Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winter pruning of living willow fedges and structures :

France is an hour ahead of England but shares the same longitude, so we have the same light for a given moment but call 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, if you see what I mean. This means, for the same amount of daylight, that while it stays light for an hour longer in the evening, mornings are uncharacteristically (for us ex-pats) dark. And it’s cold too, both of which inhibit the impetus to jump out of bed, put the kettle on and then do the morning rounds of the animals.

There are some jobs that have to be done during winter, so while I’m looking forward to being warmed by the spring sun and anticipating primroses and bluebells breaking bud in our woodland, I’m also hoping it doesn’t come too soon. Woodcutting takes place in the winter, when the energy of a deciduous tree has descended into the roots and before the sap starts to rise again. Thanks to the sterling efforts of our tree surgeon volunteers last week, Paul and Liam (ably assisted by 13-year-old Chay) our tree felling is done for this winter.

Another pleasurable job is to trim the living willow fedge and arbour planted in the garden of our holiday cottage. You can see from the photo above of the “fedge” (is it a fence? is it a hedge?) that you trim the new growth right back to the structure. This is also the time for a little maintenance as you may well find some rods have died completely, or died back to a certain point

Complete rods can be replaced by cutting the ties, pulling the dead rod out, then threading a new rod in from the top, pushing it into the original hole (to a depth of 12 inches / 30 cm) and firming the soil around it. Where you have a rod that died after a certain point, trim off the dead wood and then tie in a suitable new growth to replace it. Obviously you need to choose which rods you’re going to use before you do the pruning. The first photo with the red arrows shows a rod whose top has died. I’ve trimmed the dead part off and pulled a new side shoot up and over, tying it to where the original rod was fixed.

The second photo with arrows shows several variations on that theme (from left to right) : leaving a dead rod in to act as a trainer to the new rod (i’ll cut out the dead one next winter). Pulling over a side shoot over from an adjacent rod and tying that in. And lastly, an example of just using whichever available new rod seems to make the best shape.

If they lend themselves to it, you can weave in new shoots, rather than trimming back absolutely every rod back to the original structure. This will make a denser structure, if a little less regular than the original form.

A question we’ve often been asked is, “does the structure get bigger as the willow grows?” The structure remains the same size and shape but the rods do get a little thicker. Their ability to put on lots of girth is restricted by the closeness of the rods to each other, which restricts the moisture and nutrients available to each rod, so tempering their growth. See the photo of the base of our arbour, in the third winter after planting.

If you want to do a course to learn how to create beautiful living willow structures, there’s no better people to guide you than Steve and Carine of The Willow Bank. And to warm the cockles of your heart, a photo of the same arbour in the summer.