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.
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.
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.
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.
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.