden to remain productive through my 9-week seasonal drought. (We get rain then, but not a lot) The trees give my plants enough shade to keep the bush green beans limping along to give me an extended harvest. Before shade, they would die off in the middle of June. The shade lets me work in various parts of the garden at different times of the day *in the shade*! Very helpful in our hot and humid summer.

Ummm... Is there an answer in there somewhere?



 
gardener
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My willow basket weaving instructor sells willow sticks to poke into the ground. They grow. I've cultivated 1 year old willow branches ... stuck them in the ground near water and they grew.
 
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I had a garden bed roughly 10 feet from a willow  tree that was 10 or 15 feet tall—not sure the kind of willow. The roots totally invaded the raised bed with its rich soil and really stunted any veggies we attempted to grow. That was an actual tree, not a fence, but I’’ll certainly hesitate to grow willow near veggies after that.
 
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In mexico, they just plant a road trees and connect wire to them. I like that idea better.
 
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Hazel? I understand it can form a really effective fence, and suckering means it's easy to propagate - maybe a little too easy. It might even go a little nuts.

Hilarious pun alert.

Seriously, though, I intend to use raspberries and hazel as fences between myself and my neighbors; it seems to balance the distance created by fencing with the neighborliness of offering them a place to pick berries and hazelnuts, a shared resource.

And, if you want willow for withies, hazel rods are similar in their uses.
 
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Mason Berry wrote:Hazel? I understand it can form a really effective fence, and suckering means it's easy to propagate - maybe a little too easy.



Our (UK) native species of hazel (Corylus avellana) doesn't sucker particularly well. Perhaps the American species does?

That said, it does regrow very easily when cut to the ground (coppiced). It produces a large number of straight rods when this happens. It's also very easy to pleach/lay to increase the length of the fence.

Finally, you can layer hazel but bending over a long, young, flexible rode and stacking it into the soil with a forked stick. Where it makes contact with the soil it will likely form roots and establish a new plant. You can either sever the connection (after a year or two) or leave the plants connected to share resources. It would be easy, although time consuming, to form a fence using this method. You could plant a mother plant every 3d position, however, and then layer a rod either side to fill up the gaps.

 
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Elizabeth Echeverria wrote:I had a garden bed roughly 10 feet from a willow  tree that was 10 or 15 feet tall—not sure the kind of willow. The roots totally invaded the raised bed with its rich soil and really stunted any veggies we attempted to grow. That was an actual tree, not a fence, but I’’ll certainly hesitate to grow willow near veggies after that.



yeah, i second this. i had a willow plant itself in my "bird food" permaculture hedgerow and i've had to uproot baby willows more than once. i'm trying to come to detente - where it exists as a small stand, but so do my various dogwoods, Aconia, serviceberry, elderberry, etc. if you introduce willow, be prepared to monitor it and uproot what your area can't handle every few years. i truly believe no-mow is the way, but if you want to maintain some biodiversity in the face of forest succession, you have to be ready to apply a selective stressor once in a while.
 
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I suspect that this is climate dependent, but I'm thinking that any shrub or tree that will grow well enough to deter hogs will probably (eventually) have an extensive root system that could affect adjacent beds. As a rule of thumb the roots grow out to the mature canopy of the tree, and although I believe there is some die back on pruning, they would remain pretty extensive. The prunings can of course be useful for mulch material, and peasticks (beware rerooting of willows!)
I would suggest thorny shrubs like hawthorne, which has been used for hedging in the UK, or maybe something more useful like sea buckthorn or eleagnus which are nitrogen fixing and may have nice fruit. Putting a path adjacent to the hedge will give the vegetables as much root space as possible.
 
Tina Wolf
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Tina Wolf wrote:My willow basket weaving instructor sells willow sticks to poke into the ground. They grow. I've cultivated 1 year old willow branches ... stuck them in the ground near water and they grew.



It is true that not much will grow under the willow except some herbs and vines. I've planted my favorite, Corkscrew Willow, so I can use the twisted golden branches as rods for my macrame wall hangings. I also like the basket willow for a pergola. I do like pairing some vining plants with willow along with shade lovers. Willows grow near water here in Texas but aren't as invasive as they are in more temperate climates.
 
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Tina Wolf wrote:
It is true that not much will grow under the willow except some herbs and vines.



This knowledge is applicable to a large tree which will cast a corresponding shadow.
The living fence we are talking about will probably be coppiced to a couple of feet.

Regarding the choice of willow, please consider that it is a wetland species,
therefore your veggies will benefit if water needs to be drawn away because of a watterlogged situation,
but if it already is a dry place, you might consider less thirsty species like poplar or even slower growing dryland species.
It depends on your context.
 
R. Han
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Zoltán Korbel wrote:
More specifically what I want to know is how far do the roots of a let's say 5 feet = 153 cm tall living willow hedge spread horizontally, because it would determine how close to the willow fence I can grow annual and herbaceous plants.



Do not worry, any distance that allows you to conveniantly access the fence wihtout stepping in your veggies should be fine,
depending on what you plant.
I suggest planting the perennials between the living fence and the annuals to act as a root barrier.
You will figure out the details by permacultures best tool : Observation.
 
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Zoltán Korbel wrote:Hi Everyone!

I want to plant a woven living fence around my garden beds to keep hogs and people out.

Are there any other plants that are good for a living fence application?



At the 2013 Permaculture Covention &Convergence in Cuba 🇨🇺 we saw spectacular cactus living fences. They  would be hog proof.
 
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We have living willow fences that are one of the most admired features of our garden, made by my wife, who has put a lot of work into them over the years. I must point out that some willows are much better than others for this job and some don't work well at all. One of the best is French Pussy Willow, a form of Salix Caprea and one to avoid is Navajo golden basket willow. Some research may be needed before you plant. Ideally, the stems should graft together at each crossing point and can be encouraged to do so with twist ties. These fences are high maintenance if you want to see the structure as the willows, naturally enough, want to cover their bare stems with side shoots and these need continually pruning out. I wouldn't have said that they are anything other than ornamental: they might keep people out but aren't really stock-proof, especially when it comes to hogs, which are much like living bulldozers. Best skip the living fence idea for them and instead use rebar to get a similar effect!

We've never had any trouble with plants refusing to grow near the fence and some of our best strawberry plants grow along it!

I was going to add a couple of pictures but can't see how to - no "browse" facility. Never mind.

Can I put my own tiny ad in here? We're selling up and moving on. More info at https://is.gd/GardenersGreenForSale
 
Police line, do not cross. Well, this tiny ad can go through:
Can we do it? Freaky Cheap Tickets to the 2025 Permaculture Technology Jamboree - this weekend only!
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