Good Suckers Make Good Fences

Water spouts from apple and pear trees make perfect wattle fences.

Pear tree with water spouts

Haircut Please?
The vertical sprouts atop this pear tree are prime material.

CALL THEM WHAT YOU WILL: Water spouts. Scions. Suckers (although technically these sprout from the ground). Unless you do loads of grafting (a good use for healthy scions), most of the unwanted vertical growth on your fruit trees gets tossed.  Why not “put them Suckers to work?”

Those straight, green shoots make a perfect material for wattle fencing, screens or even low, raised beds.

I learned a few tricks about wattle weaving from an expert while visiting a reconstructed medieval garden in the UK a couple of years ago. He worked primarily with willow, but he pointed out that the staves have to be green when woven, so they will tightens up and stiffens as the material dries.

Weaving wattle is easy, whether you’re a wizened woodworker, or a willing wannabee, so let’s get cracking! Here’s the process step by step, so you can get off the computer and go out and start making wattle.

1. Cut the Spouts. Snip them at an angle, so they heal naturally and don’t collect water. I’ve noticed that trees that have been pruned aggressively in the previous season tend to produce the most water spouts. Any vertical growth that is pointing toward the tree, crossing another existing branch, or simply pointing skyward is a good candidate. If you’re nervous about how to trim an apple tree, watch my video on the topic, filmed locally. As a bonus, there’s a section at the end about how to prune raspberries, hosted by the amazing Laura Mailander of Cultivating Community.

put vertical posts in ground

Ready for Weaving. The earth makes a natural tensioning device.

2. Set a Frame. Once you’ve  collected a sizeable pile, pick four or five of the thickest spouts, and set them aside. Use a pick axe, or a metal spike to pound a series of holes in the ground. Frozen ground actually works great. Put the thick end of the spouts into these holes, and you’ve created the frame for your wattle “loom.”

3. Back and Forth. Start at either end pole, and begin weaving the spouts behind then in front of the poles. Put the thin end of the spout through first. Leave a few inches extra sticking out before the first pole. You will trim all of the spouts later. Now start at the opposite end with your next water spout, weaving in the opposite direction. Between each cours, push down on the spouts, to they are tight against one another.

Tighten Up. You may notice, as you add to the panel, that the outer two poles want to “drift” outward, squeezed by the pressure from the spouts. You have a couple of options to halt this. You could weave a piece of natural twine around the end post,or you could simply choose spouts that have natural branch formations, and use them to “lock” the vertical poles in place. I chose this option because then I could brag about not using any storebought materials!

Out of Material? Ok, so now you’ve made your beautiful section of wattle fencing. If you’re like me, you may run of of spouts and wish you had more. One option is to begin planning for next year’s wattle construction. You can create more raw materials by looking for stumps and fast growing poplar trees on your property. Scrape all of the leaves off the vertical spouts and they’ll keep growing straight and strong and you can add them to next year’s wattle fencing.

Ideas for Using Wattle. To make your wattle last for several years, you need to prevent it from constant ground contact attach bigger stakes to the ends and raise it off the ground an inch or two. Possible uses inclued, trellising, deer fencing, raised beds, or rustic hardscapes to break up a flat garden plot. I’ve also seen people use wattle as a base material for building a low-impact storage shed. You just apply mud and straw to it, and produce a strong, durable wall system.

Now get out there and make some wattle.

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