Cedar post fences are popular here in Texas because the material is plentiful and the posts last a long time since they are naturally resistant to rot and insects. They provide a rustic look which can work well in most gardens, providing contrast and visual interest along with good functionality.
There are many variations of the cedar post fence. We chose to use heavy gauge fencing panels, which we already had, and cut cedar posts from a field where they are considered a nuisance. This type of fence fits well with the cedar arbor we built last year, which the fence now incorporates as the entrance into the garden. The fence needed to follow a slope which added to the difficulty. Here is the "before" photo, which temporarily used the wire panels and steel supporting posts until the cedar post fence could be installed.
Neal has agreed to provide a "how to build a cedar post fence" tutorial, so here he is, back by popular demand after his "how to build a cedar arbor" post.
Overall this is a moderately easy project. Additional difficulty in our case was due to the slope in the yard which can be see in the photo above. Otherwise the important fence planning factors are the spacing of posts, proper cutting of the wire to length to fit the non-straight natural cedar posts, and getting the cedar posts to look vertical although they are not actually straight. The usual difficulty involved with attaching the fence wire to the posts is made easier by the method I will describe, which brings the difficulty level way down while providing a unique and professional look. We incorporated the recently finished cedar arbor as the garden entrance, so we already had our gate. You can review how to build a cedar arbor in my previous guest appearance post.
Required materials: cedar posts, wire panels, 4 inch eye screws, several bags of concrete.
The fencing uses heavy gauge wire panels (approximately 3 gauge wire) between the posts attached with 4 inch screw eyes. There are cattle panels, hog panels, and combination panels. We used combination panels, but any heavy gauge wire panel will work. These panels are usually purchased in 16 foot panels. Smaller gauge wire comes in rolls, but we did not believe it would have the same quality look. I will also make a few comments regarding how to use cedar cross-members instead of wire in case that is your approach, but be warned it is much more difficult to pull off a professional look, and it also obstructs the view more.
Building a cedar post fence with wire panels will require posts spaced according to the size of the area being fenced, but generally 6 - 8 feet per panel. When measuring for hole placement, take into account the total fence length and account for about 5 inches per cedar post. Then divide the total length into spans of equal length for hole placement. In our case it was 6' 3" per wire section, plus about 5" for each post.
If you wish to use cedar cross-members, spacing should be shorter, generally about 5 - 6 feet for best results and a quality outcome. Cedar wood obviously gets smaller from bottom to top, so longer spans become a visual problem due to dissimilar sizes on each end. So shorter spans provide for better consistency of cedar cross-members and a better look than longer ones.
As for material, procure the required number of cedar posts, as straight as possible. They can be purchased, but I cut them with a chainsaw on property where they are considered a nuisance. Find straight trees about 5" across at the bottom. Cut them as long as possible up to 10 feet. The posts need to be cut to final height after installation due to variables of the hole depths and slope. I cut more than needed, and the smaller and less straight posts in this pile will be used for other gardening purposes later. I bought the 4 inch eye screws on eBay where they are much cheaper. You will need 3 eye screws on each side of every post (6 per post) except the end posts which only have them only on one side.
Measure the hole locations using a string line or ruler for straightness and dig the holes, roughly a foot deep and about a foot circumference at the top which can narrow at the bottom.
Now an important tip. Put a stone in the bottom of the hole for the post to sit on. This will allow concrete to flow under the post and create a separation from dirt contact which will make it last longer. Dirt contact means faster rotting, even for cedar posts.
Place posts into holes and support them with large rocks or something heavy to hold the posts in place. I do this to visually check the alignment since they are never perfectly straight. So some small adjustments may be required. The rock supports also aid in concrete pouring.
Use a level to ensure the posts are vertical. This requires some eye-balling evaluation of what vertical means due to the variations in straightness of the posts.
A tip is to keep stepping back to look at the posts from different angles. The most important tip is to never pour concrete until the Gardener-in-Chief has looked at the posts and given approval. I do not cover concrete removal in this post, so don't skip this step.
When you are sure the posts are straight the concrete can be poured. I did about three at a time since that takes about two bags of concrete. Use standard Ready Mix type concrete which only requires adding water. Mix it in a wheel barrow about two bags at a time. I leave the rocks in place and pour around them, moving some as needed. This keeps the posts straight and also uses less concrete. After pouring I leave rocks in place on top to keep the posts from moving. Immediately re-check with the level and get re-approval from Gardener-in-Chief that posts look vertical. Make any final adjustments, then let it alone for at least 24 hours.
After all the posts are in place, it is time to install the wire panels, or cedar cross-members if you prefer. Even though we already had the wire panels, use of the wire is much easier than cedar cross members. Another alternate would be to use thinner, rolled wire and just staple it on without cutting, but that does not look as nice as the heavier gauge wire cut into panels, and the stapling also looks less professional. It also does not work well on side-sloping ground.
Required tools for panel installation: bolt cutters, drill, long screw driver (you'll see why), ruler, two vise-grip pliers (not shown)
As my Dad always said: "measure twice, cut once". Sound advice, here and elsewhere. But let me add a variation for this task. Measure accurately twice, then cut longer than needed, then re-cut while hanging in place. This is because the posts are not straight, so it will look better if the wire is cut precisely to match the contours of the posts. So measure the distance between the posts at various places to find the longest distance, then cut the wire with bolt cutters a little longer than that measurement.
Install the top eye screws first so the wire panel can hang on them, allowing precise cutting of the panel to fit in place. Measure to allow approximately 6 inches between the bottom of the fence and the ground, or whatever distance you prefer. Since we were going down a slope with the fence, I staggered the panels, which required dropping down each top eye screws on each successive post to match the slope, while trying to keep the drops somewhat consistent per panel. This issue just requires some eye-balling. If no slope, then eye screws are all at the same level.
Measure for proper height and level of the panel to be installed and mark where the top eye screw will be installed. Drill a starter hole using a drill bit just a little smaller than the eye screw shaft.
Install top eye screw. This is why you needed the long screw driver for leverage to screw them into the post. Leave the head of the eye screws sticking out a bit from the posts as shown in later photos. The idea for using eye screws in the project came from a photo found in this post at Danger Garden.
With panel held between the posts (remember they are cut a little long) bend over the top wire to fit into the top two eye screws and hang in place. I used two vise-grip pliers for this task.
Hang the panel from only the top two eye screws and re-check with level.
Cut the wire panel to a precise fit between posts. This is why you cut the panels longer than measurements.
Drill the starter holes for lower eye screws at the bottom level of the wire. If your wire panel does not have a wire exactly halfway between top and bottom, go with the next higher wire. Three eye screws per post is plenty.
Bend the wire to fit into the eye screws. leave them a little slack until all are done for that panel, then after all are inserted, snug them up with a final bend.
This shows how the fence panels drop down to follow the slope.
Cut posts off at the tops to level approximately 6 feet, or if going downhill they will match the slope. We left our posts longer (about 7 feet) in case we want to put hangers on some of them. They will be cut lower after that is determined.
Step back and enjoy the new fence.
* The opinions expressed by the author are his own, and not intended to represent those of the Gardener-in-Chief. No cement was destroyed in the making of this fence. Think safety -- eye screws are not meant to be put into your eye. Any implications that deer are not respected in this yard are unfounded, except for that one idiot who rubbed up the Bismarck palm. Any similarity between this fence and other fences, past or present, is purely coincidental. Any similarity between your fence and this one would be a miracle if you use these instructions. All rights undeserved.
Thank you Neal! The new fence looks so good and works great with the arbor.
Note: I have a book giveaway for Refresh Your Garden Design With Color, Texture and Form on my previous post so be sure to check out the review and enter the giveaway by leaving a comment before Sunday night.