Margaret Lauterbach: Need a fence? Grow one.

Special to the Idaho StatesmanApril 11, 2014 

Even if your yard is not this large, consider putting up a “natural” fence rather than one made from wood or other material.


    Buy Margaret's new book on Saturday

    "Gardening in the Treasure Valley," written by Statesman gardening columnist Margaret Lauterbach, will be for sale at the Statesman booth at the Boise Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 12. The market is at 10th and Grove streets in Downtown Boise. You can also buy the book online at The book costs $20. Shipping is available for an additional $5.

Do you need to have a tight fenceline, a bulwark against marauding creatures?

You can grow one, planting Osage orange trees (Maclura pomifera), also called hedge apple trees, or Bodark. This is a small thorny tree native to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, in the range once occupied by the Osage tribe of Native Americans. A hedge of Osage orange is said to be "horse high, bull strong and hog tight."

Its wood is very dense and strong, superior for making bows, and impervious to tunneling insects. Hence the name, "Bodark," an Anglicized corruption of Bois d'Arc.

This tree or shrub is not a citrus, but the fruits are round and orange-scented, not really edible by humans. The orange appellation probably comes from the color and scent of the bark and sun-warmed fruits. Squirrels are drawn to the seeds inside the fruits, and humans who have patience and who want to get to the seeds can eat them too.

Since this isn't native to our area, is it hardy here? Often plants native to warmer winter areas are not, but these are. Several years ago Boisean Dennis Brockway tried planting Osage orange trees. He has one that is 4 or 5 years old and prior to that one, he had a couple that became unruly, so he tried to remove them. They came back from the roots.

Osage orange trees were the basis for hedge rows in many parts of the Middle West over the years. When barbed wire began to replace these creature containers, landowners found the dense wood made great fenceposts.

One way to get a living fence started is to bury sections of fruit with intact seeds (not the whole fruit), and when saplings come up, line them up and when they are about a yard tall, bend each over and peg down the tips. Watersprouts will rise from the arch of the saplings, the beginnings of a dense, thorny hedge. It will grow too tall for deer to leap, and too tough for bulls to push through.


Strawberries can be tough to grow, even if they survive winter. When you plant, make sure the crowns are above soil level. They send out runners, with smaller versions of themselves at the ends. Those small versions quickly grow to full size, so it becomes hard to tell which is the old one and which the new one.

You're supposed to have your strawberries in a neat row so that anything out to one side or the other is younger than the original row. Even if disease hasn't attacked your strawberry plants in three or four years, the mother (or grandmother) plants may be less productive, beginning to fail. Remove them and grow something like buckwheat or annual rye to starve out destructive nematodes or grubs in the soil.

To continue to grow strawberries, start a new bed. It's OK to cut the runners, planting the daughter or granddaughter plants in a new bed. Strawberries, being shallow-rooted, quickly exhaust soil nutrients. Beware, though, of giving them rich fertilizer. After harvest, fertilize them with 5-10-10 fertilizer, preferably organic slow release, and brush granules off leaves. As long as you feed the soil creatures, your soil will feed you.

Since strawberries are dependent on day length for blossoming, there are June bearing (long day), ever-bearing (light crops through the summer) or day neutral berries as well as Alpine berries. Ever-bearing are day neutral, obviously.

I recently saw a great way of planting strawberries, avoiding many of the problems in-ground plantings experience.

Grow them in elevated eave gutters. One would work, but the design I saw featured an installation of something like galvanized pipes in the ground topped with tees, through which concrete rebar pieces have been set to support at least two parallel roof gutters filled with soil and planted with strawberries. Ripe berries hang over the edges, making picking easy and safe from slugs, sowbugs and some birds.

To avoid problems with relocating runners, plant Alpine strawberries. Alpine berries are small, intensely-flavored, and the plants do not put out runners. They produce some fruit throughout the summer.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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