Living Willow Columns / Sculptures




About: Mostly harmless

Making living sculptures with willow rods is a great gardening skill, that gives you many opportunities to build real eyecatchers in your garden.

You can bring the rods into nearly all shapes, due they are so bendy. The fresh cut willow will root very quickly and leafs start to grow.

I'll show you how to make your first easy project - a living column with a green crown.

It takes about 2 hours to finish and if you take care of it, it will last many, many years.

If you give it a try, I would be happy to see Pictures in the comment field!

Step 1: Harvest Willow Rods

the best time to do this is early spring, but I also did successfully harvest in summer - then you have to take away all leafs on the rods - otherwise they take too much strength from the rods and they won't root properly.

Willow trees are many different species under the "salix" (latin ) family, they are pretty much all suitable for this project.

finding willow here in Sweden is very easy, I don't know about other countries - you may have to ask around - you may buy it from a landscaping gardener.

In some countries it's not allowed to harvest willow in early spring, because insects depend on the catkins in bloom, so be sure to check that before harvesting.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

30 fresh cut willow rods - as long and straight as possible

11 thin and short willow rods

1 bigger, sturdier willow rod

a flower pot - around 20cm diameter

soil - enough to fill the pot

gardening wire

gardening scissors

clamps - not necessary if you have a helper :)

Step 3: Making a Hoop and Organizing

fill the flower pot with soil - press it down, it should be quite compact..

sort the long rods into 10 piles of 3 rods

with the thicker willow rod form a hoop with around 17 to 18 cm in diameter

secure the ends with wire.

Step 4: Planting the Rods

take two of your piles ( 3 rods each) an plant them about 7cm deep in a V-shape off center (Picture 1)

Tipp: to make it easier for you, mark the 3 rods in every pile losely with a string or piece of wire (Picture 2)

Go on with the other rod piles, until you have 5 "V"s in the pot - see the pictures for a better idea how it should look.

Leave a space between the Vs.

Step 5: Weaving the Column

Now start the weaving,

it's quite basic: over , under and so on.

the Pictures show it clearly

Tipp: use the clamps to hold down the made weaving - that will make it a lot easier.

tighten the weave by pushing it down with your fingers

go on until you reach 5 to 6 weaved rows - depending on the length of your rods.

Step 6: Adding the Hoop

now lay the hoop onto your weaved column

spread the "3 rod piles" evenly around the hoop, clamp it down - or ask for help

now the decorative part comes in: "the japanese eye knot joint"

- you could use wire as well, but the knot will look way better and is also more gentle to the willow rods bark.

I found this youtube video to help you on your way - it's in german, but you see very clear what to do.

Use the thin short willow rods you harvested.

pull the knots quite tight, they will loosen a little when drying.

Step 7: Making the Crown

this is the last step of the column - we're making the crown of it.

take all the loose tops of the rods an clamp/hold them together - around 15cm from the ends.

fix them with another tight japanese knot.

form the crown by gently pushing it into a nice and even shape.

Step 8: Water It and Watch It Grow

you're almost done with the living willow column, now comes the most important part :

water, water, water!

the first 2-3 weeks of the columns life you have to be very careful to keep the soil moist at all time that the willow will root properly in the pot - you can Place the pot in a larger bucket with water and soak the soil.

then leafs will grow and you can shape it as you desire - i cut away all leafs beneath the crown.

Once the pot is thoughly full with roots, you can plant it directly into the garden or a larger pot.

I hope you enjoyed your stay!


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    14 Discussions


    20 days ago

    This is beautiful! I do have one question. How quickly do the rods grow? Would the column really last for years or do the rods get too thick?

    I think one of these as an archway into a garden would be beautiful.

    Only problem is there aren't many willows in my area, even though I love weaving.

    1 reply

    Reply 19 days ago

    sure they get thicker, but not extremely - they won't grow that fast in thickness, more in height - or new side branches, if you allow it.
    I guess the plants compete for the nutrition in the soil, so it's impossible for them to grow big.
    but you could use 1 rod instead of 3 - that will result in bigger, sturdier rods in the long run.


    21 days ago

    this seems like a good way to build a living fence, if you just wove a ton of willow switches into a flat sheet

    1 reply

    Reply 21 days ago

    I started my first 3 meters of living fence last year - it was a lot of work ... then the big mower came and took it -.-


    24 days ago

    I love all these cool ideas! :)

    Here in Portland, OR, I've seen people weave willows into living play-huts, or shelters... never had a place to do it myself, but I'd love to, someday... :)

    1 reply

    Reply 23 days ago

    I have also - long term - plans for such a hut ... but that's quite some work.
    the columns seem more doable ;)


    24 days ago

    Thank you for the advice. I have always wanted a living willow chair in my garden. I will let you know how it turns out.

    1 reply

    Reply 24 days ago

    yes I also dream of a living willow throne :)
    you only just have to make sure to put the willow pieces in the right direction ( downside down) and to water heavily the couple of first weeks.
    - it's also possible to set the cut pieces into a bucket of water 3 weeks before planting, they will start to grow roots in the bucket already.
    looking forward to see an instructable of your willow chair :)


    24 days ago

    Willows grow like weeds here in Fairbanks, Alaska. I would like to use your idea to add to an existing small willow tree. They spread quickly from their mother tree, by root. I will cut at the root level, and add the saplings (with root) to make a sculpture in place. I like the open area under the crown you have make, and would think a glass globe would set well within it.

    1 reply

    Reply 24 days ago

    big plus by planting directly into the ground is, there is not so much risk for the saplings to dry out - you have to water it heavily anyway the first weeks.
    I really like the glass globe idea!


    4 weeks ago

    I love this idea! I’ve propagated willows for a rehabilitation project at work, and you are right, they root very easily. Now I’m going to have my head it the clouds for days dreaming up all kinds of fun applications for this. Thanks!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    I started with a woven willow fence last year - then the big mower took it from me - that was sad...
    I' m dreaming of a green portal into my garden :)