When building a wood fence, be sure to plan for a space between the pickets and the ground. In most applications, a wood fence should be installed at least two inches off the ground. Your posts and rot boards (if you choose to install them) should be the only fence components that contact the ground. Wood pickets should never touch it.
Why do you need a space between the pickets and the ground?
When wood pickets touch the ground, they absorb moisture, which can lead to swelling or rot. Leaving a space between the pickets and the ground prevents this moisture absorption from occurring, giving you a longer-lasting and nicer-looking fence. The space also makes it easier to do yard maintenance and clean up along the base of the fence. And it allows for drainage, which is particularly helpful on sloped landscapes.
How do you maintain a consistent space between the pickets and the ground?
When building with preassembled fence panels
If you are building a fence using preassembled fence panels, the pickets are already attached to the backer rails. All you need to do is attach it to the posts. Measure at least two inches off the ground and mark your posts or place a spacer block beneath the fence panel. Check for level and attach the panel to the posts.
When building with individual pickets
If you’re building a fence with individual pickets, you’ll need to check for level more often. Measure at least two inches off the ground and attach your pickets to the backer rails starting at one end. Check for level and plumb every 3-4 pickets. Using a spacer block between the ground and the bottom of the pickets may help with installation.
What about sloped landscapes?
Very few fences are built on completely flat terrain. If there are minor grade changes, you don't need to make any adjustments. Landscapes with a steeper slope or major grade changes, however, will take more planning. There are two ways to tackle a slope – either parallel or stair-stepped. Read our blog for more information.
If you’re installing your fence parallel to the slope, maintain consistent spacing between the pickets and the ground along the fence run.
With a stair-stepped approach, which you’ll do if you’re building with preassembled panels, one side of the fence will have a larger gap between the picket and the ground than the other. Be sure the side with the smaller gap is at least two inches off the ground, with a larger gap on the other side of the panel.
Can you hide or close the gap?
Some homeowners don’t want a space between the bottom of their fence and the ground. Maybe they don’t like the look of a gap. Or maybe they have a critter concern – they don’t want a small pet escaping under the fence, or small critters getting in. If you have either of those concerns, there are some ways you can hide or fill that gap.
How to hide the gap
If you don’t like the look of the gap, consider planting small shrubs, daylilies, or other dense foliage along the fence line to hide the gap.
How to close the gap
If you’re concerned with animals crawling beneath your fence, you could fill the gap with critter fence or chicken wire. Another option is installing a horizontal board (sometimes called a kickboard or rot board) along the bottom of your fence panels. This board is typically a 2x6 piece of lumber treated to ground contact. Using a kickboard will close the gap while also protecting your pickets from moisture absorption.