Bent Wood Trellis Design

Design for making beautiful bent wood trellis from green wood branches. These can be small for potted plants or large arbors for roses or other vineing plants.

Bent-wood plant trellises are attractive and decorative both indoors and out. They can be purchased from pricy catalogs OR you can make much nicer ones at home from native plant materials. They are so easy to make that you could even consider making them as a craft project or fund raiser.

THE BASICS

All you need to make attractive bent-wood trellises are some lengths of slender green wood, a pair of sharp pruning shears, and some flexible wire. Much larger trellises can be made with large saplings, but it will be better to start out with small ones and learn the technique. As you gain proficiency, you can graduate to elaborate garden structures.

SUITABLE WOOD

Take a stroll around your yard and visit stream banks and other areas where you can cut a few branches. If you live in a rural area, this should not be a problem. City folks can ask for prunings from nurseries or garden centers. In the spring it is possible to purchase cut branches of pussy willow and these make excellent trellises.

Other very good sources of material are basket willow shrubs that grow along creeks and rivers, red osier dogwood, also a stream-bank plant, and sycamore saplings. Sycamores are often growing in places where they will have to be removed eventually, so you should not have a problem getting a supply. Keep in mind that whatever wood you select, it must be flexible, not brittle.

MAKING A START

Pussy willow branches are very easy to acquire. Many people have pussy willow shrubs growing in their yard and they can be bought from a florist. You will need two long branches, about three feet or more in length and several shorter ones. The long ones should be about the thickness of your index finger, or at least 1/2 inch in diameter at the base.

Decide how wide you want your finished trellis to be. This will be determined by the available material and how you plan to use it. Lay the two longest branches side by side about six to eight inches apart. Cut two cross-pieces from your shorter branches and lay them across the uprights, at right angles, starting at least six inches above the butt ends. Where the branches intersect, wrap wire firmly around the two branches, using a figure-eight pattern. For small trellises, florist wire will work very well. Pull it tight and fasten the end in securely. As you increase the size of the branches, you will need to get heavier gauge wire, but remember to use soft and flexible material, not wire coat hangers, for instance.



After the two cross-pieces are attached, bring the tops of the long branches together at the top. They can be fastened in a simple arch and wired together or a more fanciful shape can be fashioned, depending on how supple and long the wood is. If your branches taper out fairly long, try criss-crossing them at the top in an arch and wiring this securely, then bring the free ends up into a circle atop the arch. Your only limit will be the length of your branches and your imagination.

When this basic framework is finished and tightly wired, start adding in smaller branches and looping them back into the center to form circles, arcs, and heart-shapes. Always start by wiring the butt-end of the branch firmly in place and gently bending the rest of the branch the way you want it to go. As you are working with living branches, they should be flexible, however, if they seem stiff and dry, try soaking them in water in the bathtub overnight.

Continue adding branches and wiring them in place until you have a secure and pleasing shape. When finished, push the butt-ends of the longest branches into a flower pot and encourage a plant to twine up the new trellis.

GETTING LARGER

Once you have mastered the basic skills of working with flexible green wood, you are ready to move on to major constructs. It is possible to build a charming rose arbor using these methods. The only difference will be that you will need much larger material and a helper. The principal remains the same, bending and fastening the supple branches to form a pleasing shape.

When using large saplings, you will be able to fasten some of your joins with nails as well as wrapping with wire. Trellises that are meant for outside use can be treated with wood preservative to increase their life. Before treating the wood, allow it to dry out completely. Either hang in a barn or shed for several week or months or stack them in the garage. The idea is to keep the green wood out of the rain until it dries completely. After drying, check and tighten all your joints and coat liberally with wood preservative.

A very good material for making exterior trellises is red cedar. These trees grow in pastures and along the edges of woodlots. Many farmers are delighted to have them removed from their property as they often sprout in pastures and along fence lines. When cutting cedar saplings, always wear gloves to protect your hands from the prickly foliage and sap. The main advantage to using cedar is that it does not require any treatment to protect it from exposure to the elements. Cedar will last many years outside, even with part of it buried in the ground.

To give added stability to a large arbor or trellis, fasten steel fence posts or sections of rebar to the uprights with a foot or more extending below the bottom of the main structure. These metal posts can be driven into the soil with a hammer and you will not have to dig holes.

© High Speed Ventures 2011