Trees are wonderful plants, and fences are wonderful tools. The two don’t always go together though, so sometimes attaching the two can be a bit tricky. However, some methods make it possible.
To use a live tree as a fence post, you will need floating boards, nails, and proper securing. Trees grow around objects directly attached to them, making it crucial to use a system that keeps the fence in in-direct contact with the tree.
The task may sound daunting but with some prep work and maintenance, trees can help in saving money spent on fence posts.
How To Use A Tree As A Post
Using a live tree as a post is a common practice among farmers who prefer to use wire perimeter fences to keep livestock contained. It is cost-effective and does little damage to the tree. However, if you use improper methods then your fence will become rigid and frail.
With that in mind, there are a few things to consider before you get started. It is far easier to attach a wire perimeter fence to a live tree than it is to attach a wood fence to a live tree.
This is because the wire is malleable and will move with the tree as it grows. Wood will not do this.
Using a live tree as a wire fence post is very easy. All you do is pick the method that works best for your needs and do it. It will honestly take almost no time.
Ranchers have been using live tree posts for a long time. There are a few things to consider as you do this and don’t worry. We will get to the how after there is a basis to continue.
So, let’s talk about methods for a second before we continue.
Attaching Wire To A Living Tree
Using a live tree to post your wire is easy and only requires some basic hardware.
You have a couple of options here. You can staple the wire directly into the tree, use a band and insulator to attach the wire to the tree, or you can use the nail and board technique.
Stapling wire directly into the tree is an excellent short term solution. It is simple and fast. The problem is that a living tree will grow around the staple and wire.
This means that the living tree post will engulf the wire and make it impossible to move. This is okay so long as you never plan on replacing your fence until you chop that tree down.
Otherwise, you get a string of wire attached to broken posts engulfed by a tree that won’t go away unless you remove the tree.
So this is great as long as you either want absolute longevity or a short-term solution, meaning less than a few months kind of short-term.
The second option, using a band and insulator, is good for a level wire that isn’t going to experience a lot of pressure. This is fast and easy to maintain. The tree won’t grow around it because it simply pushes the band out, stretching it. Most importantly it’s an easy fix if something goes wrong.
Unfortunately, this really shouldn’t be used if the wire will be experiencing a lot of stress. Whether it comes from animals or the environment, stress will cause this method to do weird things that will need to be fixed.
The last option is the nail and board technique. This is the most practical, longest lasting, easiest on the environment, and still pretty affordable. It does require a little effort up front, but it is well worth it.
What you do is:
- Get a board of rot-resistant wood
- Attach insulators to the board
- Put washers on a couple of nails (The washers must catch on the head of the nail)
- Hammer the nails into the living tree
- Plug the wire into the insulators
The nail and board combination allows the tree to grow without engulfing the hardware. It is also very stable while causing almost no damage to the tree.
There will be a video at the end of this page that goes over all these methods. It gives a very good showcase of the wire options. There is important information in there for wood fences too. However, it does not deal with wood fences directly.
Frankly, I would steer you away from this method. If you are building a wood fence and a tree is in your way I advise you to kill and remove the tree or go around it. Alas, that is not why you are here though. You are here to know how to do it.
Well, you have three options really. You can tie the fence panels to the tree using wire or use a method similar to the nail and board.
To tie the fence you will simply take a sturdy wire and tie the panels to the tree. This suspends the tree in the air though, making it very unstable. This a good option for allowing you to have time to think about if you really want to do build a wood fence around a tree.
If a wind storm comes through the panels are toast. Even a gentle breeze might be enough to harm the fence. Use this only to secure the fence until you have properly built one of the other two options.
A second option is to use a board that attaches to the fences on either side of the living tree and secures the board to the tree. Large bolts with washers will be your best option for attachment and security here.
Your third option is basically that of option two, but with tapering panels. If you cut your panels so they hug the tree closer then you will better secure your fence sides to your tree.
Here’s a step-by-step:
- Measure your panels to taper up with the trunk of the living tree post
- Cut your panels
- Assemble the sides of your fence (it may take a few cuts to really get the curve of the tree to reflect in your boards.)
- Put them up, attaching panels to secure fence posts that aren’t your tree
- Secure them to the tree using wire
- Attach a rot-resistant board to the fence on both sides of your tree
- Bolt the board into the living tree post
Before you do this though, I feel obligated to remind you that tree trunks expand an undetermined amount every year for more than 150 years. For as cool as this looks, it won’t last more than a few years without some hefty intervention.
Using a tree as a living fence post is possible, just not without constant care and maintenance so make sure to plan for this preservation.
The hardware involved here is pretty minimum. I want to explain some terms though for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m saying.
An insulator is basically a type of plastic that has been designed specifically for outdoor use with electric wires.
A band is just a large rubber length of tubing. Something similar to surgical tubing. These are great and last a long time. Plus they aren’t that expensive for the length of time they last.
Rot-resistant woods are generally free of rot after long term exposure. These can include pressure-treated woods, cedars, redwood, cypress, and oak.
Aside from that, most of the other hardware is pretty basic. You have your bolts, washers, nails, and wire.
As mentioned above, live trees have a habit of “eating” objects that are against their bark. This isn’t so bad if you maintain the area around the object and keep the tree healthy.
This can quickly turn into trouble if you are not careful though. When a tree engulfs a wire it causes the rest of the surrounding area to take up a lot more load than normal.
This is because a key point of the fence has now become brittle and inflexible. So if something applies pressure to the wire on either side of the live tree post the wire has no give.
Again, not a problem if you maintain the area around the tree post, but if damage occurs it basically means that to remove the wire you have to remove the tree.
Tree Keeping Techniques
To help prevent both the living tree post from engulfing your hardware and to keep your fence from experiencing unnecessary stress, there are a couple of techniques to employ.
The first is called pollarding. This is used as a technique to control a living tree post’s height.
This requires regular yearly attention and must be maintained for proper results to come to fruition.
The second is called coppicing. This isn’t so much a technique used for prevention, but for encouraging healthy growth. It encourages the tree to sprout off-shoots.
These techniques will keep your tree alive and well, though they won’t solve the problem of the trunk expanding to engulf the hardware. To be frank, the only way for you to solve the expanding trunk problem is to kill the tree.
Unfortunately, this opens you up to pests and decay.
Here is that video that was promised. It deals exclusively in wire fences. Though if you are planning on doing a wood fence there will be important things for you to know too.