How to paint a fence the right way

Spruce up your fence panels while protecting them with a lick of paint.

As a garden fence is the backdrop to a garden, just like painted walls or wallpaper in your home, it can make a bold or subtle statement. A coloured fence can enliven your whole garden and set off your planting, while also protecting the wood. 

Painting a fence has a dual purpose, as Caroline Thornborough, design director at eco paint specialist Thorndown, explains: “It will not only protect the timber against the elements, making it last years longer, but adding colour to your fence can be an essential part of your garden design. It can make boundaries disappear, gardens appear larger, and provide a great backdrop to make your plants really stand out.” 

Here’s how to paint your fence like a pro to give your outside plot a boost. 

Thorndown's Anthractie Grey wood fence paintCredit: Thorndown
Thorndown’s Anthracite Grey wood fence paint provides a stunning backdrop to the planting

1. Be prepared

Get everything ready before you start

Before starting any DIY job we’d always advise you to get everything ready before you start. There’s nothing more frustrating than setting time aside to complete a task, to discover you haven’t got a vital piece of equipment.  

What you’ll need 

  • gardening tools to clear fence area
  • bucket
  • soap and water 
  • stiff brush 
  • hammer 
  • sandpaper 
  • fence protector / dust sheets 
  • fence paint 
  • brush, roller or spray gun 
  • step ladder 

2. Paint around the seasons

Wait until your plants have died back

To make the task of painting your fence as easy as possible, Thornborough recommends planning around your plants’ growing seasons: “If you have climbers, plan to paint when the flowering season is over and when you need to cut the plants back,” she says. 

Waiting until your plants have died back will leave you with a clearer space to reach the fence, avoiding the problem of potentially trampling on and damaging your plants. 

 There’s also nothing worse than painting a fence in the heat of summer. It’s a job best left to the dry, cool months. Check to see what temperature the paint you’ve chosen can be used at. For instance, Thorndown’s range can be used at as low as 0 degrees C.  

3. Clear the decks

Tidy up the surrounding area

Before you dive in with your paintbrush, clear the surrounding area. This will give you the space to work and avoid any paint going where it’s not intended – it’s time well spent, especially if you’re planning on using a spray gun.  

And if you’re painting your fence before your plants have died back, ensure you carefully remove any climbers, and tie back plants that will get in the way. Move any garden seating and furniture, and cover patio and decking areas with plastic sheets to protect them from paint splashes. 

4. Mend and repair

Get fixing any defects

Check over your fencing and make any necessary repairs. “With rough sawn panels it can be common for them to become a bit loose, especially if they’ve got battered by the wind,” says Thornborough, “so bang the nails back in to place.” 

5. Prepare the fence for painting

Give it a brush and sand it down

“Use a stiff cleaning brush and soapy water to clean off dirt and algae from the fence,” says Thornborough.  

But if that won’t do the job, she recommends removing tough stubborn patches of algae with a mild bleach solution. A power washer can also do the trick, but she warns: “It will saturate the wood, so you’d need to factor in one-two days drying time depending on how hot and strong the sun is.”  

However, if your fence is not particularly robust you might prefer to clean it by hand, as a power washer may cause some damage.  

Tip 

Mix 10ml (a third of a fluid ounce) of bleach with one litre (34 fl oz) of water for a solution suitable for cleaning a fence. 

Fencing by its very nature is on the rough side, but you may need to tidy it up in places, once you’ve cleaned it down. “You will only need to sand areas that you may come into direct contact with to avoid splinters, but otherwise don’t bother, especially with rough sawn wood, as you could be there for days!” advises Thornborough.  

6. Protect concrete posts from paint

Mask off or seal the posts

Concrete posts will look unsightly if covered in drips of paint. Thornborough suggests either protecting them with masking tape and newspaper or by covering with a temporary fence protector.
 

Featured product

Fence protector, Single panel, Fence Protector

RRP: £58

Fence protector, Single panel, Fence Protector

Do I need to apply a primer? 

Thornborough tells us that it’s not normally necessary to apply a primer to a fence unless you are applying a white paint or light shade, in which case it can be applied to disguise any tannin stains or knot bleeds. 

Fence being painted in sage green with a brushCredit: Shutterstock/DJTaylor

7. Apply the first coat

Get painting

Thornborough has shared with Saga Exceptional her top tips on painting a fence.  

  • Check for rain
    Before you start to paint, check the weather forecast to find a window of 24 hours without rain, as Thornborough advises this will “allow the paint plenty of time to dry and cure”.  
  • Get the right amount of paint on the brush
    “Don’t overload your paint brush or roller with paint or you’ll get drips. If you do get any drips whilst painting, just look out for them and smooth them out before they dry.” 
  • Go with the flow of the grain
    She also recommends painting with the grain: “Usually this will be the same direction as your fence panels, so with vertical fence panels paint up and down, with horizontal panels paint along the length, always in nice long even strokes.” 
  • Take one length at a time
    “It’s good practice to paint one or two panels at the same time so you paint a whole length in one go. This means that you will always be painting up to still wet paint so won’t get patches, and you won’t get lost as to what you’ve painted and what you haven’t when it comes to a second coat.” 
  • One coat will do
    “In most cases, but depending on what product you use, you only need to apply one coat,” says Thornborough. “Unless you’re painting a lighter colour or white, where two coats will enhance the solidity and depth of colour.” 

Stay safe 
If using a step ladder to reach up to paint a high fence, make sure it’s correctly set up on a level surface and ask someone to hold the ladder for you.  

8. Allow the paint to dry before applying a second coat

Repeat the painting process

“Drying time depends on the paint and weather, so always check the tin for advice,” says Thornborough.  

As a guide, you can expect the paint to dry within an hour, so if you’re painting a whole host of panels, you can probably get started just as soon as you’ve finished the first coat.  

Man cleaning a paint brush in a bucket outsideCredit: Shutterstock/Miljan Zivkovic

9. Clean up your brushes

Keep your brushes in good condition for their next job

It’s well worth spending the time keeping your tools in good shape to extend their longevity. If using water-based paint, Thornborough advises cleaning your brushes with water, adding: “For stubborn paint on bristles you can use a spot of detergent too.”  

Oil-based paints need a different approach and will only come clean with a chemical, such as white spirit. Our guide to how to clean paint rollers will give you more tips. 

10. Seal and store your paint

Keep it in tip-top condition

Once you’ve finished painting your fences and you’ve got some paint left over, it’s advisable to seal it properly and store it at the right temperature. This will allow you to reuse the paint at a later date, saving it from spoiling or drying out. 

“Seal your paint tin lid firmly and store paint somewhere that it won’t freeze or be exposed to extreme heat,” says Thornborough. “If you clean paint off the outer rim of the lid it will seal better, and you won’t get paint sticking and sealing it shut. The paint will then last a couple of years, or more, for maintenance and touch-ups.” 

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

Published:

With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.