Living Willow Dome: Building & Maintenance Instructions
Willow domes are great for all ages, and relatively simple to construct. Fun to build together with the family, or as a large group for your local community/school project. A perfect place to relax and unwind or a fun den providing shade for children to play in!
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 dome by weaving in the willow rods, for at least the first few years to build up the structure - for some, this can be 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 Willow Dome!
Things you will need:
28-40 Long (green) willow whips (Green). Small Dome: x28 Whips (min. 7' length) / Large Dome x40 Whips (min. 9' length) - get in contact with us if you are interested in a kit.
(optional) weed suppressing membrane.
Gardeners twine, rope or similar.
Other useful tools:
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, 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 dome.
Find your centre point of the dome, puncture a hole and push the wooden 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 dome with approx. 3' radius would create a 6' diameter dome suitable for smaller people. A large dome with 6' radius / 12' diameter dome is better suited for big people / larger parties.
Puncture holes (approximately 1.5"–2.5" diameter) through the areas in the membrane where your rods need to be planted. Spacing them out evenly (or at least 24" apart), and leaving an opening for the entrance – as wide or narrow as preferred.
Step 4. Building the uprights / frame.
Using your largest whips for your entrance first, then continue to push 8 (10 to 14 for larger domes) of your longest whips into the ground angle slightly inward, to a depth of at least 6" to 9" going deeper if you so wish) into the pre-punctured holes.
Bend over two opposite whips, wrap them around each other where they overlap and tie together. Do the same with opposite pairs.
Step 5. Adding the diagonals.
Between the uprights , plant 2 whips at ‘diagonals’ criss-crossed in each gap leaving a space for the entrance (see image below). 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 – although tying the whips together will also help while you are working especially towards the tips.
At the entrance simply bend diagonals back around the verticals and continue in the front/back criss-cross pattern.
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 dome can help to maintain the structure.