You can call them willow hedges but maybe a more accurate term? “Fedges” = fence + hedge. Willows, sallows, and osiers form the genus Salix (Latin for willow), a grouping of 400-ish species of deciduous trees and shrubs. Willow are native to moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Almost all willows take root very readily from cuttings. Young, thin willow cuttings are known as withies, longer willow rods are known as whips.
Why a Willow Hedge?
Willow is often used for streambank stabilization (bioengineering), slope stabilization and soil erosion control. Willows are often planted on the borders of streams so their interlacing roots protect the bank against the action of the water. Their roots are often much larger than the stem that grows from them. See how to plant willow cuttings to prevent erosion at a streambank: www.ksre.ksu.edu
How to Build a Willow Hedge
Simply make a hole in the ground with a metal bar, then insert the willow cutting. Weed control is important when starting a willow fedge and the cuttings should be planted into a weed barrier that allows water penetration, otherwise the weeds might suck away a bit of vitality from the young willows. As a general rule, shorter cuttings establish and grow best without competition from weeds, whereas longer cuttings have more stored energy and can handle a bit of competition. Willows prefer full sun but will accept part shade. Willows are also very adaptable as per water conditions once they are established and will also survive in poor quality soils. Image: www.yorkshirewillow.co.uk
Living willow fence at Vevey Garden, Switzerland. Willow rods are pushed into the ground at an angle. The tops are tied to a horizontal, weaved in withy to give stability along the top. Willows have high levels of auxins, hormones that promote rooting success. The hormone is so prevalent that “willow water” brewed from willow stems, will encourage the rooting of many other plant cuttings as well. Image by Barbara, OvertheMoon / Flickr.
The angled rods tend to sprout along their entire length, while the uprights oft times sprout from the top only. Botanical Gardens of Wales. Photo by Libby / Flickr.
Living willow hedge panels by Green Barrier of Scotland. Living hedge sections come in pre-constructed 1m widths and in heights from 1.2 to 2.5m. They are planted directly into topsoil to a depth of 60cm (2 feet), to provide support while the roots grow. You can find cell-grown willows at External Works.
Use Salix Viminalis and rub off the new shoots on the lower portions of the rods to achieve this open look. Image: livingwithtwistedwillow.blogspot.com
Salix ‘Americana’ planted in Canada. Ties are used to secure the structure while it becomes established. More pictures of this fence can be found at Willows Growing and Working With Willows website.
Same hedge as photo above, yet one year later. The fence was trimmed back once in the early fall. Fence and photo are by Lene Rasmussen, as found at salix-willows.blogspot.com.
A wood frame with tall, straight willow branches stuck vertically into the soil and intertwined into the frame. Caution, willow roots are aggressive in seeking out moisture; for this reason, they can become problematic when planted near cesspools or drainage areas. They should also not be planted close to a building due to their roots aggressive and large size. This photo was discovered on modmissy.com.
Buying Willow Hedge Materials
One of the best places to find willow tree cuttings for sale is on eBay, where you’re often buying direct from the tree’s owner.
Maintaining Your Willow Hedge
The living fedge structure will require periodic pruning and weaving of new growth. By Green Barrier Fence, Europe and Canada.
“During the summer any side-shoots are rubbed off to keep the lattice work of the fence clear of growth, but the top three or four buds are allowed to grow out. These shoots are trimmed back to the top of the fence in the winter.” From Living with Twisted Willow.
Living willow fence by Wassledine, Bedfordshire, UK. Additional cuttings can be added to secure the base. As they grow the lower shoots can also be woven in to thicken the fence.
Heavy pruning at the top encourages growth at the bottom.
14 Of The World’s Coolest Living Willow Hedges
1) Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society’s Garden
2) Fence With A Diamond Pattern
Three willow stems woven into a diamond pattern. The tops are tied to a horizontal withy to give some stability to the top. Photo: Peter D’Aprix: www.vegetablegardener.com.
3) Circular Willow Hedge
The circular patterns in this willow fence took time. You can see the intricate weaving of the willow on the top rings of the structure.
4) Willow Fence With Flowers
Living willow fence. Photo by Barbara, OvertheMoon / Flickr.
5) Vegetable Garden Surrounded By A Fedge
Living willow hedge surrounding a vegetable garden in France. Design: Judy and David Drew. Photo by Nicola Browne via GAP Gardens.
6) Living Willow Arbor
Lush new growth on the willow arbour at Whichford Pottery, Warwickshire.
7) Arch At Bealtaine Cottage
Willow arch at Bealtaine Cottage, Ireland. You can also buy seeds on the Bealtaine Cottage website.
8) Living Willow Arch
Living willow arch. See resources below for willow arch kits. Photo by Daniel originally found via “https://www.flickr.com/photos/53253992@N03/6058809040”
9) Thick Willow Fedge In Norway
In Norway, this thick fence provides a large amount of privacy.
10) Willow Arch In England
Living willow arch. A 4′ x 7’6″ x 2′ arch installed for 130 pounds in Suffolk, England. On their website, Natural Fencing sells living willow arches.
A living willow arch. As photo above, but in winter. Photo can be viewed at www.naturalfencing.com.
11) Willow Fedge By Ryton Organic Gardens
12) An Urban Willow Fence
13) Sitting Area With A Willow Arbor
Living willow dining arbor to protect you from the sun. Kit for sale here: www.thewillowbank.com
14) Stunning Dappled Willow
A rose in front of Hakuro Nishiki or Dappled willow. This is just a shrub not a fedge, added here because this willow variety is striking. The slender leaves emerge as glossy bright pink, then mature into a white, green and pink variegation. Regular pruning encourages the best color. Stems are red in the winter. Prefers moist soils. Image via: davesgarden.com
The Willow Palace
In 1998, natural artist and architect Marcel Kalberer created the Auerworld Palace, a pavilion made of living willow trees. It is also known as the “mother of all willowpalaces.” It has become a tourist attraction for the region between Weimar and Naumburg, Germany. Photo found at www.arcprospect.org.
Willow Hedge Online Resources
Yorkshire Willow: Seventeen willow varieties for fencing
Bluestem Nursery: Willow for living structures
Bluestem Nursery: Which willow where
Vermont Willow Nursery: Varieties of willow
Buckingham Nurseries: Read about the different Willow Species for Hedging
Popular Species for Willow Hedges
Rods are available in 1.5m, 2.0m, 2.5m, 3.0m and 3.5m lengths.
Salix Viminalis (produces long, straight rods without many side shoots)
Salix Tortuous (Corkscrew or Curly Willow)
Salix Alba Vitellina (Golden Willow)
Salix Alba Chermesina (Scarlet Willow)
Salix Purpurea (Chou Blue)
Salix Sachalinensis (Sekka)
Salix Triandra (Black Maul, grows fast)
How to Make Willow Water
Root azaleas, lilacs, and roses by soaking two large handfuls of pencil-thin willow branches cut into 3-inch lengths in two quarts of boiling water and steep overnight. Refrigerate unused water.
How to Protect Willow Hedges from Deer
Deer will eat willow when there is nothing else to eat. But if you desire your edge trimmed periodically this might not be a bad thing. Willow rebounds quickly. Salix Purpureas is the most bitter and therefore least-eaten willow.