Willow can provide an ideal hedging plant for people who want something that will grow quickly and be a cheap alternative to other solutions.
Choose willow shrub varieties which will respond well to being cut back and plant 4 to 6 every linear metre (cuttings can be staggered to create more depth to the hedge).
Willow cuttings are very cheap to buy and, if planted in the winter, can grow well over a metre in height by the following summer.
Grey Sallow (Salix cinerea) growing in a coppice
Dicky Meadows (Salix purpurea) growing in a coppice
Planting tips for hedging
Successfully growing cuttings depends on good site preparation, correct spacing, careful planting and a long term plan for dealing with weeds.
The amount of preparation required on a site depends on the scale of planting being undertaken. Whatever the scale, good weed control in the first 2 to 3 years is very important to allow cuttings to establish effectively.
With large scale planting, the usual practice is to spray the site in the late summer with a broad-spectrum contact herbicide, plough to 30cm depth and power harrow in the spring. This provides a good weed-free tilth that makes future weed control measures more straightforward.
If planting on a smaller scale, cultivate the soil to a depth of 30cm to produce a fine tilth. An alternative to using sprays for smaller areas is to use either a plastic sheet or a water permeable woven polythene sheet. The cuttings are planted through the sheet; this increases soil temperature in the spring and retains water during the summer. Using a sheet that will last at least 3 years is well worth the investment (thinner sheets will only last a year).
The ideal time for planting is from December until the end of March but do not plant if there is frost on the ground. Cuttings should be planted as soon after they are received as possible. If this is not possible, they can be stored in a fridge until planting can be done although the sooner the better. Cuttings are pushed vertically into the soil leaving about 5cm proud of the surface (for 30cm cuttings). If the soil is such that the rods have to be forced in, make a hole first with a metal rod in order that the bark is not damaged in the planting process. Firm up the soil around the cutting. Make sure that cuttings are the right way up, buds pointing upwards – they will grow upside down but they prefer not to!
4 to 6 per metre (cuttings can be staggered).
Long term weed control
There are 3 principle weed control alternatives. Spraying with a foliar acting herbicide when the stools are dormant. This is really restricted to large-scale growers as it must be done under licence. Hand-weeding with hoes and hand hooks which should be done regularly and often. Mulching with ground sheets (best done before planting), straw, cardboard or other organic material. It is important not to smother the growing shoots with this last method.
Disadvantages of a willow hedge
Willow is deciduous and will not therefore be in leaf all year round. Willow will not provide either a stock-proof or child-proof barrier.
Advantages of a willow hedge
It is easy to grow, cheap and very fast growing in the right conditions.
Contact us for more information on living willow.