Willows for gardens both big and small

More than 300 varieties of willows are accounted for today (Salix). Reaching up to different heights, these trees and shrubs are resilient and easy to grow.

Which one would you plant in your garden?

How to plant a willow tree

Willows all share a common liking to cool and deep soil, where they can thrust their powerful roots, but most of them still settle in fine in ordinary or even chalky soil. Hardy, almost invulnerable to diseases, willows are blessed with rapid growth. Most species are very easily propagated through cuttings, since all that is needed is to cut off a branch around 3 feet (1 meter) long, and plant it upwards in the ground where it will start sending off roots.

Planting a willow tree is best done in fall, in a sun-bathed spot of the garden. You can water your young willow tree during the first year in case of dry spell, and for smaller varieties, prune it in November and March. As for the rest… nothing more to do!

Different types of pruning for willows

Salix-integraThe famous weeping willow (Salix babylonica) needs a huge space to spread its 85-foot (25 meter) stature and swooping branches, but many much smaller varieties are ideal for small gardens. For example, purple willow (Salix purpurea) is a shrub one or two yards (meters) tall, and its branches are used in basket-weaving. The very appealing Salix integra ‘Hakuno-Nishiki’ is a tiny pocket shrub that can be grown in a pot. This miniature specimen native to Japan has pink leaves in spring that turn white and green in summer.

Average-sized Salix exigua (10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 m)) is a bushy shrub with gray leaves that grows on poor soil. With its distinctive furry catkins, and much sought after by honeybees thanks to its early blooming, goat willow (Salix caprea) can climb up to 40 feet (12 meters) tall. Chinese willow (Salix matsudana) is definitely highly ornamental thanks to its surprising curved leaves and twisted branches. Up to 35 feet (10 meters) tall, it fits in small gardens.

Laure Hamann