What would be a good species for a living fence?


I am interested in planting a living fence around my yard to keep my chickens and ducks in and predators like neighborhood cats and dogs out. The fence are would be shaded by conifers in a forested area. What would be a good species for a living fence?


Liz Stanley, Horticulture Community Education Assistant, Knox-Lincoln Counties

Living fences can be made out of a number of materials. Willow is the most common, since it will sprout and grow roots easily and continue to grow. Here are two common patterns:


  • Use willow cut in the spring before leaves emerge. (Whips cut later are less flexible.)
  • Prepare ground in two parallel rows, about 6-10 feet apart.
  • Apply rooting hormone to the base of each whip, and push them gently into the moist, prepared soil.
  • Connect the tips of the whips with twine to create an overhead tunnel. The height will depend on the length of your whips.

Linear overlapping loops:

  • The height will depend on the length of your whips.
  • Prepare the soil where you want the fence. Follow steps as above.
  • Place the base of each whip in overlapping loops, weaving them as you go.
  • If the whips are thin and flop over, you can use vertical stakes to weave in and out of, or add them later.

Wattle fences can be made with willow as well, but are often made of other materials that don’t green up after they’re made.

  • The posts should be sturdy wood, preferably rot-resistant species like cedar. Be careful about black locust, which is poisonous to chickens.
  • The woven “withies” are the fun part. Use alder, hazel, maple, birch, and the classic one is willow.
  • Water sprouts pruned from pear & apple are excellent.
  • Harvest the saplings and branches in late winter and early spring before leaves emerge. (Summer wood is much less flexible.)
  • The withies have to be long enough to weave in and out between at least 3 posts, then they’re pushed down. Stagger the start areas. Here’s a nice example from the Resilience Hub. There are many other resources online and in books.

That said, poultry will eat the leaves on the living fence and it may die. More importantly, chickens and ducks need very secure fencing to keep out coons, coyotes, weasels (mink, fishers, ermine), bobcats, fox, dogs and cats, not to mention hawks. There are many wire options, and also woven electric fences, which are movable. 

This video about poultry housing covers predators common to Maine, their behavior, and the types of fences to keep them out (chicken wire is not one of them). There are many more resources on our Poultry website.

I hope this is helpful and good luck with your chickens and ducks.