Living Willow Sculptures and Fences

You can use extra-thick rods or poles to make nonliving frames for some types of projects, such as a bentwood chair that needs a sturdy structure but can have a living back. Hazel or chestnut poles are good to work with, but you can use whatever is available locally.

Working with Willow

Keep these important factors in mind when choosing a site for your living willow structure. Willow roots naturally seek out any source of water, so they must be planted well away from underground drainage systems. Stem color is brightest when the plants are grown in full sunlight. Although willow can tolerate some shading, it won’t grow well in deep shade and will eventually die back, so consider the shade that will be cast by surrounding trees in summer.

You must also remember that your sculptures will change shape with growth. You can leave this new growth wild or prune it back in autumn.

Avoid cutting your willow rods too far in advance as they’re best stored uncut on the plant. Cut rods must be kept wet to prevent dehydration. Wrap them in a damp cloth when transporting them. Prior to planting, rods are best stored in shade with their butt (thick) ends standing in rainwater, preferably in the shade. I use an old plastic water tank, but a bucket is fine for a small quantity of rods. Label your willow rods so you know which cultivar is which.


To create a living willow sculpture on your property, you’ll actually plant willow rods in the soil so they can sprout and grow. Willow rods can be planted from late autumn to early spring, but plant them as early as possible so roots can form before the rods start sending out shoots.

Willow is adaptable to different soil types. Most types prefer moist soil, but some — usually those with smaller, narrower leaves, such as S. Daphnoides — are better in dry soils. None will tolerate permanently waterlogged or too-dry conditions. When planting in a dry area, you could install an irrigation system, such as a soaker hose. It’s also always a good idea to incorporate water-retaining compost.

If your site is dry, soak the soil with water several days before planting, because planting is much easier in soft ground. You can use an auger or a metal spike and hammer to make a pilot hole. It’s possible to plant directly through a mulch mat; a diagonal cut across the butt end of each willow rod will create a point to help with penetration. Always place the butt end of the rod in the ground.

Short cuttings should be planted at least 8 inches deep, leaving several buds above ground level for new growth. Long rods should be planted 12 to 18 inches deep, depending on thickness. Generally, the drier the ground, the deeper you should plant the rod. Dig a hole with a narrow-bladed spade, and then loosen the soil until you can push the rods in deep enough. You could dig a trench if you’re planting a number of rods close together for a wigwam or a fence.


Be sure to stop all grass and weed growth around a newly planted structure. Mulching will reduce weed growth and help conserve moisture in the soil. Plastic mulch mat is ideal for this purpose, but you could also use old newspaper, cardboard, bark chips, or straw. Bark chips are a good alternative to a plastic mulch mat, but you’ll need quite a thick layer of them. The mulch you apply should extend at least 20 inches in all directions from the planting. If you’re using a mulch mat, it must be anchored to prevent it from blowing away.


Weaving can be used to strengthen a structure and to fill in open parts for decoration or shelter. Remember that weaving rods will not grow unless their butt ends are planted in the ground.

The weaving characteristics of willow vary from species to species. Some hybrids, such as ‘Bowles Hybrid,’ are too brittle for weaving, but many cultivars are pliable and can be bent to flowing curves. When weaving, try to avoid kinking the rods because such damage will usually cause a rod to die back. Sometimes, as with woven chair projects, you must make sharp bends in the willow rods. If you’re very careful, the rod should stay alive despite being bent.

There are no hard and fast rules about weaving techniques for willow structure. In my opinion, any method that works is fine. The simplest technique for weaving living willow is a free weave, where the rods are woven in wherever they fit best. Normally, weaver rods must be thinner than the upright rods, or the uprights will bend. However, if you want a thick weave, you can use several thin rods together.


You can rely on the tension in the weave to keep the shape of a structure but, more often than not, tying rods together where they cross each other will provide more strength to a structure.

Temporary ties, made with garden string, twine, or jute, will be useful while you’re making the structure and adjusting its shape. You can eventually discard some of them after they’ve served their purpose, but most structures will benefit from permanent ties. These can be made with the same materials as temporary ties, but thin, pliable lengths of young willow are more attractive and traditional. Life will be easier if you can cut lots of short lengths before you start work, and a quick way to do this is to use a string board: Simply wrap a lot of string, twine, or jute around a short length of grooved floorboard, and then cut along the groove with a sharp knife to produce many equal lengths of ties.

To join willow rods to create a structure, wrap around the join several times and tie it off with a square knot. As the willow grows and thickens, the ties will tend to cut into the willow stem, so remember to keep an eye on them and retie the joins as necessary. Some willow workers avoid this problem by using strips of rubber cut from old inner tubes that will expand as the willow grows.

Sometimes, when two willow rods are tied together very firmly, they will slowly graft or grow together. This creates a very strong, uniform structure and eventually the ties can be removed.

From time to time, as your living structure grows, check the condition of all ties and replace them as necessary. If any of the original rods die back, simply replace them with fresh rods.


After you’ve finished planting and building your structure, you can sit back and watch it grow. Shoots will soon start to sprout, and you’ll need to decide how to deal with them. New growth can be woven into the structure to fill in any gaps, used to enhance the original design, or allowed to go wild. However, you’ll need to prune some of the new growth, and this is best done in late autumn. Pruning will also help promote new growth lower down the rods. Don’t discard your prunings — use them for new projects.

Have fun. Be creative and try new ideas. Try combining climbing plants with your structures and experimenting with weaving in nonliving materials. Adapt and change your designs, alter them, or even cut them down if you don’t like them. Work with the seasons and nature for the best results.

A Willow By Any Other Name

There are many antiquated names for willow. An Old English name is welig, related to wilige, a wicker basket. The Old Saxon name for willow was wilgia. The Old Irish name is saille.

Willow Water

Willow bark contains salicylic acid, a plant hormone, and indolebutyric acid, a substance that stimulates root development. Follow these simple directions to make your own willow tea to bolster new plantings:

In a bucket, assemble a bundle of willow twigs or branches (each no more than 1/2 inch in diameter and about 6 inches long, with leaves removed).

Pour boiling water over the bundle until covered. Let the mixture steep for at least 24 hours.

Strain the tea and use the liquid to water your plantings.

Jon Warnes has 30 years of experience working with wood and teaching furniture courses in his native England. You can follow his latest projects at Jon Warnes Woodland Workshops. This is an excerpt from Warnes’ project-laden book Living Willow Sculpture.

Fedge Planting Instructions

10 willow rods per 3 feet + 1 extra for each end.

You Will Need:

  1. 42 willow rods (for 12 feet of fedge)
  2. Weed mat and securing pins
  3. Tape measure
  4. Ties to secure fedge (raffia, twine)
  5. (2) 6 foot wooden stakes (for longer fedge, one stake should be placed every 12 feet.)
  6. Garden gloves
  7. Lopping shears
  8. Metal fencing bar for making holes in the ground
  9. Sledge hammer
  10. 2mm steel wire to run the length of fence

Prior to planting:
We prepare willow cuttings fresh to order. This ensures that the stock arrives in prime condition. It is important that cuttings are planted as quickly as possible, and have soaked for a few hours prior, to replace lost moisture. If the cuttings are not able to be planted immediately, they must be stored in a cool, shady place. If weather is warm and drying, the cuttings must be kept moist by placing then in water for a few hours, and then placed in a fridge until being planted.

Step One: Laying Mat
Lay weed mat on desired site, and pin down the edges, as well as the mat every foot for neatness. Hammer the 6 foot wooden stakes into the ground at the end of the weed mat to help strengthen the structure. For longer structures, place the stakes every 12 feet. Secure steel wire to the wooden stake four feet from the ground, secure with a tack or a nail bent over. Run along all wooden stakes until you reach the end.

Step Two: Making Planting Holes
Your first two holes should be 1 foot from the end of the weed mat and half way along the width. They should be spaced 2 inches apart. Hammer the metal fence bar about a foot into the ground through the weed mat, wiggle to make sure that it will retract easily, then hammer another 4 inches into the ground. The wetter the ground area, the easier this will be. Use your tape measure to mark out where the rods should be placed, 2 inches apart along the length of the fedge.

Step Three: Placing the Willow
Placing the willow rods into the holes can be done as you go along, or at the end of the hole making process. The end willows, and every third willow rod should be of a thicker variety (strengthening end rods), with two thinner in between. Place both hands a foot apart on the rod near the base, pushing downward; force the rod into the hole.

Step Four: Weaving your Fedge
Start from one end and leave your two strengthening end rods upright. Cross over the following two rods and tie together at the crossing point a foot from the ground, then crossover the next two, tie at cross, and repeat for entire length. You should check that all of the crossover weaving is at a consistent height along the fedge.

Step Five: Weaving the Ends
A few rods will crossover beyond the end of the fedge rods. Bend these rods carefully 180 degrees around the ends of the stakes at a 45 degree angle upward and tie in the rod at the same height as the other rows. Do this with all the left over ends.

Buy Living Willow Fedge Screen

Willow Woven Fedge Screen from £58 (Free Delivery to most of mainland UK) (see bottom of page)
* No other charges or surprises at the checkout!

A decorative lattice screen in winter… covered in lush growth in summer.
It’s the fence that thinks it’s a hedge!
With our DIY kit, you can make a Fedge Screen up to 2m high, straight or curved and as long as you like.
Planting season: December to early April.

  • All our DIY kits are suitable for beginners and professionals
  • No digging required!
  • Free delivery to most of UK mainland.

Standard DIY Kit Contains graded, bundled and labelled Willow rods with clear, illustrated step-by-step instructions, Flexi-tie and Planting bar. moreThe Willow rods come in 3 sizes;
sturdy Uprights which form the main framework,
horizontal Binders which hold the uprights in position
and Weavers which create the woven diamond pattern and add strength to the whole structure. Full DIY Kit As above, but with the addition of Weed mat and Pegs. why do I need that? Weed mat prevents grass and weeds from competing with your willow structure whilst the Pegs hold the mat down even in windy weather.
The Full DIY Kit is recommended for those who don`t already have weed control items in their garden shed. Full Installation Package As it says on the tin! We will supply, deliver and install your Fedge Screen for you. Let us do all the work, or you can join in and we’ll teach you the art of installing living willow structures. details * Installation price includes the Full DIY kit
* Pay only £50 deposit now and pay the balance on completion
* Upon ordering, we will contact you to arrange an installation date
* Invoicing service available for schools etc, please contact us
To Buy a Kit please select your choice of Kit from the Drop-down below… To Order an Installation please select your choice from the Drop-down below…

Structure Of Twigs Plaited Together

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Hey Willow friends! We thought it might be helpful for some of you who are new to working with willow, especially the sculptural side of things, to know which type of willow we prefer to use for sculptural projects and how we carry out our willow preparation. We also thought it would be useful for you to know why we use the types of willow we use, which suppliers we use as well as some tips on willow preparation.

Willow types

There are literally hundreds of varieties of willow, many of these are found growing wild in the countryside or by streams and rivers, many are cultivars grown for ornamental appeal but the willow which is grown on a commercial scale for basketry or charcoal making is the type of willow I use. These are quite specialized cultivars grown for strength, flexibility and durability. They are fast growing and can be harvested annually or bi-annually.

bundles of living willow

The type of willow I prefer to use for sculpture is a cultivar of a European species and is called Salix triandra. This variety seems to have all the right qualities for the intricate and detailed sculpting methods I use when making my sculptures.

This type of willow is strong and very flexible, it seems to glide over itself with ease and the bark rarely braises. When the bark has been left on the withies and they have been left to dry out completely, they are referred to in the trade, as ‘Brown’. These withies can be stored in a dry placed indefinitely until you want to use them, they will then need to be soaked.


Willow is harvested from the early spring months usually from the end of December to the end of March. During this short, seasonal period the coppiced willow whips, sometimes called withies, are referred to as ‘green’. These can be used for basketry or sculpture straight away without being soaked in water. These withies can also be left to dry out and then be stored for later use. However if you want to use them later in the year you will need to soak them.

Willowtwister Hanna willow coppicing


When soaking the willow it will need to be completely submerged beneath the water so you will need some kind of long, narrow vessel, an old bath is useful for this. A few years back I was lucky enough to be given this big plastic tub but if you are having trouble finding something like straight away you might want to consider purchasing some soaking bags. They come in various sizes and lengths and don’t cost very much at all (approx £4 a bag) and can be bought from most of the suppliers I have listed below.

Plastic tub used for soaking willow

The general advice is to soak withies for 24hours per foot of willow so if your withies are 4ft long you will need to soak them for 4 days and nights. I usually add an extra day for good measure. The withies will want to float to begin with until they’ve absorbed the water so you will need to be weighed down with something heavy.

I usually use bricks or an old paving slab. If your soaking vessel is in direct sunlight cover it and if the weather is really warm I would advise changing the water half way through as the willow can begin to ferment, and essentially rot and won’t be any use, plus there’s nothing like the smell of stinky willow water!

After the willow has been in soak for the required length of time, I drain it and usually rinse it a little with the hose. I then allow it to stand for a while until it feels dry to the touch before working with it.

Willow soaking


There has been a huge surge of interest in willow craft lately. This has led to a shortage in supply from some of the main willow growers/suppliers. This year in particular I had trouble getting my stocks from my usual suppliers Musgroves & Coates.

Both these suppliers are based in Somerset on ‘the levels’ where willow loves to grow on the flood plains. However this year I have planted some willow of my own and would encourage everyone with some space to grow, to do the same. Apart from avoiding shortages from suppliers you will also be providing a great habitat for wildlife.

Nature using willow as a home

Below we have listed web addresses for the main suppliers and others we have used.

If you would like to join our (ahem… the first online school of willow sculpture & craft!) to receive notifications on courses then click on image below to be taken to our ENROLL Page

If you found this article useful or would like to ask us further questions, then please leave us a comment in the box below

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  • Basket Willow Tree Care: Growing Willow Plants For Baskets

    Willow trees are big, graceful trees that are relatively low-maintenance and hardy enough to grow in a variety of conditions. While the long, slender branches of most willow tree species lend themselves to creation of beautiful woven baskets, certain larger willow species are preferred by weavers around the world. Read on to learn more about growing willow plants for baskets.

    Basket Willow Trees

    There are three willow tree species commonly grown as basket willow trees:

    • Salix triandra, also known as almond willow or almond-leaved willow
    • Salix viminalis, often known as common willow.
    • Salix purpurea, a popular willow known by a number of alternate names, including purple osier willow and blue arctic willow

    Some weavers prefer to plant all three basket willow trees. The trees are perfect for baskets, but basket willow uses are also ornamental, as the trees create a variety of bright colors in the landscape.

    How to Grow Basket Willows

    Basket willow trees are easy to grow in a variety of soil types. Although they adapt to dry soil, they prefer moist or wet soil. Similarly, the trees thrive in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.

    Willows are easily propagated by cuttings, which are simply pushed a few inches into the soil in late winter to early spring. Water well and apply 2 or 3 inches of mulch.

    Note: Some willow species can be invasive. If in doubt, check with your local cooperative extension before planting.

    Basket Willow Tree Care

    Basket willow trees grown for baskets are often coppiced, which involves cutting top growth down to the ground in late winter. However, some growers prefer to let the trees grow to their natural shape and form, removing only dead or damaged growth.

    Otherwise, basket willow tree care is minimal. Provide plenty of water for these moisture-loving trees. Fertilizer isn’t generally needed, but basket willow trees in poor soil benefit from a light feeding of a balanced fertilizer in spring.

    Dunbar Gardens willow cuttings

    We sell willow cuttings for propagation. These hardwood cuttings are an easy and reliable way to grow new willow plantings. The willow varieties in the table have grown well at Dunbar Gardens in northwest Washington. Most of them are very useful for basket making; some are good for hedges, living fences, sculptural work, or garden ornamentals. There will be variation in the color of both the fresh and dried rods. Order instructions and prices are further down the page. There are also planting and growing tips further down the page which are included with orders.

    Update February 1: I have stopped taking orders for now. You can check back on April 1 to see what I have available after I have completed the orders in hand. Thank you, Steve.

    Willow cuttings list of varieties: Here is a list and short descriptions of the willows we offer. You will also find several collections of varieties that we offer as packages further down the page.



    Coppiced Height & Color Fresh

    Dicky Meadows

    S. purpurea

    5-8′ light green & red

    Productive, great for baskets. Beautiful hedge.

    Green Dicks

    S. purpurea

    5-7′ olive green & red

    Great for weaving baskets

    Leicestershire Dicks

    S. purpurea

    5-7′ green to red

    Slender rods

    Dark Dicks

    S. purpurea

    6-8′ dark red

    Longer, larger with nice color. Holds leaves longer into fall.

    Brittany Greens

    S. purpurea

    6-8′ mottled red over green

    Long, nice for weavers, but soft not as good for borders.


    S. purpurea

    5-8′ green to purple

    Long, slender rods.

    Hutchinson’s Red

    S. purpurea

    5-8′ red brown

    Long, slender rods.

    Light Dicks

    S. purpurea

    5-7′ pale red brown

    Despite the name, dark rods.


    S. purpurea

    6-8′ golden green

    Early catkins. Dried rods a vibrant green.


    S. purpurea

    6-8′ olive green to red

    Larger purpurea.


    S. purpurea

    5-8′ pale green to red

    Good for weaving, long rods for living willow work.


    S. purpurea

    6-8′ green to dark red

    Some branching, rather large but very nice to weave with


    S. purpurea

    6-9′ light green to brown

    Large rods, early fairly large catkins

    Polish purple

    S. purpurea

    5-8′ green to red / purple

    Some branching; dries dark brown. Good weaver.


    S. purpurea

    6-9′ green to reddish brown

    Large stocky rods, living willow structures. Previously mis-identified as S. americana.


    S. purpurea

    5-7′ brown

    Very thin rods, a little branchy, holds leaves late.

    Packing Twine

    S. purpurea

    5-8′ brown

    Variety from Ireland available in 2021.

    Purpurea x daphnoides

    S. purpurea x daphnoides

    5-8′ green to purple

    Long slender dark rods.


    S. x calliantha

    4-6′ dark red

    Slender rods, a purpurea x daphnoides hybrid

    Black Maul

    S. triandra

    5-8′ brown

    Classic British basket willow

    Noir de Villaines

    S. triandra

    5-8′ dark brown

    Nice brown color, rather large but nice weaver. Living fences

    Noir de Touraine

    S. triandra

    5-8′ dark brown

    Slender triandra. Living fences.


    S. triandra

    6-8′ green

    Dries light brown, nice aroma. Available in 2021.


    S. americana


    Available in 2021.

    Harrison’s B

    S. x rubra

    6-10′ reddish brown

    Stocky, but beautiful color and nice for weaving.


    S. x rubra

    7-10′ green

    Large, stocky rods for living willow projects. Dries dark brown.

    Continental Osier

    S. x rubra

    7-10′ green

    Large rods for living willow, hurdles. Dries light brown.


    S. koriyanagi

    7-10′ brown

    Early abundant pink catkins. Living willow work.

    Flander’s Red

    S. x fragilis

    3-8′ green turning red in winter

    Some branching, waxy stems. Not currently available.


    S. x fragilis

    3-8′ green to red

    Waxy olive green rods

    Belgian Red

    S. x fragilis

    5-9′ green to red

    Stocky rods, living willow structures.


    S. x fragilis

    5-9′ yellow to orange tips

    Many unbranched yellow rods after established


    S. x fragilis

    5-9′ orange to red

    Branchy, beautiful color but difficult for basket borders. Lovely scent when dry.


    S. x fragilis

    5-9′ yellow to red

    Similar to Britzensis but more yellow


    S. x fragilis

    6-9′ orange to red

    Great winter color. Good for side weavers.

    Natural Red

    S. x fragilis

    6-9′ yellow to red

    Grows yellow, dries red.

    Jaune de Falaise

    S. x fragilis

    5-8′ yellow

    Slender rods, dries red.

    Fransgeel Rood

    S. x fragilis

    5-8′ yellow to orange to red

    Slender rods, dries red.


    S. x fragilis

    6-9′ yellow

    Large rods


    S. xfragilis

    6-8′ yellow to orange

    Fairly slender rods, winter color.

    Blue Streak

    S. acutifolia

    6-10′ white bloom on green to purple

    Silvery white catkins. Can bloom from December through March. Nice ornamental.

    Continental Purple

    S. daphnoides

    6-10′ purple to black

    Beautiful dark stout rods.


    S. daphnoides

    6-10′ purple to black

    Dark stout rods. Early large catkins make nice floral cuttings.


    S. myrsinifolia

    5-9′ black

    Black when fresh, soaks up dark red.

    Bory Pescara

    S. amplexicaulis

    4-6’dark purple

    Slender but branchy, holds leaves very late, small early catkins clustered on branch ends.


    S. irrorata

    Dark red covered in powdery white in winter.

    Southwest native, winter ornamental, not vigorous.

    Fanny’s White

    S. x fragilis decipiens

    5′ Light brown or cream

    White Welsh willow. Available in 2021.

    Nancy Saunders

    S. purpurea

    2-5′ red

    Fine red stems, nice small shrub, a little brittle when weaving


    S. purpurea ‘nana’

    2-5′ brown, red buds

    Very fine rods, small cuttings make propagation difficult.

    How to order willow cuttings:

    Update February 1: I have stopped taking orders for now. You can check back on April 1 to see what I have available after I have completed the orders in hand. Thank you, Steve.

    The best way to propagate willow is from dormant hardwood cuttings; so we have to limit the sales to the winter months. We start taking orders in December and cuttings are shipped from early February through late April to accommodate your planting date. We are happy to answer your questions about willow cuttings year round.

    To order send an e-mail to [email protected] with the name of the varieties and the quantity of each you would like to order. Please include your shipping address with postal zip code. I will send you an email invoice by way of PayPal. (You do not need a PayPal account.) You can use the link to pay securely online with a credit card or you can mail me a check made out to Dunbar Gardens. USA only and no telephone orders please.

    Orders will be shipped Priority Mail. Please give me an idea of when you would like to receive the cuttings for planting. Approximate shipping dates for 2020 will be January 28; February 4, 11, 18, 25; March 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; April 7, 14, 21, 28. You are welcome to change the date later since the weather is tough to predict. If you live in a very cold climate and won’t be planting until late May, we suggest you purchase your cuttings from a source that can accommodate you better.

    Our production of willows for Katherine’s basketmaking and classes allows us to select good sized cuttings to insure successful rooting in your garden. Our cuttings are 10-11 inches in length. Full size rods for living willow fences and structures 7-10 feet in length are available only at the farm for pick-up.

    2020 Willow Cuttings Prices:

    Minimum order for new customers is $60 ($80 including S&H)

    $1.75 each (minimum 5 per variety) Please order in multiples of 5 Can’t decide which to order? We offer several packages with a reduced cost of $1.50 each.

    Basketmakers package: some reliable varieties for basket making. 5 each of Dicky Meadows, Bleu, Jagiellonka, Dark Dicks, Purpurea x daphnoides, Harrison’s B, Black Maul and Noir de Touraine. 40 cuttings for $60

    Color package: some choice color selections from our collection. 5 each of Blackskin, Blue Streak, Britzensis, Continental Purple, Farndon, Jaune de Falaise, Natural Red, and Calliantha. 40 cuttings for $60

    Purpurea package: Salix purpurea varieties are good choices for producing slender unbranched rods in many locations. Less likely to attract deer or diseases. 5 each of Dicky Meadows, Bleu, Jagiellonka, Light Dicks, Dark Dicks, Leicestershire Dicks, Lambertiana and Eugene. 40 cuttings for $60

    Living willow structures and garden trellis package: 5 each of Eugene, Harrisons, Harrison’s B, Irette, Jagiellonka, Raesfeld, Rubykins and Continental Purple. 40 cuttings for $60 Tip: If you only want to grow willows for one structure or fence, I suggest that you buy one or two varieties rather than this package.

    Please note that I may have to substitute varieties in the packages depending on availability when they are shipped.

    Shipping and handling costs are $20 per order except Washington State residents who pay $12 plus sales tax based on destination. Orders over 500 cuttings will have additional shipping charges. Planting instructions will be included with the order. Have questions about cuttings or willow growing? Please read the info below about planting, growing and coppicing willows. More questions? Please e-mail [email protected]

    Prices for full size rods:

    We sell full size rods for living willow structures and fences for $3 to $5 each depending on size for pickup on the farm only. Please email for more info. We do not sell dried willow rods for basketmaking or weaving.

    Planting willow cuttings and growing tips:

    You can grow basket willows in a wide range of soil types, but they prefer well drained soils in full sun. The willows will grow in almost all areas of the US and are very hardy. Willows in general have a tendency to be variable to climate and growing conditions. Your willow bed should ideally be free of any perennial weeds. Get your willow growing area ready the year before you plant. The soil is often too wet in the early spring when you will want to plant the cuttings. Some people choose to plant through a weed barrier fabric. Make sure you cut larger enough holes in the poly to avoid girdling of the stem as the plant grows in subsequent years.

    Spring is the best time to plant willow cuttings. February through May. You can leave the willow cuttings in your fridge until you are ready to plant them. Plant when the ground has thawed and danger of hard frost has passed. If you garden, a good time to plant coincides with early crops like peas or when daffodils are blooming. Later is fine if it allows you to prepare the area and control weeds.

    Willow cuttings root easily. Plant by simply pushing the cuttings into the ground with the buds facing up. If the soil is rocky or compacted, make a hole with a dibber for each cutting. Try to plant the cuttings 6 to 8 inches into the ground. Leave 2 or 3 buds above the soil surface. Firm the soil around the planted cuttings.

    Maintain and check for adequate soil moisture during the first summer. Minimize competition for water and sunlight from weeds or other plants. Mulching the plants can be helpful.

    new willow planting at Dunbar Gardens

    Spacing of the willow cuttings depends on several factors including how the willow will be harvested, how weeds will be controlled, variety, and soil fertility. We are using a spacing of 6 inches in the row by 32 inches between rows for most of our basket varieties. We have also used 12 inches by 24 – 36 inches. Wider spacing is appropriate for producing large rods for garden structures, trellises, or living fences; or when growing in poor soils. Hedges can be planted in a single row spaced from 12 to 24 inches; or a double row planted 24 inches apart with the plants offset.

    Basket willows are usually coppiced to the ground annually, including the first year. Only an inch of the original stem needs to be left above the soil the second spring. Find more info and photos about coppicing here on our blog. This approach will give you more straight and uniform rods. We do leave some rods to grow for two or three years for sticks, stakes, and for peeling.

    You can choose to grow all your willows as pollards which is an attractive landscape feature. Attractive hedges can be produced by coppicing alternate plants in alternate years just before the willow leafs out in the spring. The result is a hedge that will look good year round; highlighting the winter rods that are more colorful in the first and second years growth. Take a look at our webpage about basketry willow for some more information and photos of the willow at Dunbar Gardens: basketry willow.

    Spike inspects the basket willow

    We have several of willows and would like to know if you can cut a branch and use that branch to start a new tree?

    Willow trees are some of the easiest plants to root. In fact, you can actually grow a new tree by simply taking a stem and sticking it in moist soil. It’s the hormones in willows that cause such rapid rooting. So rapid in fact, that a rooting solution for other plants can be made by boiling willow stems in water. Our ancestors called it willow water.

    To mix up a batch of willow water simply cut a few willow branches that are green and supple and about the size of pencil. Then cut the branches into 1-inch pieces and smash them with a hammer. Next, bring a pot of water to a boil, drop the willow stems into the water and remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to steep, stirring occasionally. Once cooled, it is ready to use.

    In addition to using willow water for rooting cuttings, you can also pour it around young transplants to help accelerate their root development.

    You can propagate willows by cutting branches any time of the year. Spring may be the best season because of the ample rain and the new tree will have the entire summer to become established before winter.

    Take a cutting that is about 10-inches long and the diameter of a pencil. Next place the cutting in water. In time roots will begin to form and you can plant your new tree outdoors.

    In areas where the soil stays moist such as beside a pond or river bank, you can just stick the cutting in the ground. Push it down fairly deep so that about 2-inches rises above the soil surface.

    When planting your new willow tree it is important to choose a location that is about 100 feet away from buildings and underground pipes. Willow roots are notorious for wandering in search of water and will often cause damage to water or sewer lines and house foundations.

    Also, willows must have copious amounts of water. Heat and drought stressed trees are susceptible to a number of diseases. So be sure to plant your willow where it will receive plenty of water.

    Propagating Willow Trees for Soil Erosion Control

    There is a way of planting willows when they are in leaf. The danger, of course, is that the leaves will transpire moisture faster than the growing roots can provide it and the tree will dry out. You can prevent this by clipping off all the leaves along the stake except one or two, and by continuing to trim off leaves all summer long. It’s a lot of trouble, and it’s a bit risky, but if you can plant only during the leafy season, you might give this method a try.

    Collecting and preparing willow branches. Follow normal instructions for pruning. Cut weak or crossed branches first, and be sure to cut flush with the trunk . . . don’t leave a stub. Any willow will give equally good cuttings, so don’t get hung up on species.

    After you collect the branches, cut them into convenient lengths for planting. Don’t try to chop them up while you’re in the middle of a tangle of willows, but drag the branches out to a clear area where you can set up a chopping block and have enough room to work.

    The cuttings should be at least 18 inches long and at least a half-inch thick to create new trees for soil erosion control. Anything this size or bigger — even up to 10 or 12 feet long — will grow, but the bigger the cutting, the deeper you will have to plant it, so beware.

    One thing that determines the length of the cuttings is the water table. If you’re planting on land that is wet year-round, you can use shorter lengths. In our part of California, where it gets dry in the summer, l usually have to cut the stakes five feet long or more so that 1 can pound them deep enough to reach moist soil.

    To cut a branch, lay it over a chopping block and use a sharp ax. At the thicker end (the end toward the trunk), make a point. At the narrow end (toward the tip of the branch), make a flat, straight cut.

    It is very important to note which is the butt end. If you plant the willow upside down, the sap will flow in the wrong direction and the cutting will die.

    Preparing a hole. If the ground is soft and moist, you can just pound the stake into the ground without any preparation.


    If the ground is rocky, however, you might strip the bark too badly by pounding, so you must first prepare a hole — much the same idea as drilling a pilot hole for a screw. For smaller stakes, you can pound a digging bar or even a crowbar into the ground, wiggle it around a bit, pull it out, and insert the cutting. For really big cuttings, you may have to start the hole with a shovel or a posthole digger (if you’ve got one), then use the digging bar after you’re a foot or so down.

    The ground at the bottom of the hole should be moist, wet, or even flooded. If you are planting in winter or spring, remember that the water table is probably much higher than it will be later in the year, so dig deeper than you think is necessary.

    Pounding the cutting in. This step is a mind-boggier. l would definitely recommend it as therapy to those “nature lovers” who tippy-toe across lawns, who cannot bear to see a tree pruned, and who otherwise insist that plants are very fragile, delicate pieces of creation. You take your carefully shaped cutting, insert its pointed end into your carefully made hole, and just pound the hell out of it. A heavy wooden mallet is the best tool. Or have someone hold a piece of wood on the flat head of the stake while you pound away with a sledgehammer. The idea is to knock the stake deeply into the ground without splitting the top too much. Split stakes grow, but they tend to dry fast, rot, or (if they live very long) develop badly.

    The cutting should have at least half its length under ground, and even two-thirds or more of its length can be buried. If you don’t plant it deep enough, there will be too much leaf and too little root.

    Browsing. Cattle are notorious for browsing young willows. They’ll desert a pile of hay, a bed of straw, the shade of an oak tree, or a field of alfalfa and come running whenever they see a young willow. If there are cattle present, you’ll have to fence off the planting.

    Wildlife browsing should not be too severe, unless you happen to have an overabundance of hungry deer at the end of a long, hard winter. If this is the case, you’d be best off planting bigger, taller, thicker cuttings, which are less tasty and which can withstand browsing somewhat better.

    Have faith. The first time I planted willows, I felt unutterably depressed. After a full, hard day’s work, I stood there with a group of kids looking at what we had done. It was a weird, desolate scene. Everywhere around us we saw dead-looking sticks pounded into the ground. It reminded me of an empty drive-in theater, or a municipal parking lot with hundreds of parking meters all over the place. We were all very tired, cold, and discouraged. The kids kept asking me if I thought these stakes would grow, and I said, “Of course” — but only because that was what I was expected to say.

    Later that spring the kids returned to the area to camp. What they saw, as they told me later, was so exciting that they couldn’t fall asleep that night. The “parking meters” were covered with thick, juicy buds just beginning to burst into leaf.

    Since then I’ve found willow cutting to be one of the easiest, surest, and most rewarding of all projects.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is an excerpt from Malcolm Margolin’s book, The Earth Manual: How to Work with Nature to Preserve, Restore, and Enjoy Wild Land Without Taming It (copyright © 1975, 1985 by Malcolm Margolin). The book is available for $8.95 postpaid (California residents add state sales tax) from Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA.

    by Ann Lezberg, Technical Advisor, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and John Giordanengo, Projects Director, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers

    Where there’s a willow there’s a way
    Willows provide important wildlife habitat, as cover for nesting birds, and forage for elk, moose, and other herbivores. Under the right conditions, willows can grow rapidly and provide effective soil stabilization along stream banks or in other highly erodible areas. This guide conveys basic willow biology and fundamental techniques for selecting, harvesting, and installing willow cuttings. These skills are essential to the success of nearly every willow restoration technique, from willow stakes to advanced bioengineering structures. This guide does not cover the details of all advanced willow restoration techniques, but a few common techniques are presented on page 4 to wet your appetite. Exact specifications on stem diameter, planting depth, length of cutting, etc. will vary by project depending on site conditions, species of willow being used, time of year, and logistical and funding constraints. Always defer to the agency staff or technical advisor for ultimate specifications.

    Willow biology
    Willows are deciduous woody plants in the Willow Family (Salicaceae) that commonly grow in moist soils of riparian areas and wetlands. Ball willows are classified in the genus Salix. Willows have a number of characteristics that make them resilient to high-velocity flood waters, burial by sediments, long-periods of water inundation, high winds, and heavy browsing by wildlife. Willows can sprout new shoots from roots and root crowns readily and their stems possess abundant adventitious buds (i.e., buds that develop in an “atypical” place rather than at the branch tip or in leaf axils) that have the flexibility to form roots when in contact with saturated soils.

    Why are most willows shrubby?
    Why is this information useful?
    Most vascular plants produce auxins, a group of plant hormones that play an essential role in coordination of growth and behavioral processes. In willows, auxins are produced in terminal buds and transported to lateral buds and adventitious buds (i.e., along the stem below the terminal bud) to convey a message to “stay dormant”. If the terminal bud, also called the apical bud, is removed by a browsing animal, or cut by a willow harvester, that chemical signal is interrupted. In response, the lateral buds and adventitious buds will be stimulated to grow, no longer suppressed by the auxins. In heavily browsed areas, it is the removal of the terminal buds that causes a bushy appearance in willow shrubs. Removing the terminal buds of harvested willows can stimulate growth of lateral stems in planted cuttings. Under some conditions, however, and for certain species (i.e., sandbar willow, Salix exigua), removal of the terminal bud may not be necessary or desirable to achieve project goals. If you want a tree-like willow to develop, removing the terminal bud may not be recommended.

    Revegetating with willow cuttings–the basics
    Restoration techniques exploit the ability of willows to reproduce from adventitious and dormant buds. Willow cuttings (also referred to as poles or stakes) are commonly used in a variety of restoration practices. Using willow cuttings in restoration activities involves strategic harvesting of dormant willow stems from vigorous healthy willows. Dormant cuttings can be driven into the ground, where they will sprout shoots and roots during the growing season. Once established, willow cuttings form a web of fibrous roots that can provide highly effectively soil stabilization.

    Survival of willow cuttings through the first growing season can be greater than 90%. However, survival through the second growing season is highly variable. Lack of adequate soil moisture and poor selection of willow stems are two important factors associated with poor second year survival of cuttings. Careful attention to stem size, site hydrology, depth of willow stake installation, and good soil to stem contact can contribute to successful restoration projects.

    Selecting the right willows and willow stems

    1. Locate a collection site near the project site with similar willow species, comparable site conditions (e.g., hydrology, landscape position, elevation), and abundant, vigorous willow stands.
    2. Obtain landowner permission to collect from the site.
    3. Choose healthy stems (i.e., “green” wood in cross section) that are: relatively straight, covered in smooth bark (i.e., not furrowed or damaged), and free of insect/pathogen damage.
    4. Follow ethical harvest guidelines to conserve health of the donor stand:
      • Remove no more than 1/3rd of the branches from any single willow.
      • Never remove more than 40% of the overall willow canopy cover.
      • Harvest stems evenly through the stand (e.g., not from one side of the willow only).

    Harvesting and preparation of willow cuttings
    Tools: Lopping shears, hand pruning shears, small wood saws or brush cutters, twine, labels, buckets.

    1. Harvest willow cuttings during the dormant season (between leaf fall and bud break):
      • Select stems ½ to 1¼ inches in diameter for most willow cutting projects. However, some projects may require stems that are 1 to 3 inch in diameter or even 3 to 6 inches in diameter (i.e., posts) where longer or stronger poles are needed. In general, smaller diameter cuttings are appropriate for shrub willows (i.e., Salix exigua, sandbar willow) while larger diameter cuttings are more appropriate for tree willows (i.e., Salix amygdaloides, peachleaf willow).
      • Cut stems to length, as determined by specific project needs (e.g., depth to late-summer water table, severity of erosion and flood damage). In general, harvest cuttings in 18-24 inch lengths, though some projects may need cuttings (also called poles) up to 5 feet long. Remove the cutting with a clean diagonal cut near its base, as low as you can remove it from the plant stem and still harvest a healthy cutting. The diagonal cut is used to differentiate the rooting-end from the above ground end, and to aid installation. The top should be prepared with a horizontal cut.
      • Prepare cuttings by clipping the terminal bud (unless a tree-like form is desired) with a horizontal cut and removing all lateral (i.e., side) branches along the stem as close to the stem as possible. Use caution and avoid damaging the stem while clipping the lateral branches. Removing lateral branches helps maintain an appropriate root to shoot ratio and creates a cutting that is easier to install. Cut the top end of the stem horizontally to create a flat pounding surface if necessary.
    2. Bundle and tag cuttings by species, size, date, and site. Keep bundles cool, moist, and shaded during transportation and on-site storage.
    3. Prior to planting, soak willows in water for 5-14 days to increase speed of root formation. Willows can be soaked in buckets, a stream, or a lake with well-oxygenated water. Roughly 50 to 80% of the length of the cutting should be in contact with water while soaking. For disturbance-adapted willows (i.e., sandbar willow, Salix exigua), and under hydrologic conditions that are highly favorable to the establishment of willow cuttings, pre-soaking may not be necessary.

    Long-term storage of willow cuttings
    If willows need to be stored for more than three weeks, follow these guidelines to ensure that willows don’t sprout or rot before they are installed. There are many different methods of long-term storage.

    1. Dip the top ends into a 50:50 mix of latex paint and water prior to storage. Painted tips can prevent drying and cracking, aid in identifying species, and increase visibility of cuttings in the field.
    2. Store willow cuttings for up to 6 months in dark, cool (33-36° F), and moist (60-70% humidity) locations protected from wind and sun. Remove moldy, dried, or sprouted cuttings prior to planting.

    Planting willow cuttings
    Tools: planting bars (dibbles), rebar, rubber or wooden mallet, post-hole diggers, electric hammer-drills, soil augers, pick mattocks, power stingers, shovels, buckets, lopping shears.

    1. Locate and flag planting sites, and determine planting densities based on knowledge of hydrology, location of existing willow populations, and specific site objectives. Areas where the water table drops more than 3 ft during the growing season or with large fluctuations in water-table depths are problematic for survival of willow cuttings. In areas with low erosion potential, space cuttings 1-3 feet apart for creeping rhizomatous willows (e.g., sandbar willow) and 3-8 ft for “clumpy” willows (e.g., Drummond’s willow) apply generally on mild slopes. On steeper slopes, or where there is a greater threat of soil erosion, denser plantings may be appropriate.
    2. Optimal time of willow planting varies by region. Typically, willow cuttings are installed after spring thaw but before bud break, or in fall after leaves change color and/or fall. If planting in fall, be sure to install cuttings deep enough (at least 2 feet deep) to avoid them from being lodged out of the ground by winter freeze-thaw cycles.
    3. Prepare pilot holes, if necessary, for willow cuttings by pounding in rebar, using a pick mattock or other appropriate tools. Mechanical devises (i.e., stingers or augers) can also be used to prepare deeper holes in difficult soils. Pilot holes allow for easier installation without damaging the cuttings. In soft soils, pilot holes may not be necessary.
    4. Plant willow stakes into prepared “pilot” holes or directly into substrates by hand-pressure or tapping with a rubber mallet. The bottom 6-8 inches of the cutting should be installed below the expected dry-season water table. Generally, 50-80% of the cutting is buried and at least 4 to 6 inches should remain above ground, or enough to overtop competing herbaceous vegetation. At least 2 lateral stem buds (and preferably 3 or 4) should be present on the above-ground portion of the stem. Be sure that pointy tips on lateral buds point sky-ward and that the diagonally cut end, usually the thicker end of the cutting, is inserted into the ground. Multiple stakes may be placed in a single hole. If the tops of the cuttings were damaged (cut or mangled) during installation, trim the top cleanly with a horizontal cut at least one inch below the longest split.
      1. Cracked or heavily damaged tops can hasten drying of the stem and increase susceptibility to pest damage, decreasing survival rates. If tops are damaged from installation, cut them cleanly to remove the cracked portion without greatly reducing the amount of stem that remains above ground.
      2. If the stems dry out during transportation, remove the bottom 2 to 3 inches of the cutting to recreate a “fresh” end just before installation.
    5. Backfill around cuttings, when necessary, and tamp soil around cuttings to insure good soil to stem contact (i.e., without air pockets). Alternatively, pour a syrup-like slurry of soil and water into the hole, allowing sediment to displace any air pockets as water leaches into underlying soil. NOTE: Poor soil-to-stem contact is a leading cause of willow stake death!

    Monitoring: Arapaho Ntl. Wildlife Refuge, CO.

    Site protection and monitoring

    1. Prevent livestock or wildlife browsing with tree guards or fencing as needed.
    2. If site lacks adequate soil moisture, water during the first six weeks.
    3. Monitor for causes of success/failure, and replant as necessary.

    A few advanced willow techniques
    The following techniques are but a few of the dozens of willow restoration techniques used by agencies across the United States. None of these techniques can be used successfully without adequate knowledge of proper harvesting, preparation, storage, and planting techniques. All of these techniques rely on the ability of willow cuttings to sprout when placed in moist or saturated soils.

    Willow wattles & fascines: Bundles of willow poles bound or woven and installed in shallow trenches along stream banks or other appropriate erosion-prone areas to increase bank stability. Drawings by Larry Nygaard.

    Brush Layering: Vertical bundles of willow poles installed in 2-3 foot deep layers (back and down into bank), along stream banks to increase bank stability. USDA-NRCS, Aberdeen Plant Materials Center. Drawing by Gary Bentrup.

    Biologs (AKA Sushi Rolls): Constructed from Coir fabric or other erosion matting, dirt, and willow poles. Used to stabilize stream banks. Drawing by David Hirt, Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Photos of Biologs used at Left Hand Creek by Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Boulder, CO.

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