How to Build a Living Fence
While wood-privacy and chain-link fences are wonderful for keeping people out, “living” fences provide a secure alternative that looks more inviting. This simple two-rail, western red-cedar fence can be adorned with shrubs, flowers, or a low hedge. This type of fence not only offers you privacy and looks great, but also could add to your property value. Check out these tips to enhance your property lines with a simple living fence.
Split-Rail Fence Suppliers
Provided you live in the United States west of the Mississippi River, western red cedar is plentiful, and most any fence supplier will either stock or be able to order everything needed to install a split-rail fence using this type of wood.
Usually, suppliers offer either a two- or three-rail option, but choosing to build a two-rail fence will save you money. Western red cedar is not a common material east of "the big river," however. While cypress is more popular there, it doesn’t have the same feel or look of red cedar.
Ordering Supplies Online
There are lumber suppliers online who advertise free delivery but charge 20-30 percent more for the materials. This is by far the better option in most cases, as ordering from a western supplier will often cost more in delivery charges than materials.
Planning and Installation
Step 1 – Sketch and Count
Start with a simple sketch of your fence plan, allowing 10 feet between posts. Count the number of corner posts, end posts, and interim posts, and add two rails per section.
If there are a few large trees on the property line, it's best to end the fence on either side, rather than attach the rails to the tree. Posts are usually 7- to 8-feet long but can be cut down to avoid extra digging or a fence that looks too high. Visit your local lumber yard or order what you need online.
Step 2 – Dig the Holes
Excavate the holes to a minimum of 2-feet deep and a maximum of 3-feet deep with a post-hole digger, a hole shooter (a short, narrow blade shovel), and a stout metal bar or crowbar. For hard rock or difficult soil, consider hiring a small drilling contractor, as the time and hard labor may be worth the price.
Step 3 – Lay out the Plan
Lay out the fence materials, with posts leaning in the holes and rails alongside. If there is a section that must be shorter than 10 feet, simply cut the rails down. Notch the ends to fit two rails in the pre-drilled post.
Step 4 – Treat the Wood
Warning: Use all safety precautions as described by your product when using wood preservatives. Wear the proper safety gear, as over-exposure to the chemicals can be hazardous to your health.
Pre-coat the posts with a wood preserver such as Penofin. Three coats is preferable. For heavy moisture regions or termite country, wrap the post bottoms with 6-mil black, plastic sheeting and secure with a hand stapler or tape. This treatment will ensure your fence lasts.
Step 5 – Set the Posts
At a minimum, plan on setting both corner and end posts in concrete for stability. Wedge the post to plumb using a 3-foot or longer level and use stones for wedges. Then, add concrete, tamping it firmly into the hole and ending just below ground level.
Step 6 – Set the Rails
Rails are designed to not need fasteners, but you should have a good supply of 4-inch exterior-grade screws handy to use whenever possible. Each post has a slot, and the rails simply slide into place.
Step 7 – Preserve the Wood
When complete, use three coats of wood preserver and re-coat whenever the fence looks dried out, or every 2-12 months.
Step 1 – Choose Your Plants
Use native shrubs that won't need watering after the first few months of being planted and are capable of withstanding regional weather, insects, and disease. Shrubs alone are fine and can be spaced singly or closer together as a future hedge.
Step 2 – Begin Planting
Trees and shrubs will come in containers. Simply dig holes slightly wider and deeper than the container, and add 2 inches of gravel in the bottom. Remove the container and tamp the plant into place with extra topsoil. Make a raised mulch “ring” around the plant for water. Small trees will need to be staked in three directions, using any garden stake and nylon twine.
To add space for flowers, clear a 2- to 3-foot strip along the property line, adding garden soil if you lack good topsoil.
Step 3 – Add Mulch
When planting is complete, spread cedar or cypress mulch for weed control and to maintain a finished look.
Step 4 – Keep up the Maintenance
Initially, water almost every other day in a dry climate, or at a minimum of once a week for 6-12 months until the shrub or tree is established. Weed and water often just after planting. Ask your supplier questions on the individual plant’s needs. Flowers may need to be replaced often, depending on whether you choose annuals or perennials.
After the first six months, the tree stakes can usually be removed. Trees can be re-staked, if necessary.
Now, you can sit back and enjoy your new living fence.