Project Site: Willow Bed

Sometime at the end of this month or early May (because reasons), I will have five varieties of willow showing up, 30 cuttings total:

  • Salix purpurea #187 (10 cuttings) – link
  • Salix purpurea ‘Green Dicks’ (5 cuttings) – link
  • Salix purpurea x daphnoides (5 cuttings) – link
  • Salix ‘Americana’ (5 cuttings) – link
  • Salix fragilis ‘Belgium Red’ also sometimes known as ‘Crack Willow’ (5 cuttings) – link and link
The plan is to settle the cuttings here, alongside (but not in) the drainage so I won’t have to get a separate watering system out to them.

What am I going to do with all this willow???

Good question.

The plants will all be coppiced (cut down to the ground) to harvest the stems (rods) for weaved garden projects. I have one idea to coppice most plants annually, and experiment with some to coppice every two years and three years, out of curiosity to see what the size difference is for the rods I can harvest for various projects. But depending on the willow variety, that may not be such a great idea, so I don’t think I can be married to that idea – I’ll just have to keep watch.

Projects I have in mind: wattle-weave edging for flower beds (replacing the brick edging bordering the driveway bed, and replacing the larger flower bed wattle weaves over time), perhaps a decorative wattle weave fence on either side of the driveway. Also, a 3-pen compost bin to install in the upper north yard would be useful to have.

I was entertaining the idea of a partial living fence along the right side of the driveway where there is erosion dropping off into the adjoining lot (pollarded willow trees as the stakes in an otherwise wattle-woven fence), but after looking at some local examples of pollarded trees, I’m not sure how I’d feel about it aesthetically off-season, once I’ve harvested the rods from the top. Still debating.

I’ve also been on the fence (ha!) about making a woven living fence (or ‘fedge’), staking living rods into the ground at intervals and weaving the lengths of them into a design to make a fence that grows leaves each year and can be pruned back, but I’m a little nervous about the roots issue on a residential property without knowing or learning more. I have taken a look at our property via our county’s Geographical Information System (GIS) to confirm there aren’t any lines running through our property that the willow would interfere with, but it doesn’t show all I need it to: a Miss Dig survey would be more reassuring. In addition, the willow of a living fence would be heavy competition for water with whatever plants or flowers are in proximity, so I’m not sure it would make sense to do a living fence along the driveway garden bed to replace the branch fence I have now. (Though I will be replacing the driveway fence, but likely it will be a wattle weave).

Image from Pinterest. Living willow woven fence.
Image from Pinterest. Partial living fence: pollard stakes with wattle weave. Notice it holds a waterbank.
Image from Pinterest. Wattle weave fence. This is an edging, but I like the design and would like to try to replicate on a larger scale as a fence. I’ve managed to break down the design to understand how to recreate it… Likely it would have to be completed in segments as a single harvest of rods would get me only so far each year. In addition, the 5 species of willow I have coming dry to different colors or shades, so I’d be limited to one type of willow for consistency, or else I need to determine an accent color to use in the design.

If I go the route of a wattle weave fence, the stakes will have to be something other than willow (otherwise, see pollarded fence above). Hazel is a common pairing with willow, but rather than plant a whole other set of trees, I’m going to harvest what I have available through the wooded area on our property – most of which seems to be a variety of oak. Due to the wetlands they’re on, they grow pretty tall and thin, which will make for excellent stakes.

Whatever I decide to do for fencing, it needs to be consistent or work together for one cohesive look, so that is the other challenge being pondered. A living fence may be a great erosion solution on the right side of the driveway, but could introduce a threat to my flower bed alongside the left. And whatever I do for the left side of the drive will have to be something that could carry over as it goes round and encompasses the yard.

I’m also interested in using the harvested rods to make woven garden items (such as cloches) or various plant supports, or even selling rods or cuttings for a little extra pocket change.

I’ve considered planting the cuttings in the lower south part of the yard, where it’s out of sight, but once the surrounding trees fill in, I don’t think they’d get the sun they need, nor do I think they’ll get adequate water supply unless I rig something down that way. The site I’ve chosen is rather perfect (I think): full sun, next to a water source, and when they fill out before coppicing, it will buffer out some of the sound from the road, and light from passing vehicle lights at night.

Earlier I mentioned GIS: Did you know that’s a free resource if your local county government has it? Do a search for “GIS [SuchNSuch] County.” There may not even be a login necessary, just a link to click to view an interactive map. You can search by your property address or parcel number, and zoom in on areas. You can learn a lot about the makeup of your property and what’s nearby by ticking off various filters that will superimpose those features (if they exist) over the birds eye view of your property. Some things as a gardener (or property owner) that are helpful are: property lines, flood zones, water lines, sewer lines, drains, contours, wetlands, and soils. Our county uses Beacon software, and they even have a filter where you can see what your property looked like in 2011 and 2017.

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