Mark out a planting strip the full length of your fedge and at least 60cm wide. For double or triple row hedges this strip should extend for at least 30c either side of the plants.
Suppressing competing weed growth around the living willow hedge is the key to successful rooting and quick subsequent growth; ideally you should kill all weed growth in this strip by cultivating the ground, or with a non persistent weedkiller.
However, for a large area, or where time is limited, cut back any top growth to the ground and rely on the suppressing fabric described below to kill the weeds.
In either case, cover the planting area with weed suppressing fabric or black plastic sheeting, securing this firmly by digging in the edges or with ground spikes or weights. You may then wish to cover the fabric with an ornamental mulch of bark or gravel to improve the appearance.
Obtaining the Willow Cuttings
Any freshly cut lengths of ripe or semi ripe willow will do, and you may be able to cut them from your own tree or from a friendly farmer's land. However:
Planting the Live Willow Fence or Hedge
- A nursery or mail order company specialising in willow will offer a better selection of cuttings.
- It's worth considering particular species of willow such as Salix vitellina, for their attractive coloured bark or catkins.
- 60-90cm willow cuttings or wands are quite sufficient, but for quick results 2m lengths are ideal.
- Plan on 8 cuttings per metre of fedge to give a sturdy 2 row barrier, but 4 cuttings per metre will suffice for a more economical version.
- Plant the hedge as quickly as possible after receiving the cuttings, heeling them in to avoid drying out if there's any delay.
- Before planting, trim off any side growth, and cut the butts diagonally to give a point which will push easily into the ground.
Planting the fedge couldn't be easier. For a standard two row hedge, push the pointed ends of the cuttings through the weed suppressing fabric at 25 cm intervals in two rows 30-45cm apart. Make sure the ends penetrate 25-30 cm into the ground for good rooting, then tread them in with gentle foot pressure.
Beyond this there are no firm rules, but you can use your own ideas to create special effects. Variations include:
Aftercare for Your Fedge
- Planting the two stoutest and tallest willow cutttings at each end of the fedge, then training a wire between them. The growing tips of the other cuttings can then be trained along the wire to give a neat square top.
- Planting other tall and strong cuttings vertically at 75cm intervals, for maximum height. Next set two weaker ones at 25cm spacing between them. Plant these at an angle of 45 degrees so that they cross to form an interlinking barrier in an attractive criss cross pattern.
- Where the cuttings cross, either weaving them together, or tying them with raffia or a flexible tie so that they graft together to form a strong barrier.
- Leaving regular spaces between cuttings, then crossing them at the top to form ornamental arches in the hedge.
The landscape fabric will keep the surrounding soil moist and weed free for the first couple of seasons, so the only maintenance needed will be to train and trim the side growth to fill out the walls, possibly leaving spaces for windows.
Other Living Willow Garden Features
Other types of live willow house,garden arbours, archways, pergolas and living hedges are equally easy to make using exactly the same principles.