If you need an inexpensive fence option that just happens to have a dreamy cottage look about it, you’re going to love wattle fencing. Building a wattle fence doesn’t take much time or money, especially if you have an abundance of trees on your property.
Whether you’re looking to add a little textural interest to yard while keeping the chickens out of the veggies, or you need to define a garden area, wattle fencing can do it all.
Here’s how to build your own.
What is “Wattle?”
Wattle is a type of construction material made from woven plant matter. It has traditionally been used to create barrier fences, as well as walls for dwellings. In fact, people have been making “wattle and daub” houses for at least 6,000 years now.
They were very common in Europe during the Medieval and Tudor periods, and many examples of this type of building still stand today.
For example, take a look at this image of a Tudor home: it’s part of the Weald and Downland Living Museum, located a bit north of Chichester.
The house’s walls are made of wattle and daub, while the garden fencing is pure wattle. The difference between the two is that the “daub” fills in all the gaps in woven branches to create a solid wall.
That daub is made of a mixture of cow or horse manure, clay, and straw. It’s remarkably effective as a building material, but as you can imagine, it’s a bit, um, fragrant to work with.
Fortunately, we’re only doing the wattle part here so you won’t have to dip your hands in poop.
If you’re so inclined, take a look at this quick clip from the Tudor Monastery Farm TV series. In it, you’ll see how a wattle fence is woven and how the daub is applied. Best of all, you’ll see many examples of wattle fence uses in the background! They were used for fencing, raised garden beds, livestock pens, and more.
Is Wattle Fence Effective?
That depends on what you’re using it for. Generally, the answer is “yes,” but there are a wide variety of factors to take into consideration, of course.
For example, a person who lives in a mild, temperate climate can use low wattle fences as raised beds. I can’t use those in rural Quebec because the massive snowfall and temperature variations would destroy the fences. They’re pretty, but I’d have to redo them annually.
Where I can use wattle, however, is as taller fencing to keep deer out of my garden. In my situation, I need to use thicker, hardier materials.
In fact, the ideal would be to create a double-walled fence that has brambles and thorn branches between them. This would create a barrier that’s at least a foot deep and about six feet tall and would keep most large herbivores from eating my spinach.
Generally, wattle fences are ideal for keeping children and smaller animals from wandering into places you don’t want them. They’re also quite beautiful and can be gorgeous decorative pieces in your garden design.
How to Build a Wattle Fence Step by Step
Follow the steps below to create all kinds of different wattle fence designs. Just keep in mind that the best time to build this kind of fence is in springtime or early summer.
You need a significant amount of thin saplings and flexible branches to get this done. By the time late summer or autumn comes around, you’ll have little in the way of materials to build with, as they’ll all be woody and thick in prep for wintertime.
What You’ll Need:
Needless to say, you’re going to need several different materials and items to get this done.
- Branches and thin saplings (for support and weaving)
- Thicker branches for support posts
- A saw for harvesting said branches and young trees
- An axe or hatchet for sharpening the post ends
- A mallet or sledgehammer for driving in your posts
- Eye protection
- Gloves (optional)
- Sidewalk chalk paint, string, and a measuring tape (also optional)
1. Collect Your Materials
You’re going to need to collect two different types of wood. One type will be thick hardwood for the supportive posts. The other will be supple branches to weave between them.
The best wood for the posts is oak, walnut, chestnut, or maple branches. You can also use bamboo. Aim for those that are at least four inches thick. As for length, the desired height of your fence will determine post length. Generally, you’ll want to cut posts that are almost twice the length of the fence you’re building.
For example, are you creating 2-foot-high raised garden bed walls? Then aim to cut branches that are four feet long. You’ll drive half the length into the soil so they have enough strength to hold tension from the weavers.
As for the weavers, these should be around six feet long. The ideal material is young hazel branches, as they’re both supple, and hardy to inclement weather.
2. Sharpen Your Post Ends
You can also refer to these as “uprights,” “stakes,” or “staves.”. If you’re looking up additional resources on how to build with wattle, you might see them mentioned by either name.
Make sure your ax is nice and sharp, and then use it to cut your post ends into nice spikes. You can either cut them at 45-degree angles or sharpen them all the way around, like pencils.
This is so they actually drive into the ground when you hit them, rather than merely frustrating you half to death.
3. Cut Your Wattle Fence Weavers
These are also known as “woven wands” or “withies.” They’ll either be the aforementioned springtime branches or saplings and will be flexible enough that you can bend them easily without snapping them. Or swearing too much.
Hazel and alder are great for weavers, as they’re both super flexible and grow quickly. We coppice these trees so we always have usable weavers in springtime. They’re great for making baskets, woven fish traps, snowshoes, trellises for beans and peas, and countless other projects.
Try to cut yours as long as possible, as you’ll need to weave them in and around your posts. Aim for at least six feet long, as these are long enough to weave, but short enough to be manageable.
Oh, and cut a LOT of them.
You’ll be amazed at how many you need to do this project. To make a fence that’s about two feet high and 10 feet long, you’ll need at least 40 weavers. Do the math ahead of time, and then cut at least twice as much as you think you’ll need.
4. Drive the Posts Into the Ground
Ready to release some pent-up frustration? Okay, grab your mallet or sledgehammer and get ready to start driving those posts into the ground. Space them about a foot (12″) apart so they’ll offer the woven bits plenty of support.
Map out where you’re going to place the posts before you start. This way you end up with neat, tidy lines, rather than something that looks like a toddler’s scrawl.
Grab some sticks and string and map out where you’d like your fence to be. Keep in mind that since you’re making this from flexible branches and saplings, you’re not constrained by straight lines. Design your fence to weave and undulate like the sea if you want to.
Once you’ve mapped out the general shape of your fence, get the chalk spray paint and measuring tape. Spray a spot on the ground every foot or so (as mentioned) so your posts are consistently spaced.
I you don’t have a measuring tape you can use your own body as a ruler. For example, you can use the length from the tip of your middle finger to your inner elbow as your spacing measure. Or the span of one foot in front of the other.
After you’ve marked off the entire plan, use the mallet or hammer to drive the posts in. They should be at least two feet deep so they can withstand tension from the weavers.
5. Get Weaving
Start at one end, and weave one of those slender branches in and out of the posts you’ve created, as low to the ground as possible.
When you get to the end, overlap the next branch slightly and then continue onward. Continue like this along the entire length of the fence, bracing the corners as you go.
When you get to a corner, you’re going to weave around the end post, wrap it around the next post in line, and double it back.
Then, the next weaver will start just before the previous fence ends, and continue down the next one from there. This will make the weave more secure. That post won’t get knocked out by a random goat or small child, as the tension will keep it in place.
See this image as an example of how to weave around an end post:
Alternatively, if your wattle fence is more organically shaped and has curves instead of tight, sharp corners, then make it one long, continuous weave instead.
As you continue to weave the branches and saplings, make sure to push them down so they’re fairly tightly packed together. A looser, more open weave is fine if your fence is decorative, but for a functional one, it’s better to make it tight and sturdy.
You don’t need to weave up and down the entire length of the posts, however. You can create a tight weave at the bottom, top, and middle for a more open look.
After you’ve finished doing all the weaving, you can leave the fence as it is, or finish the top as desired. For example, some people like to run fairy lights across the tops of decorative fences, especially if they’re used in night-blooming gardens.
Once you know the basics of wattle fence building, you can use the technique for all kinds of different projects. Try using wattle and daub techniques to build animal pens or wood sheds. Or use low fences to delineate different garden areas.
If desired, check out Pinterest for ideas, or do some research on how people used wattle building techniques in the Medieval and Tudor eras. The applications for this kind of building are almost limitless, so get creative!