Living Willow Dome: Building & Maintenance Instructions
Updated: Feb 15, 2022
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 living willow structure!
Things you will need:
28-40 Long fresh (green) willow whips.
Small Dome (~1.8m Diameter): x28 whips (min. 7' length)
Medium Dome (~3m Diameter): x 34 whips (min. 10' length)
Large Dome (~4m Diameter): x40 whips (min. 11' length)
(optional) weed suppressing membrane.
Gardeners twine, and 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 thick 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' or 2m diameter. Medium dome: 5' radius / 10' or 3m diameter.
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 (~24" apart), and leaving an opening for the entrance – as wide or narrow as preferred. Note: for a small dome (2m diameter we recommend using 8x uprights - so puncture 8x holes. For a medium dome (3m diameter): 12x holes. Large = 14x holes.
Step 4. Building the uprights / frame.
Sort your willow whips, thick to thin.
Select your two largest whips for your entrance first, then continue to push 6 (10 for medium, and 12+ larger domes) of your longest whips into the ground angle slightly inward, to a depth of at least 6" to 9" going a little deeper if you so wish) into the pre-punctured holes.
Bend over two opposite whips, wrap them around each other a few times to secure and tie together using gardeners twine ~1' before the ends to hold in-place. Do the same with remaining opposite upright pairs. Tip: keep the roof of the dome as low as you are comfortably able (e.g. preferably a height of more than 2m is recommended) - this will make it easier to build and maintain later!
Use the thick jute/twine or rope to secure all of the upright whips at the point they cross-over as tight as you are able.
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 right). 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 upright and behind the next) towards the top of the dome maintaining a diagonal line. This helps to make the structure more rigid – tying the whips together using gardeners twine will also help while you are working especially towards the tips - or at the points where diagonals cross-over uprights.
At the entrance simply bend diagonals back around the verticals and continue in the front/back criss-cross pattern. Or, alternatively extend the weave into an 'igloo-style' entrance - see next step.
Step 6. Optional - Adding an 'igloo-style' entrance.
Your dome can be extended by adding an archway or igloo-style entrance. Add an additional two pairs of uprights as above - bend over the opposite whips, wrap them around each other where they overlap twice and tie together using gardeners twine ~1' before the ends. If needed, for additional strength a short-length of willow can be place between the two pairs of uprights and tied-in to secure. Add your diagonals as before, securing with twine when needed.
See our Willow Arch Building Instructions for more guidance on the steps above.
Step 7. Water immediately after planting.
Water daily if possible for the first week and every 2nd day for the following week.
Step 8. Enjoy!
Watch the kids, enjoy the peace or relax in the shade!
Step 9. 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.