We describe a new approach for achieving controlled spatial placement of VLS-grown nanowires that uses an oxygen-reactive seed material and an oxygen-containing mask. Oxygen-reactive seed materials are of great interest for electronic applications, yet they cannot be patterned using the approaches developed for noble metal seed materials such as Au. This new process, nanoscale chemical templating, takes advantage of the reactivity of the blanket seed layer by depositing it over a patterned oxide that reacts with the seed material to prevent nanowire growth in undesired locations. Here we demonstrate this technique using Al as the seed material and SiO2 as the mask, and we propose that this methodology will be applicable to other reactive metals that are of interest for nanowire growth. The method has other advantages over conventional patterning approaches for certain applications including reducing patterning steps, flexibility in lithographic techniques, and high growth yields. We demonstrate its application with standard and microsphere lithography. We show a high growth yield and fidelity, with no NWs between openings and a majority of openings occupied by a single vertical nanowire, and discuss the dependence of yield on parameters. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.