Constructing a Living Fence
How to Build a Living Fence
As ecological conditions change and conservation becomes a more pressing issue, farming and landscaping techniques are forced to evolve in order to encourage natural, sustainable practices that are beneficial to the environment. Living fences offer an alternative to traditional structures that provide privacy, act as barrier against erosion and animal intruders and serve as habitats for many different plant, animal and insect species. By planting a living fence, you can enjoy idyllic beauty and keep your property in pristine condition without worrying about disrupting the natural order of the world outside your door.
Building a Shrub Fence
First consider the water availability.If you can't guarantee that your plants will get the proper amount of water for their first year, there is a good chance they will not survive. For at least the first five years you need to have the ability to water them if conditions require it.
Pick out a basic variety of shrub.For most people, plants like privet, laurel, yew or holly will make practical, no-frills living fences. These shrubs tend to grow tall and develop thick foliage, making them well suited for promoting privacy and banishing pests. They can also be purchased inexpensively, making them a cost-effective way to fence in vast pieces of land.
- Shrubs can be groomed into symmetrical designs or planted in conjunction with other flowering bushes, adding visual appeal your property.
Decide where the fence will go.Survey your property to determine where you want to plant your line of shrubs. If you raise livestock or own a spacious tract of land, you might choose to erect the fence around the outer boundary of your property. If you’re planting a fence for aesthetic reasons or to give you more privacy, put some thought into your desired layout for the area you’re working with.
- If necessary, check with the local county agency's codes regarding road or easements as well as any utility company's (both for overhead power and phone as well as buried utilities) so that you know your plants can grow safely.
- Thick shrubs are well suited for lining off crops and flower beds.
- Calculating the exact area you intend to fence off will give you an idea of the amount of seeds or clippings you’ll need to plant.
Sow the plant seeds or clippings.Dig a series of holes around the area you've selected to grow your living fence. Place the seeds or clippings in the holes and cover them back up with soil and a thin layer of mulch. The individual shrubs should be tightly grouped while having enough room not to choke one another’s growth or compete for nutrients.
- The exact distance needed between different types of plants varies. The shrubs will continue to spread and fill out as they flourish. Shrubs planted close together will not grow as wide as when they are standing alone.
- For evergreen mid-size shrubs like Emerald Arborvitae or Korean Boxwood, 10–15 feet (3–5 m) tall at maturity, plant 3-4 feet apart.
- For deciduous shrubs such as North Privet or Rose of Sharon, plant 2-3 feet apart.
- If Plants are too close, they can 'girdle' each other's roots, which essentially chokes them to death.
Tie the branches together.Twist a plant tie or length of wire around nearby branches where they intersect. Over the years, the branches will eventually grow together, forming a tightly-woven, impenetrable mesh. This process is called “inosculation,” and is used to turn many species of shrubs and flowerings plants into more effective barricades.
- By strategically positioning and tying the plant’s branches, you can create a dense natural gridwork that will keep even the smallest invaders out.
- After your plants have been well established and are thriving, you can be a bit more aggressive in tying or forming branches to one another.
- Make sure smaller branches have enough room to keep growing.
Constructing a Hedge of Flowering Plants
Invest in beautiful flowering plants.If you’re a homeowner in a suburban area with no reason to be concerned with the threat of wind erosion or passing herds of deer, consider growing a beautiful sweep of forsythia or enkianthus around your home. Not only do these plants make good natural fences, they’re also pleasant to look at. Their foliage is dotted with delicate, colorful blossoms, which will add aesthetic charm to any yard or garden.
- Some other flowering plants commonly used as natural barriers include rose bushes, lilac and hydrangea.
- Flowering shrubs attract insects that in turn help pollinate them and prolong their lives.
Create a support structure.Depending on the species of flowering plant you’ve chosen to serve as a living fence, you’ll need to have some system of guiding and supporting the plants as they grow. Build a trellis or support structure by setting out a line of tall wooden stakes or a low arch reinforced with heavy-gauge wire. Use flexible plant wire to attach the stalks of the plants to the vertical supports.
- Your supports should be wide enough to house a row of developing seedlings.
- If your fence is to be especially long or follow an intricate path, you may need to build multiple support structures.
Use the support structure to guide plant growth.Sow the seeds of your flowering plants just in front of the vertical supports you installed, roughly 2-3 feet apart. The support structure will act as the backbone for your fence, ensuring that it grows tall and straight and acting as a barrier or its own while the plants are still young.
- A dedicated reinforcement structure can help ensure that flowering plants grow taller than they otherwise might if left unsupported.
- Retie the plant's stems as needed to shape its growth as it spreads out.
- Take a look at support systems for growing grapes, although your needs may vary, this should demonstrate the general principles.
Water the plants regularly.Your living fence should receive plenty of water while it’s in its initial stages of development. Make rounds with a watering can once a day around midday, or twice a day in hotter months or dry climates. Controlling the amount of moisture your plants receive will accelerate their growth and help them flourish.
- Shower the soil around the roots of flowering shrubs and leafy hedges every few days. Trees and large, woody shrubs will only need to be watered once or twice a week. Consider if your environment becomes significantly drier than what your plants are used to and water accordingly.
- Avoiding overwatering your living fence. If your plants stop growing suddenly or appear wilted or colorless, reduce the amount or frequency of waterings.
Keep the fence pruned.As your living fence matures, it will begin to grow around the support structure, and its branches and foliage will spread. Trim excess growth at its peak to control its spread and establish a clear boundary around your property. Shape your fence to whatever height, width and direction your needs or preferences dictate.
- For agricultural purposes, the fence should be tall enough to provide privacy and confine large livestock like goats, cows and horses, with closely tangled branches that will keep out scavenging animals.
- The cuttings from most plants can be replanted and used to grow more natural fencing.
Growing a Treeline Fence
Cultivate a hedge of trees.Planting tall, lush trees can turn your property into a slice of paradise while providing privacy, shade and protection from runoff and erosion. Many different types of trees can be grown easily in a variety of climate conditions and require little maintenance once they’re fully developed. They also make prime habitats for a diversity of local flora and fauna, restoring a natural balance to the surrounding environment.
- A few tree species that make excellent living fence options include oak, sugar maple, willow and green giant arborvitae.
- Keep an eye out for scavengers if you decide to line your property with fruit trees. Squirrels, birds and raccoons are just a few of the animals known for stealing fruit right off the branch.
Plant the seeds.Once you have an idea of what tree species to go with and where to plant them, go around and dig holes at regular distances along the boundary line you've decided on. Trees should be planted a few feet apart to give them plenty of room to grow and keep them from strangling one another. After replacing the topsoil, cover it with a thin layer of mulch.
- Spreading a layer of mulch at the base of your trees will help deliver vital nutrients to the maturing roots and protect the trees from dehydration and damage.
- Timely application of nitrogen-rich fertilizers can also help you grow a healthy treeline much faster.
Keep young trees watered.Natural rainfall will take care of the tree's moisture needs once they're developed, but while they're still growing it will be important to water them frequently. Because of their size and rate of development, trees typically need copious amounts of water. Soak the soil around the trunk until the water just begins to collect on the surface.
- Overwatering trees can cause them to weaken and die. You only need enough water to thoroughly moisten the soil around the trunk to a depth of a few inches. Avoid the temptation to water trees until the soil is saturated and soggy.
Using Plants as a Protective Barricade
Select a rugged plant species.Those who are tired of having their crops stolen or their land trampled by unwanted marauders can use tough, intimidating plant varieties to deter intruders once and for all. When situated in tight clusters, bamboo is as impenetrable as a brick wall, while plants like hawthorn, pyracantha and even cactus feature sharp thorns and spines that can be punishing for critters that try to slip between their branches. Best of all, these plants are usually quite resilient—they’re often capable of surviving long periods with little or no water and they’ll last for years.
- Be careful when selecting prolific species like bamboo to use as a living fence, as they can easily spread out of control if they’re not carefully maintained.
- Cactus and similar plants are good for dry, arid climates where other types of plants have difficulty thriving.
- Take a look at images of the dense hedgerows in rural England farm country for inspiration.
Identify your plants' unique traits and needs.Make an effort to learn about your chosen plant's preferred climate, nutritional needs and cycles of growth and development before planting haphazardly. Cactus plants, for instance, don't require much moisture to thrive, and overwatering can easily kill them. Similarly, bamboo must be planted carefully and strategically to prevent it from overtaking large areas due to its natural ability to proliferate with great speed. These are all worthwhile factors to consider before deciding on a species that will be sharing space with and protecting other plants on your property.
- Succulent plants like cactus should be watered heavily, then allowed to soak up the moisture until the surrounding soil is completely dry.
- For the purpose of growing a living fence, clumping bamboo is an excellent species, as you can plant it freely without worrying about it spreading out of control.
Inspect for damage and disease.Every couple weeks, walk the perimeter of your living fence. Be on the lookout for blights, withered buds or places where the plants have been broken by harsh weather or animal activity. Repair these areas by fertilizing, watering, pruning or reinforcing them with external supports. If left untreated, disease and structural defects could overtake your fence, rendering it ineffective.
- Pay particular attention to spots where animals appear to be getting in or out.
- Vigilance and frequent attention will help keep your natural fenceline healthy and lush.
- Though much slower, growing a living fence is far cheaper than building a fence with traditional materials like lumber, welded metal, chain link, plastic, etc. You can usually buy seeds and clippings for just a few dollars apiece. While maintaining it will take some effort, you will be rewarded with a beautiful addition to your yard or garden.
- Sow your living fence between trees or posts lining the perimeter of your yard, field or garden for a more integrated, natural look.
- Prune shrubs into shapes that complement the look and layout of your property.
- Incorporate different plants into your living fence in sections or layers. For example, you might plant several locally-occurring shrubs side by side, or close the gaps in a row of fruit trees with a hedge of flowering plants.
- Take a walk around your property once or twice a day. Human presence is the best deterrent for keeping animals like deer from devouring your plants.
- Deciduous plants and fruit-bearing trees die off in the winter, leaving them sparsely covered. As a result, your property may be more exposed.
- Be cautious when pruning plants that are covered with sharp thorns or spines.
Video: Complete Guide to Planting a Living Fence
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