Living fences are rows of trees or shrubs planted together to form a barrier. They are useful for farmers who need fences to mark boundaries, separate fields, keep animals from straying, form windbreaks, or support vines.
Living fences are a good choice for many reasons. They last longer than other types of fences. You can make them with materials you already have on the farm, which decreases your cost.
A living fence can even be good for your soil. When the tree leaves fall, they form a mulch on the soil. You can prune the small branches and add them to your compost, or mix them with the soil. The rotted leaves and branches release nutrients into the soil that feed your crop.
The leaves of some living fence trees can be used as animal feed. Leaves can be mixed in with your animals’ regular feed or sometimes animals like to munch the leaves right off the fence.
Food for people
Some species of live fence trees have leaves, flowers, and buds that you can cook and eat. The flowers, pods, and roots of the moringa tree (Moringa oleifera), for instance, can be eaten by people. And, of course, you can always sell any extra produce you have.
How to make a living fence
One way to make a living fence is to grow trees in lines and then attach wire between them. Plant large cuutings or stakes about 2.5 metres long (with 20 40 cm in the ground) wherever you would put posts for a regular fence. They will sprout and grow. If possible, let them get established before attaching the fence wire. If some die, replace them.
If you live where rain is uncertain, you might help the posts to sprout by filling the post hole with good soil and keeping it moist. You might want to first build a temporary fence of local plant materials such as bamboo or eucalyptus poles.
Then establish a live fence inside the temporary fence.
There are disadvantages to living fences, too. For instance, your trees may grow to be too big, and may be lots of work to prune.
They may shade crops and compete with crops for nutrients, water and root space. For these reasons, fences need to be controlled.
Good species for living fences
A popular leguminous tree to use as a living fence is gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium). It is a small tree that can be grown from either cuttings or seed.
You can take a branch from an old fence post, stick it in the ground and it will grow! It grows a narrow fence with a broad crown. The young leaves, flowers, and buds are often cooked as vegetables.
Leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala) is a small, nitrogen fixing tree that has been used effectively to keep grazing animals from straying.
Another successful tree is moringa (moringa oleifera), which grows well in dry weather and grows especially quickly the first year. Planted from closely spaced seed, a moringa fence can be pruned to provide leaves for people or animals to eat. The flowers taste similar to radishes, the pods are delicious vegetables, the roots make a substitute for horseradish when blended with vinegar, and the crushed, dried seeds can purify water when properly processed.
These species are popular as living fences, but they aren’t the only ones. There are many trees that can be used as living fences.
Try to find a local species that meets your needs.