Picket fences are a type of fence often used decoratively for domestic boundaries, distinguished by their evenly spaced vertical boards, the pickets, attached to horizontal rails. Until the introduction of advertising on fences in the 1980s, cricket fields were usually surrounded by picket fences, giving rise to the expression rattling the pickets for a ball hit firmly into the fence.
Picket fences are particularly popular in the United States, where the style has been used since America's earliest colonial era and remains popular today. They are a decorative way to contain pets and children without blocking views, and are used around both front and back yards. Traditionally picket fences were made out of wood and painted white (or whitewashed), but now picket fences are also widely available in polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
A picket fence is generally 36 to 48 inches (91 to 122 cm) tall. A horizontal top rail and bottom rail are attached to fence posts, which are installed upright into the ground. Evenly spaced boards are affixed vertically to the rails. What truly distinguishes a picket fence is the top, which is tapered (often called "dog-eared picket") or pointed. These boards with pointed tops are called "pickets" for their resemblance to the pointed stakes historically used by infantry to repel cavalry.
Traditionally, picket fences have been made of wood. However, due to the regular painting required to keep the boards freshly white, combined with the need to replace them due to weathering, PVC has been increasing in popularity for picket fences. PVC is widely available in white, and therefore does not need any painting. Most quality PVC fencing comes with a limited lifetime warranty, and does not rot or need replacing like wood.
The first step in installing a picket fence is to insert the posts into the ground. Traditionally this is done by digging deep holes (usually 36in x 12in) either manually or with a power auger. The posts are then placed upright into the ground and concrete is poured to cement them into place. Once they are set, the horizontal rails are affixed to the posts using fasteners, and finally the pickets can be attached to the horizontal rails. By far the most time consuming part of installing a picket fence is setting the posts.
There are some vinyl picket fence systems on the market that are installed without digging holes or pouring concrete. These are installed by driving pipe deep into the ground, which is how chain link fence has been installed for years. This is the most popular way to install vinyl fence in Western Canada, where the deep frost can heave concrete footings out of the ground.
A picket fence, ideally white, is seen by some as a symbol of the ideal middle-class suburban life, with a family and children, large house, and peaceful living. This stems from the fact that houses in quiet, middle-class neighborhoods often have gardens enclosed by picket fences. In recent years, some people have associated picket fences with what they regard as the more negative aspects of this lifestyle. For example, the director David Lynch uses ironic images of the picket fence in his 1986 film Blue Velvet.
In popular culture
White picket fence surrounds a front-yard lotus pond in a Hubei village.