Living Fences


A description of the agroforestry practice of creating and maintaining living fences

Characteristics of living fences

  • Living fences (or hedges) are lines of trees or shrubs planted to act as field boundaries and keep animals on the farm and conversely, other animals off the farm.
  • Made from single or double rows of trees or shrubs.
  •  Can be combined with wire, posts and sticks especially when first establishing themselves.
  • Select fast growing species which are subject to regular trimming and pollarding to encourage thick bushy growth.
  • Live fence posts are usually made from vigorously sprouting species.  Legumes can be used as well as thorny species such as Parkinsonia, fig, cactus and euphobia.
  • Interplant fruit and timber trees between the living fences if desired.

 Benefits of planting living fences

  • Lower cost than treated posts and barbed wire
  • Material for fencing easily available locally
  • Use species that add nitrogen to the soil & increase soil fertility
  • Interplant with fruit and timber trees for economic diversification

Example of a hedge in England


There are three stages of management:


  • For dense fences, open the soil in a 15-20cm depth furrow at the onset of the rains.  Plant cuttings or suckers at close intervals – not less than 15cm apart.
  • For wider spaced hedges, a stabilizer fence should be erected with post and wire.  The live fence posts are then planted between the post either in a hole or pushed straight into the ground


 Example of a living fence in England


 Pruning or trimming and laying the fences is very important to keep it in good shape and encourage it to thicken and fill any gaps.  Usually once a year:

 Cut the fence height to 2m and width to 1m

  • Laying the hedge by cutting some branches part way through and weaving them into the fence to strengthen it
  • Stick trimmed off to reduce the height can be used to infill any gaps either pushed into the ground or horizontally
  • Similarly, thorny branches can be used to fill gaps
  • Stripped bark can be used to tie branches together
  • Replant any cuttings that require it

 As the living fence matures, new species will naturally seed themselves in the fence and make it thicker. A poorly maintained fence will be ineffective at holding livestock.  Considerable skill is required to maintain quality fences which need higher maintenance than wooden fences.  Establishing live fences at the start of the rainy season takes labour from planting and weeding operations of annual crops.

 Land ownership

  • When planted on a border, fencing affects more than one land user so living fences should be established in agreement with all other interested parties. 
  • Land fences take time and money to establish, and can easily sabotaged.
  • In many areas, land is not privately owned, so access needs to be agreed.  For example, fencing along a river may be an important development for crop production, but may block access to the river for another farmer’s cattle
  • All users should be involved in the decision to introduce a living fence

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Written by Fiona Johnson

March 2012