West Wales Willows

Planting "Fedges" and other Living Willow Structures in Diamond Patterns

Living fences (also called “fedges”, as they are a cross between a hedge and a fence) are a wonderful way to create borders. The principle that is used in building them can also be applied to the building of arches, tunnels, domes and arbours. Please read these instructions completely before you start planting, to know the requirements.

July

Spacing:

Depending on the height you want to achieve, you can either use finer rods and plant them with a distance of around 25-30 cm /10-12 inches between them for fedges of up to 5 foot (i.e. 6-8 rods per running meter for single rod fedges) or you can use heavier rods, planted with around 40-50cm / 16-20 inches between them for higher structures (i.e. 8-10 rods per running 2 metres.)

For round structures like domes, divide your circumference (minus your doorway) into equal parts to find out the number of rods needed. Use a peg in the middle of your structure, tie a string to it with another stick on its far end to mark out your perimeter.
(To save yourself constant measuring, cut a piece of willow or any other stick to the required length and use it as a spacer.)

Planting time:

The right time for planting is when the willow rods are dormant, this is generally between late November to the beginning of March.

Ground preparation and weed control:

Weed control is paramount for the first years – this can either be achieved with chemical weed killers prior to planting and subsequent regular weeding, or through planting through a layer of mulch. A thick layer (several inches) of bark mulch can be applied after planting or you can plant straight through spun polypropylene sheets, flax mats or silage sheet (which, for aesthetic reasons, can be covered with bark mulch, pebbles or similar). Lay your sheet on the ground, then push the edges in with a spade or use ground hooks to fasten it. You should have a minimum of 1 foot of ground cover on either side of your structure.
(If your ground is very stony and not allowing easy planting , it might be advisable to dig a narrow, 1 foot deep trench first and refill it with lighter material.)

Putting up your structure:

If you want your fedge to have a straight top, put posts at either end or every few meters and span a wire between them. For arches, tunnels and arbours you will weave the tops together, once you have erected your structure.

If your rods have any side shoots cut these off close to the rods and put them aside.
To facilitate planting the thick end of each rod, which is called the "butt end",can be cut at an angle. If your rods are fairly thin and in danger of bending too much when pushed into the ground, take a metal rod of around the same diameter (an old screwdriver will do well) to push through your mulch before planting each rod. The holes should only be just large enough for the rods to go through, otherwise you will find weeds pushing their heads through the spare space.

Plant half of the rods at the required distance at an angle of around 45°, then plant the other half in the same way, but facing the other direction.

(Please see below for variations of this.)
Rods need to planted with a minimum of around 30 cm / 1 foot in the ground. Failure to achieve enough depth will result in the plants being unable to develop a sufficient root system to supply the length above ground and the rod dying off.

You can either weave the rods alternatively or you can just tie the rods together where they cross. To do this use either the side shoots that you previously removed or other materials like raffia or raspberry tape.


The picture above shows a fedge in the summer
with the sideshoots that have developed.
New growth above the horizontal running wire
will be cut in the winter.
If you have used a wire wind the tips gently around it
without bending the rods to an extend that the bark is kinked
as this will stop any growth beyond this point.
Alternatively cut the top evenly and leave them pointing upwards.
In domes and arches wind the tips of opposing rods together.

Maintenance:

Water regularly for the first few weeks and continue to water in the first year during dry spells. Your fedge will continue to grow. As the rods thicken, they will graft at the crossing points and you might have to remove your ties if they start to cut in.

Your fedge or other living structure can be trimmed regularly, just like you would do with a hedge to keep it's shape.
If you are building a large dome, leave an opening in the centre which will allow you to trim the top of the structure – you might not be able to reach the middle from the outside.

Variations:

- Use twin rods instead of single rods to achieve a different look.

- For large domes and tunnels make a basic structure with upright thick diameter rods, then fill in diagonally with thinner rods. Weave in horizontal bands to give it extra support.

-For arches use two upright rods on either side with two diagonal rods on the inside. Weave a horizontal band on either side of your arch at around head height, then bend the tops over, with the opposite diagonal rods now coming to the outside and the rods from the outside now running diagonally from the front to the back. Wind them together, tie a strong piece of rod on the top of the front and the back of the archway and weave a horizontal support along the center of the arch.
A few more woven bands on the sides will make your structure more stable.

If you want to find more ideas for work with living willow,
we recommend Jon Warnes Book "Living Willow Sculpture",
which will show you how to make all these items and also living willow seats (scented, if you like!).

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