Weave a Living Willow Screen
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.
- willow setts
- finished compost
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Water well and apply a mulch each spring. Keep the arch well watered for the first year and weed regularly.
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.