Gardening Blog

Gardening Blog: Fences - Part 1

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Robert Frost said, Good Fences make good neighbours, by which I think he meant agreeing upon what belongs to whom right from the start is a good way to avoid future trouble. Good Fences in modern terms means more often than not, Good Fences make your back yard look like a feed lot for cattle. They are primitively constructed and exceedingly ugly. This is the product of cheap, pressure treated wood and unimaginative design. Such fences, climbing to seven feet in height, with each board snugged up tight to the next, arent good for your plants either. Greenery of all types needs the free circulation of air to remain healthy.


Defining terms is a simple matter. All vertical posts are a minimum of 4x4 pressure treated Spruce, 8-0 long (If you can afford cedar come and build a fence at my house, too! Your treat!) Horizontals, the boards at top and bottom that the slats are attached to, should be 2x4 pressure treated Spruce. The run between one post and the next should never exceed 8-0, from centre of the first post to centre of the second, so the horizontals can be a maximum of 8-0 and trimmed to size. The vertical slats are available in lengths of 7-0 also pressure treated Spruce and actually called fence boards. This by far the cheapest way to build a sturdy fence, as all the lengths are standard, the wood is relatively inexpensive and the number of cuts is quite limited. In addition you will need the small concrete blocks, pre-formed to take the ends of the four by fours, (deck blocks), several cubic yards of limestone screening and joist hangers for the horizontal 2x4s. All elements should be fastened together with galvanized screws, not nails.


First things first. No matter how ramshackle the fence is you are replacing, make sure you ask your neighbour if its all right to remove the old and replace it with new. They should be happy to have a solid new fence, but if they kick up a fuss, you can always erect your fence a foot inside theirs and circumvent the problem by building entirely on your property. Lay out a stout string along the path of your new fence, tied so it is taut between the stakes. Mark off 8-0 centers along its length. This is easily accomplished with a spray can of paint. If you end up with a partial section of fence (less that eight feet), put it at the far end of the fence, away from both your and your neighbours house.

Fence Holes

There are a two ways to make holes for fence posts. The way Im outlining here has worked well for me in the past and doesnt require going too deeply into the ground, despite frost. Of course if you dont live where there is frost, this is certainly the easiest way to set up sturdy posts. We need a hole every 8-0 on centre. You can do this with a manual post hole digger or a gas driven posthole auger. If your help and you both are athletic types and the ground isnt too full of stones, the digger may be for you. It consists of two spades with long handles fastened together just above the metal blades. The two blades can be driven into the soil and rotated to loosen it up. Then by squeezing the handles you can trap the dirt between the blades and lift it out of the hole. The long handles make it possible to continue as the hole grows deeper. The auger is a large drill blade set in a motorized unit with two handles at the top to stabilize it. It is a two person operation. Once the engine is started up the auger is engaged and it works its way into the ground. The on/off switch is constructed so that the motor is dis-engaged immediately when its released. This is because if the auger hits a rock, it will stop turning and the top of the device will start to turn instead. As some one who didnt understand this principal in my youth and was thrown a considerable distance through the air, its a lesson worth learning. Which ever way you dig the holes, make them all a uniform 2-6.

Securing the posts

Now we are ready to prepare the holes for the 4x4s. Place a deck block at the bottom of each hole. We want the small version for this. They are about a foot in circumference and have a fairly tight fitting socket for the upright. Be careful as you can to make the stone level. You can accomplish this with a rubber hammer and a spirit level. Then take the 4x4 and set it in the stone socket. True it up in both directions until it is completely vertical. Do not trim the post on the top until the fence is finished. Use scrap wood and screws to make supports for the posts to hold them in place.

Limestone screening is granular to powdered limestone sold by building supply stores by the cubic yard. When it is dry, it can be shoveled and poured. Making sure the post stays vertical, fill the holes up with the screening to ground level, leaving the supports in place. Tamp it down firmly. The screening will leach the moisture out of the adjacent soil and convert itself into a solid block, holding the post true for as long as the wood lasts. A couple of rains would be good, or letting the sprinkler play over the posts on a gentle rain-like setting would work as well. No matter, in a week your posts will be ready for the fence.