I had no desire to drive to town for fence materials, and no budget for it, either. So I decided to experiment with something I’d read often about, but never had a chance to do. There are a few plants that will grow from cuttings stuck directly in the ground, as long as the soil has enough consistent moisture. Willow is one of them, and there happens to be an old willow that fell along the creek bank at the back of our property. The fallen tree, as willows do, immediately sent a zillion suckers straight up. This willow tree was then completely overgrown by stinging nettle, but as we cleared the area for the veggie garden this summer, my daughter immediately discovered what an awesome climbing and hiding tree it is.
There I was, staring at my deer-ravaged vegetables, wondering what to do to increase my defenses (without spending a lot of money!) and it came to me. Build a fedge! Using willow to create living fences/hedges has been very popular for centuries. Creating all kinds of living structures, in fact, even play structures.
I started by cutting the suckers, which are old enough that they are now 1 to 1-1/2″ in diameter and 8-10 ft long. After stripping the whips of all their leaves, to make them a little easier to work with, I dug a series of holes along my imaginary “fenceline” about 12-18″ apart. You can see the edge of last fall’s cardboard sheet mulching peeking out at the boundary of the garden. The only thing keeping the dreaded stinging nettles from recolonizing my garden!
I set two whips in each hole at 45 degree angles, so they were crossing the whips in adjacent holes in a diagonal pattern. Our water table is very high, so our soil stays consistently pretty moist, and my holes didn’t have to be more than about 9″ deep. I worked the ends deeper into the soil at the bottom of the hole and backfilled, pressing the clay soil down firmly with my boot to hold the whips in place.
Softer, sandier soil would have been more difficult to do this in. The clay soil both holds the whips upright well and holds a lot of moisture around them. Weaving the whips in and out of each other in a basketweave-type maneuver helps the branches hold each other up as well. They’re so springy, weaving them helps them use some of that tension against each other. I also used the fedge to support my pathetic deer netting, which hopefully will continue to discourage any casual browsers.
As long as the soil stays damp, they should start rooting in pretty quickly. I also used a bit of twine and a few of the finest whips to tie some branches together wherever necessary (see the detail shot, right.)
I’ll keep updating on the progress of my experiment.