What is a Picket Fence?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A picket fence is a fence made with upright stakes, or pickets, connected with horizontal supports. This type of fence tends to be short, and is designed as an ornamental boundary, rather than one which creates privacy or serves as a barrier for animals. There are numerous incarnations of the picket fence, depending on personal taste, although the classic picket fence is made from pointed stakes of an even height and painted white. A picket fence also usually encloses a lavishly planted garden.

Picket fencing is popular with suburban housing.
Picket fencing is popular with suburban housing.

This style of fence design is closely associated with the United States, although picket fences are built in other nations as well. Within America, the picket fence is associated with suburbia, since suburban homes are often built on large lots which require fencing. In an urban environment, the fence would have to be more solid to create a sense of privacy and minimize crime, while rural areas have sturdy, utilitarian fencing designed to keep animals in or out. Some people have negative associations with the picket fence because of its link with suburbia. Many Americans also think of Mark Twain when they see a picket fence, due a memorable scene in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

A picket fence is usually designed as an ornamental boundary rather than something that creates privacy.
A picket fence is usually designed as an ornamental boundary rather than something that creates privacy.

A typical picket fence is made from wooden pickets, although pickets can also be made from plastics. The wood can be left plain or painted, depending on taste, and the pickets may be highly ornamental, with stylized carved designs, or very simple. Depending on the design of the fence, the top of the fenceline may be even all the way across, or it may dip, creating a scalloped design which softens the look of the fence. A picket fence also usually includes a matching gate with a latch to keep it closed when not in use.

A homeowner can erect a picket fence by hand with individual pickets, or use pre-milled fence sections, which are much easier to install. Using pre-made fencing ensures that the fence will be even and sturdily constructed, for people who are not as skilled at construction projects as others. The fence still has to be securely mounted in the ground so that it will not fall over, and plants and weeds should be kept clear of the fence so that it does not start to rot. For people with painted picket fences, keeping plants clear also makes the fence easier to paint, when it requires a fresh coat of color.

Some pickets are fairly simple in design.
Some pickets are fairly simple in design.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have always loved my grandmother's old wood picket fence. It is simply painted white, and there are no height variations or designs carved into it. It is a truly old-fashioned gem from a time when things were simple.

Even though the fence is low enough that even a child could step over it, I always open the little gate that stands over her walkway and enter through it.

The fence is not the sturdiest thing in the world, though. When the wind is blowing very hard, I can see the posts wiggling in the wind a bit. She has had to replace a few of them over the years, because several large wind storms have blown through the area.


@OeKc05 – In my opinion, anything you can do to a picket fence that makes it stand out in a good way is a great way to spruce up a yard. My neighbor has a dark brown picket fence that appears to have jagged edges, and the paint matches the shutters on her house.

Between the highest posts, there is one slightly lower, one even lower than that, and another moderately low one leading up to the next high post. Having so few posts in between high points gives a stark, dramatic effect.

In the summer and fall, I can see her pumpkin patch growing behind the fence. The bright orange and green showing through the ornamental fence is very attractive. I love it when people think about how to adorn the entire area, rather than just putting up a fence and thinking that is enough.


I love picket fences made of different sized posts. I think it makes a person's property look so elegant, and it creates the illusion that they are rich, regardless of their financial status.

My cousin has a wooden picket fence that is designed this way. The brown wood is treated, so it looks very natural and shiny. The dips spread out over about twelve feet each, and the fence is rather lengthy, so it looks really cool.

If I were going to get a picket fence, I would never settle for a painted white one. I would want something like what my cousin has, because it is not typical at all, and it makes her yard seem special amongst the others in the neighborhood.


My neighbor had picket fence posts that had become extremely warped. She has a large yard, and the fence covers quite a bit of territory. The sun and the rain had taken their toll on it, and though it was still linked by horizontal beams, it twisted about like a roller coaster.

I marveled at the fact that she did nothing to fix it. We rarely spoke, so I didn't feel comfortable asking her about her warped picket fence.

One day, she took the whole thing down. Perhaps she couldn't afford to replace it or simply didn't want to go to the trouble. I think her yard looks much better without it, though.

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