Living Willow Arbour: Building & Maintenance Instructions
Updated: Mar 17
Willow Arbours can be a great addition to a garden or community space, and are relatively simple to construct. These living willow structures can provide a perfect place to relax, or be used as a fun den providing shade for children to play.
Once the willow is pushed into the ground and secured, the willow will then root and grow. This will mean that you need to maintain the living structure by weaving in the willow rods for at least the first few years to build up the structure - for some, this is as enjoyable as the initial build!
We hope you find these instructions useful! At Deeside Willow we are happy to receive any questions and/or your feedback so that we can improve these for whoever chooses to embark on their next living willow structure!
Things you will need:
(Green) Willow Whips:
Small Arbour (~2m Dimeter): x36 Whips (min. 8' / ~2.5m length).
Medium Arbour (~3m Dimeter): x40 Whips (min. 11' / ~3.5m length).
(optional) Weed-suppressing membrane.
Gardeners twine, rope or similar.
Other useful tools:
Safety Glasses / Gardening Gloves
Secateurs / Loppers
Pointed wooden or metal stake (1-2" in diameter)
A way to water them after planting.
Step 1. Read our growing guide.
Read our simple growing and maintenance guide before you start - this provides important information to help when considering location, ground preparation, arrival and aftercare.
Step 2. Lay the matting / weed suppressing membrane.
(If using) Lay weed-suppressing membrane across the surface of the area you intend to grow your dome. Note: Laying membrane at least 6" around your willow whips is recommended to keep the base of a living willow structure clear from any weeds.
Step 3. Use a stake to measure out the Arbour.
Find your centre point of the Arbour, puncture a hole and push the wooden/metal stake into the ground until secure (or you could use one of your willow whips thick-end down).
Taking your twine (or rope), tie a loop in one end and place over the centred stake. Measure out to the edge of the planned dome’s radius. Note: a small Arbour with approx. 3' / 1m radius creates a 6' / 2m diameter, and a medium Arbour with 1.5m radius creates a 3m diameter.
Puncture holes (approximately 1.5"–2" diameter) through the areas in the membrane where your rods need to be planted. Spacing them out evenly (~12"-14" / ~30cm-35cm apart), and leaving an opening for the entrance. For a small arbour (2m diameter), this would mean punching 12 holes ~35cm apart.
Step 4. Building the uprights / frame.
Using two pairs largest whips for your entrance first. Take one pair of the entrance rods, plant close together (min. depth of 6" / ~15cm) and wrap/twist around each other. Repeat for the for other side of the entrance. Bend each entrance pair towards each other, wrap/twist together at the required height (Small Arbour: ~6' / 1.8m, or Medium Arbour: 6 1/2' / ~2m)
Then continue to push your longest/thickest whips into the ground (through the pre-punctured holes - 10x for small arbour, and 12x for medium arbour) angled slightly inward, to a depth of at least 6" / ~15cm. Working from the entrance to the rear in pairs, bend over two opposite whips and wrap/twist them around each other, or into the entrance frame and tie-in.
Step 5. Adding the diagonals.
Between the uprights, make a couple of new holes and plant 2 whips at 45 degree angles (‘diagonals’) criss-crossed and spaced evenly in each gap. Note: Planting diagonally encourages good thick growth. Vertically planted willow whips have a tendency to produce fresh growth only from their top, however diagonally planted whips develop buds along the length providing a denser structure.
Continue to criss-cross weave the diagonal whips (in front of one vertical and behind the next) towards the top of the dome maintaining a diagonal line. This helps to make the structure more rigid – for extra strength, tie the whips where diagonals/vertical cross and at tip ends.
At the entrance simply bend diagonals back around the verticals and continue in the front/back criss-cross pattern.
Tie-off or trim any remaining loose or untidy ends.
Step 6. Water immediately after planting.
Water daily if possible for the first week and every 2nd day for the following week.
Step 7. Enjoy!
Watch the kids, enjoy the peace or relax in the shade!
Step 8. Maintain...
Keeping willow structures clear from weeds (at least 6" around bases) is essential to support healthy growth.
In dry spells (particularly in the first year of planting), water the living willow structure well. and if at all possible – a good drench once a week.
Willow will start to sprout new growth in March/April. When the new growth is long enough, it should be (more so in the first couple of years) woven into the original structure (again, weaving as diagonally as possible to help produce a more dense structure). In the next few years, new growth can be trimmed or woven into the willow structure as you wish (to give more strength or to refine its shape). If growth is too vigorous, trimming back the new growth from the top of the Arbour can help to maintain the structure.