Script 31.2


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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. You don’t have to cut down any trees to make them: you actually plant more trees! There are many tree species that can be used for living fences.

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. Also, the trees’ deep roots can bring up nitrogen and other nutrients from deep in the soil. If the tree is leguminous, there is the possibility that more nitrogen will be added to the soil which increases crop yield. So you save money on nitrogen fertilizer.

Livestock feed
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. Always check to make sure the leaves of your fence are not poisonous to animals before you use them as feed. For example,the leaves of gliricidia(Gliricidia sepium)are edible, but poisonous to animals in large amounts.

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.

If you live in an area where wood is scarce, living fences can also provide you with firewood. This means that firewood is produced near the farm where it is easy to gather.

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.

Some trees or shrubs grown close together can mark a boundary or prevent livestock from getting through. Some examples are papaya, banana, leucaena(Leucaena leucocephela), moringa(Moringaoleifera), and casuarina(Casuarina spp.).

You might want to first build a temporary fence of local plant materials such as bamboo poles. Then establish a live fence inside the temporary fence.

Possible problems
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.

Izote or yucca(Yucca elephantipes)has a long life, and can be grown easily from cuttings, although it is quite slow growing. In Central America, cuttings of this plant are planted close together. As the plants grow, the spine tipped leaves make a dense wall that is very hard to get through. The large white flowers are edible and decorative. Leucaena(Leucaena leucocephala)is a small, nitrogen fixing tree that has been used effectively to keep grazing sheep 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.

Information Sources

This script was adapted from “The living fence: its role on the small farm”, an ECHO Technical Note published by ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization). The accompanying notes and charts are re printed from ECHO publications. For more information or to order seeds for some of the trees mentioned (gliricidia, moringa and leucaena) please contact ECHO, 17430 Durrance Rd., North Fort Myers, FL 33917, U.S.A.

Other information sources about living fences

  • “Living fences help to protect gardens” in Letter No. 67, Summer 1992, published by Food Gardens Foundation, P.O. Box 41250, Craighall, Johannesburg 2024, South Africa.
  • “Living fences: Somali farmers adopt an agroforestry technology” in Agroforestry Today, vol. 3, No. 1, January March 1991, published by Agroforestry Today, ICRAF House, P.O. Box 30677, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • “Live fencing” in The Permaculture Activist, No. 23, published by the Permaculture Activist, P.O. Box 3630, Kailua Kona HI 96745, U.S.A.
  • “Living fences”, in Agroforestry Today, Volume 2, Number 1, January March 1990, published by Agroforestry Today, ICCRAF House, P.O. box 30677, Nairobi, Kenya.
  • “Live trees for fence posts” in IRETA’S South Pacific Agricultural News, Vol. 3, No. 7, July 1985, published by Institute for Research, Extension & Training in Agriculture, USP/SOA, Private Bag, Apia, W. Samoa.