Living Willow High & Wide Arch/Tunnel: Building & Maintenance Instructions
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
A Willow Arch or Tunnel can be a great addition to a garden or community space, and are relatively simple to construct. These living willow structures can help create structure or provide a path through existing boundaries or natural openings. These instructions can be used to build an Arch or Tunnel of two different sizing options (e.g. ~1m or ~2m wide x ~1.8m height), but the techniques can be used to extend for longer tunnels or for customised designs.
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 note for whoever chooses to embark on their next Willow Arch!
Materials. Things you will need:
To build a 'High Arch' (1m wide x 1m long x ~1.8m high Arch) - willow required:
14x 3m / 10ft whips for 1m long tunnel (add 12x whips per additional metre length).
1x 1.2m baton min. ~1.5cm thick at tip. (longer/multiples per additional length)
To build a 'Wide Arch' (2m wide x 1m long x ~1.8m high Arch) - willow required:
14x 3.5m / 12ft whips for 1m long tunnel (x12x whips per additional metre length).
3x 1.2m baton min. ~1.5cm thick at tips (longer/multiples per additional length)
Gardeners twine, rope or similar.
(optional) Weed-suppressing membrane and 6" pegs (or alternative) to secure.
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 arch, and secure using 6" pegs or alternative. Note: Laying membrane (or using a mulch or alternative) at least 6" around your willow whips is recommended to keep the base of a living willow structure clear from any weeds or competition.
Step 3. Measure / making holes.
Measure and puncture holes (approximately 1.5"–2" diameter) using a pointed stake through the membrane and ground to a depth of 15-20cm - spacing them out evenly 50cm apart, in two long rows ~0.8-1m apart ('High-Arch' plan) or ~1.7m-2m apart ('Wide-Arch' plan)
Step 4. Building the uprights / frame.
Take the 6 largest (thickest) rods and push them minimum of ~20cm into the ground into the marked holes. Ensure the natural bend in the whip (the 'belly') is facing inwards - and buds always pointing upwards!
Bend the opposite pairs towards each other to form the arch shape. Weave the opposite ends together as tightly as you are able (avoid kinking), twisting the ends around the opposite thick uprights. Secure these using garden twine / jute ties at the preferred height (~1.8-2m) both at the centre of the arch and near tip-ends.
To add support, take the 1.2m baton (longer if constructing longer arch) and lay this across the centre of the top of arch, and tie in using the existing jute ties at the cross-over point of the upright pairs. Keep the spacing between the upright-pairs as equal as possible. For a 'Wide-Arch', additional side-supporting batons can be added as shown below:
Step 5. Adding the diagonals.
Between the uprights, make a couple of new holes (through membrane if using) and plant 2 whips at 45-60 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 arch maintaining a diagonal line. At the sides/end-uprights, simply bend diagonals back around the uprights and continue in the front/back criss-cross diamond pattern. This helps to make the structure more rigid.
As diagonal weavers get near to the middle/top of the arch, the remaining tips can be wrapped around the existing uprights and secured by feeding between any gaps. Tip - avoid wrapping over the support batons - as this means these can be more challenging to remove in later years if desired.
Tie the whips where diagonals/uprights cross over, both at the top/roof of the arch, and at the tip ends. Note using remaining thread from previous ties reduces the amount sting used, and can help to make for a more tidy finish.
For extra strength, use some thick jute/rope to put an extra wrap-tie at the top of the arch at least every-other upright join.
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.
As your structure strengthens through weaving in new growth, old ties and the support batons can be removed if necessary.