Weave a Living Willow Screen

Slimmer than a hedge and just as easy to create, willow screens are ideal for garden room partitions or wind breaks.

Willow Screens are Natural Partitions

Willow Screens are Natural Partitions

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Willow screens screate a sense of boundary that's in keeping with a natural landscape. Once established, they also make good windbreaks for a vegetable plot or flower garden.

When to Start: Winter, when willow is dormant
At Its Best: All year round
Time to Complete: 4–5 hours over a few months

The easiest way to buy willow cuttings is from a specialist willow nursery; most now have online and mail-order shops. The cuttings are harvested when dormant in winter and will only be available at that time. They are normally 10–12 inches long and take a season to grow to a suitable length for weaving. Rods for tunnels are longer. Keep the growing area free of weeds and water the cuttings well after planting, until they are fully established.

Materials Needed:

  • willow setts
  • finished compost
  • shovel
  • garden tarred twine
  • rubber plant ties

Grow or Buy Willow

The most common willow for weaving is Salix alba, which has colorful stems in winter. Buy your cuttings or "setts" in winter and plant as soon as possible. Don't plant near buildings or drainage pipes, because the roots are invasive.

Useful Willow for Weaving

Useful Willow for Weaving

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Plant Setts

Dig plenty of organic matter into the soil and remove weeds. Push a spade into the soil 8 inches deep, insert a willow sett into the slit and firm in. Space setts 8 inches apart. Water well. Wait until new growth appears before weaving.

Living Willow Sett

Living Willow Sett

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Weave the Willow

Crisscross the stems over and under one another to form a rigid diamond-shaped structure. Tie stems where they cross with twine, and use rubber plant ties to secure the top of the screen. This allows some movement and prevents stems from snapping in the wind.

Willow Stem Structure Knotted Together with Twine

Willow Stem Structure Knotted Together with Twine

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Make a Tunnel

Natural and inexpensive, a willow tunnel takes no longer to make than a screen and can be used for children's play areas or in a cottage or informal design. To create a living tunnel, buy longer "rods" instead of setts or cuttings.

Garden with Living Willow Arch

Garden with Living Willow Arch

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Mark Out the Site

Prepare the site and soil as for screens. Measure the length of the tunnel and calculate the number of rods you will need: they are planted in pairs 12 inches apart or closer if you want a dense effect. You will also need a few spares. When the rods arrive, plant as for setts but in trenches that are 12 inches deep.

Form the Arch

Plant rods in matching pairs on either side of your marked-out tunnel. Bend each pair over to form an arch and twist them together. Secure with rubber plant ties. Plant some rods between the other stems and weave them across the structure to help strengthen it. Tie these rods on either side of the arch stems.

Arch of Willow Tunnel

Arch of Willow Tunnel

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Final Touches

Water well and apply a mulch each spring. Keep the arch well watered for the first year and weed regularly.

Willow Arch

Willow Arch

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - How to Grow Practically Everything

DK - How to Grow Practically Everything, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pruning and Aftercare

To top up moisture levels, consider installing a leaky hose beside the arch, which can be attached to an automatic timer. Remove any dead plants as you see them and replant with fresh ones. Don't trim your hedge or arch until the end of the first year when the leaves have dropped. Once well established, willow structures will produce long shoots that you can cut back and chip for use as a mulch or as fuel for a wood burner. Alternatively, you can plant these "cuttings" to make more willow structures.

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