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How to transform a bundle of willow into a DIY garden obelisk. This natural plant support is inexpensive to make and perfect for using as a bean teepee, a sweet pea wigwam, or to grow other climbing plants. Full video instructions included.
Garden obelisks are plant supports that give plants that like to climb a framework to grow on. Think of them as a garden tower covered in vining leaves, flowers, vegetables, berries, or fruit. You can use garden obelisks in the garden, large containers, or have them inside for houseplants to grow up! Though you can purchase plant supports I honestly think it’s better and less expensive to make your own. So feel free to use these step-by-step instructions for how to make a DIY garden obelisk. They’ll teach you how to transform simple willow rods into strong and attractive garden obelisks for your climbing plants.
Once you have your materials and tools assembled, plan for this project to take you about one to two hours start to finish. After you learn how it’s done, it will take much less time. You could even elaborate on the design by using other weaving techniques or weaving the three-rod wale into a spiral rather than bands. Continue on to learn a little more about willow, the full weaving process, and using garden obelisks. There is also a full DIY video that will show you each and every step.
Make a DIY Garden Obelisk
You can make garden obelisks out of all kinds of wood, and you may have even seen them made from decking planks or ladders. They’re triangular in shape with pyramid tops and often painted to prolong their life and to look nice. Those types of obelisks can be very effective but they can also be expensive to make if you have to buy the wood and materials new. The DIY garden obelisk that you’ll learn how to make here is instead made of bendy wood that you can grow and harvest yourself from your garden. That makes it practically free to make and perfect as a sustainable garden solution. It’s amazing what you can make for the garden with sticks and twigs!
We’ll get to the materials in a bit, but you can rest assured that you will not need screws, a drill, or any other hand tools. This is a natural garden DIY project and willow garden obelisks have probably been made this same way for hundreds, if not thousands of years. That’s probably why woven garden obelisks are a cottage garden MUST.
Using a DIY Garden Obelisk
In the garden you will have plants that grow without any plant supports necessary. Then you will have plants that like to climb and vine. Think morning glories, beans, peas, grapes, and clematis. This latter group of plants needs a framework to grow up and across so you’ll need to provide them with some sort of trellis. It could be a fence post and wire solution (like this blackberry trellis), netted tunnels, or a wooden garden obelisk.
For plants that like to grow up, such as indeterminate tomatoes or beans, you need to give plants vertical supports to grow on. A DIY garden obelisk made out of willow can be an excellent tomato cage, sweet pea wigwam, bean teepee, or even to grow cucumbers (though this is a better cucumber trellis). They also look great, so while they’re supporting your crops, they can also be stunning cottage garden decorations.
The garden obelisk that I’m about to show you how to make has vertical rods that you can push into the ground. You can either plant after you’ve situated it, or push it in around a plant that’s already in the ground. Use string to train the plant to the obelisk initially, if you wish, since it will give plants a head start in discovering their new support.
Materials Needed for a DIY Willow Garden Obelisk
This DIY project involves weaving a garden obelisk from about eighty willow rods. If you’d like to weave a fourth band around the middle, you should plan to use about a hundred rods. I use green willow for weaving, and all that means is that the rods are either freshly cut or dried out slightly over a period of a week or two. If you order willow, it may arrive dried out though, and will require soaking in water to make it pliable. In that case, speak with the farm that supplies you and follow their instructions.
I’ve also had some questions on the YouTube video of this project that have asked about other materials. Not everyone has a supply of willow available but I’m sure that you could use other types of bendy wood. That includes hazel, bamboo, and even ivy and other vines. The vertical supports should be strong and firm though, and the weavers flexible. That means that if you do choose to use bamboo, you should use freshly cut bamboo for them rather than the rigid stakes available to purchase.
Growing Willow for DIY Projects
Though you can sometimes purchase willow rods from farms, the best source of them will be your own garden. Willow is a family of hardy trees that includes around four hundred different species. They prefer moist soil and are use useful as hedges or in helping to dry up boggy land. If you leave a single plant to grow, it will grow upwards and branch out into a normal limbed tree. However, if it’s annually coppiced (cut at ground level) or pollarded (cut further up the trunk), then you can harvest many straight rods from each shrub every year. Many stems can emerge from the same cut area on the trunk, as you can see in the image above.
There are many types of willow great for basket weaving and making garden features, so you can have your pick. Some are beautifully colored, such as red dogwood, or are very supple like Black Maul Salix triandra. However, the best willow for basket weaving is probably the Basket Willow Salix viminalis. This straight and bendy willow has greenish-gray bark and can grow rods between 9-20 ft (3-6 meters) tall. You can grow and use whatever type of willow that you’d like though.
Harvesting Willow for Weaving
Harvest willow rods each year during the dormant season, usually November to early February in the northern hemisphere. Willow shoots grow tall and as a single rod in their first year and that’s when you want to cut them. If you leave rods to grow on a second year, they’ll begin forming side branches which you’d need to cut off.
To harvest willow rods, use secateurs to cut them from the tree as close as you can to the old wood. You can use a lot of willows freshly cut, but it’s better to leave them in a dry place, such as a garage or shed, to dry out for about a week before you use them. Drying them out slightly reduces the amount of shrinkage you’ll get in the weave as the willow garden obelisk dries out completely. If it’s only a short drying period, it won’t affect their flexibility too much either. If you use freshly cut willow in your creations, do expect to see the weave loosen a little though, over time. As willow dries, it shrinks in thickness and can turn a darker color.
How to Make a Willow Garden Obelisk
Once you understand the basic principles of the three-rod wale, this project will be a breeze. To make it even easier, ensure you have all of your materials and equipment on hand and ready to go. It also helps to have a second person helping you to get the initial three rods woven into your verticals. They have a tendency to want to pop out initially and having someone help hold their bottom ends while you get that first weave in will speed things along.
A pro tip for this project is to sort your willow before you begin. Create one pile for the thickest, straightest, and longest rods. Make a second for the smallest and thinnest, and a third pile for everything in between. Use the rods from the first pile for your verticals, the little rods from your second pile for weaving the band at the top-most (and smallest in circumference) band, and the medium-sized rods for weaving the other bands. The thicker a rod is, the less-bendy it will be.
To make willow more flexible, you can also put some spite into the rod. All this entails is moving your hands down the rod, bending and molding as you go. Slightly bending it helps break down the fibers inside the rod and makes it more flexible.
Making a Circle with the Verticals
The first step in this project is arranging the verticals in a circle, to create the sides of your wigwam. They need to be secure so I recommend placing the verticals in a bucket that’s filled with soil, sand, or another material. Each vertical should be about four inches from the next, with the thickest part of the willow pushed into the bucket. I used eleven verticals to fill my plastic garden trug but you may need a different number of verticals.
You might wonder if you could push the verticals directly into the ground, instead of a container. Yes, you could, but there are two things to consider. First of all, winter is likely the time of the year that you’ll be making willow garden obelisks, and winter can mean challenging weather. Making your obelisk inside a container means that you could work outside if you wish, or indoors if it’s wet or snowy.
Lastly, if you’re hoping to use your obelisk inside a container, use that container to place your verticals into. That way, it will fit the container perfectly.
Alternative Methods for this Step
There are a couple of other ways to secure the verticals into a circle if you prefer, but they take a bit more time. The first is to use a cardboard box. Use a pencil to mark out where you’d like the verticals to be placed in a circle. Then push the willow rods through.
The other way to do this is to create a wooden template. Mark out the diameter you’d like your obelisk to be on a piece of wooden board. Then drill pilot holes large enough for the willow to fit through, keeping in mind to place them about four inches apart. Making a wooden template is a good way to make a lot of garden obelisks of all the same size.
Trimming the Verticals
|See how and why to trim the verticals at 4:55 in the video|
Trimming the bottoms of the verticals is an optional step, but one that’s important if you’d like to preserve the natural tips of the willow as the obelisk’s finial. I’ve done so in this project and you’ll notice that the top of the obelisk includes the tapered ends of the willow rods covered in tiny buds. I love that look! But to get it, you’ll need to take your verticals out of the bucket now and line each top piece up with one another. Follow the rods down to the thicker ends and cut them so that the rods are the same exact length. Doing this means that the shorter verticals will determine the final height of your garden obelisk but it will also create a lovely natural top decoration.
After cutting the rods, place them back into the bucket in their original arrangement and proceed to the next step. If you decide to skip this step, your obelisk will have a finial comprised of long and short tips of the willow rods. You could leave it like that or cut them off a couple of inches above the tie you’re about to make in the next step.
Tying the Tops of the Verticals with Willow
|See how to tie the tops of the verticals at 05:37 in the video|
Garden obelisks angle up from the ground to provide stable plant support that stands up in all weathers. The angle of willow garden obelisks is a gentle curve that finishes on the top with a tie and a filial – the top decoration. The tie can be made with string, but a small piece of willow will be stronger and look nicer. Find the thinnest piece of willow in your bundle to create it. Work it with your hands to be flexible and as bendy as possible. Next, place about three to four inches of the thicker end against the verticals, where you’d like your tie to be. Wrap the rest of the piece of willow around this vertical bit of itself. When you get to the end, tuck it into itself to create a tie.
Weaving the Bottom Band
|See how to weave the bottom band at 07:33 in the video|
Once the long verticals are secured at the top, you can begin weaving the bottom band, aka the bottom rung. In all, you can usually create two to five bands of woven willow along the verticals to give it the strength to support growing plants. The placements of the bands begin at the bottom, along the edge of the container that you’re working from. Begin by using the three-rod wale technique to create a six-inch thick bottom band.
Weaving The Three-Rod Wale
|See how to weave using this technique at 07:33 in the video|
This project is fairly straightforward and the only weaving technique you’ll need to know is the three-rod wale. It involves weaving three rods at the same time and will give your willow garden obelisk strength, stability, and a pleasing woven pattern. It can also be quicker than weaving just a single rod at a time.
Start the three-rod wale by placing the thickest ends of three rods just behind three consecutive verticals. Next, take the far left rod and pull it across the face of two of the verticals to its right, then thread it behind the third and then back out. Then move back to the rod at the far left (the original middle rod) and do the same — across two, and behind one. Continue the same ‘across two, and behind one’ with the last rod. Keep repeating this process, always weaving the left-most rod. Watch how to do the three-rod wale here.
How to Add New Rods
|See how to add new rods at 09:10 in the video|
When one of your weavers gets too short to reach across two and behind one, then you need to add a new rod. Select a new rod about the same size as the previous one and insert it into the weave. Place it on top of the one you’re replacing, and tuck it behind the last vertical that the old one is placed behind to give it a foothold. There will be other weavers on top of the new rod (from the other two pieces) and they’ll hold it into the place too.
Then continue weaving as you were. For that next weave, you’ll go across two and behind one with both the new weaver and old weaver in your hand. As you weave, twist the old one over the top of the new one and it will hold better. If there’s a twiggy little end that sticks out, just tuck it in however best works. See how to add a new rod to the weave in the video here.
Once that first band is around six inches tall, stop adding new rods to the weave. Finish off by tucking in the ends of the last ones into the weave.
Creating the Round Template
|See how and why to add a round template at 12:21 in the video|
At this point, you can really see your garden obelisk coming on! You’ll need to create at least one more band to give the structure stability. However, if you push down on the obelisk from the top, you’ll see that the structure bows out above the first band. That means that the structure can bow out as weave the second band and you’ll end up with a barrel-shaped obelisk. Thicker around the middle than it is on the bottom. To avoid this, you can create a round template to help the verticals stay straight.
Take a piece of willow and twist it into a circle a bit smaller than the diameter of the container. Twist it around itself and it will hold form, as I show in the video. Afterward, use string to tie it (or clamp it) to the inside of the garden obelisk above where you plan on constructing the second band, and below where you’ll place the third band. Keep the circle as level as possible and it helps to tie it onto each of the verticals.
Weaving the Middle Band
|See this step at 14:08 in the video|
The middle band of woven willow is a little more tricky to get started than the bottom rung. There isn’t the support of the container lip to help hold the three starter rods in place! If you can, ask a second person to hold the ends of the three rods in place while you start a new three-rod-wale a distance below the circular template that you’ve just tied on the obelisk verticals. Allow for the height of this second band, which should be four to six inches tall.
If you don’t have a second person to help, you can do it yourself. There may be ends popping out but just hold it together and get it started the best you can. Though I haven’t used one, a clamp may be useful in holding those three weavers on initially.
Weaving the Top Band
|See this step at 21:21 in the video|
As I say in the video, I won’t bore you with a full explanation of what to do to create the third band — the top rung of your obelisk, if you like. Creating it is exactly the same as weaving the other two. The only difference is that you use the smallest willow rods from your bundle. The smaller the diameter of your band, the more difficult it is to weave the rods around the verticals. This top band can be smaller, or the same size, as the one under it.
What to do Next with your DIY Garden Obelisk
When you’ve finished weaving the top band, your willow garden obelisk is complete! You can pull it out of the container and be amazed at how sturdy it feels. At this point, you can remove the circular frame template (or leave it on, if you’d like) and make adjustments. Willow is very forgiving when it’s relatively fresh, but once it dries it can become hard and rigid.
You can begin using it to grow your climbing plants right away in the garden, now! Push the legs into the soil and plant around each of the verticals. Be aware though that pushing green willow into the ground and leaving it there can stimulate the willow to grow. So unless you remove the bark from the ends of the bottoms of each of the verticals, you could end up with a living willow obelisk. It wouldn’t be great for growing other plants, but could be an interesting garden piece in itself!
You can also store the garden obelisk in a dry place, such as a shed or garage, and let it dry out for a couple of months before using it. As it dries, the willow will darken in color and become hard. If you’re making garden obelisks in winter, this is a great option since you probably have little growing that needs a garden trellis for a while.
More Weaving and Plant Support Ideas
- Easy DIY Raspberry Trellis
- DIY Raspberry Cane Garden Edging
- How to Weave a Willow Basket
- How to make a Willow Christmas Wreath