After a wandering bull ate my pigeon peas I realized I needed a fence — quickly.
Problem: I rent my property and really don’t want to spend money on new infrastructure.
Solution: Plant a living fence!
So I did, and I filmed the process so you can see what I did:
Isn’t that the greatest song ever to be used on YouTube?
Okay, that’s fine. I understand. It really is terrible, isn’t it?
Back to the post.
I’m not a living fence expert by any means. Back when I was young I did help my dad and Grandpa plant multiple fences by taking long aralia cuttings and jamming them into the ground. I have also planted living barriers of blackberries, silverthorn and pyracantha, but they were more hedges than the interwoven sticks I’m now experimenting with. Yet I’m learning and testing now — and as you probably know, I’m rather insane when it comes to experimentation.
Since there were a lot of questions on this living fence/instant hedge, I posted a follow-up video answering some of them:
Species Options for Planting a Living Fence
For subtropical climates with little to no frosty weather, you could build a living fence with Gliricidia sepium, moringa, some aralia species, purple mombin, or even governor plum.
Farther north you can do this with willow branches — especially in wet areas.
Living fences could also potentially be planted from the branches of species of mulberry, though I’ve had 0% success rooting mulberry by sticking branches in the ground.
If you don’t have any trees with branches that can be rammed in the ground to root, just plant almost any kind of tree seedlings in V shapes at 45-degree angles and tie them together at crossing points.
Dwarf apples, anyone?
There are a lot of possibilities for building a living fence. Interweaving the trees causes them to graft together over time and make an almost impenetrable barrier — even more so if you use a hard and thorny tree like osage orange!
As recounted over at Mother Earth News, “Easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, or sprouts from the roots, Osage orange is tolerant of a wide range of soils, resistant to drought, long-lived, and affected little by insects or disease. Planted at a spacing of 1 foot, in four years it makes a fence that is ‘horse-high, bull-strong, and hog-tight.’”
Osage orange is also one of the best woods for tool handles and bows. Bonus!
From the same article:
“Other thorny species that could be used to make living fences are pyracanthas, jujube, hollies, black locust (also fixes nitrogen), honey locust (which has high-protein seeds and pods for livestock and people), prickly ash, and rugosa rose (which has vitamin C-rich fruits, or ‘hips’).”
Other Side Benefits of Living Fences
Beyond just keeping out wandering livestock and nosy neighbors, living fences have some serious advantages.
Let’s run through a few.
1. A Living Fence is Free
Unless you buy seedlings to plant, you can start a living fence for free. In my case, all I had to do was cut some Gliricidia branches and plant them. As for potted trees or shrubs, you can start your own. I always keep a little plant nursery going with a lot of bits and pieces in it. Maybe a multi-species living fence would work? Imagine that! Bougainvillea, noni trees, purple mombin, alternating with nitrogen fixers… crazy! A 2-D food forest!
Oh man. I need to try that.
But the point is: free. Free is good.
2. A Living Fence Produces for You
A wire or wood fence is just a barrier, but a living fence is more than that. It’s a living, productive line of trees.
The top can be cut and fed to livestock or used as a green layer in compost. You can also let it grow taller and make the trimmings into plant stakes. Or charcoal/biochar.
Not bad, eh?
3. A Living Fence Supports Other Species
If your living fence is a nitrogen-fixing species, it will feed the plants alongside it.
A living fence can also serve as a trellis for yams and other species as well as a home for birds, beneficial insects, and lizards.
There are plenty of good reasons to plant a living fence and plenty of species that work almost no matter where you live.
My Gliricidia living fence is now dense and strong after growing through the summer. In another year it will be so strong that passing through it will be impossible.
Sorry bull, no more pigeon pea lunches for you!
*Willow living fence image via Rhian on Flickr. CC license.
David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of five books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, and Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel.
I live in north Texas and crepe myrtle are grow so well, do you think they might work for a living fence? Previt is also an invasive shrub but is everywhere, I know it could work, but it requires a lot of maintainnence or it will literally take over an area.
The fence is a great idea, and I love the cool song. Bob Dylan should sing that. It would be perfect blasted near the privacy fence to complete the desired effect of deterring uncool visitors.
Great article! What would you think of using Elderberry to make a living fence as they propagate so easily?
THANKS for the TEXT; videos don’t really help crystallize the concept and techniques. Hope your caffeine withdrawal is working. I find there is NOTHING like a cup of HOT (green) tea!
I recently bought 8 acres in Hawaii, which is fully fenced. Grassland for horses. I am planning to use Bougainvillea on the stone wall and on some of the barbed wire fencing. One side, not grazed by the neighboring cattle, has a leguminous vine covering it. I’m sure the horses will eat it. I thought about other plantings to work in conjunction with the barbed wire. At least I have a working fence to start with! My main concern is that, unless the plantings have stickers, they will be consumed by the hungry cattle or horses. I have even seen horses eat thorny thistles. The land is dry in summer, with no source of water other than future catchment (which will be for the house) or haul in. Makes establishment difficult.
What a great idea, thanks for posting! I’m going to start compiling a list of possible cold hardy options.
Oh the song just killed me!! It brought me back to my youth and bag boy days at Publix. The Muzak was terrible! You should see if you can get your tune in their stores!