Pussy willows are back in vogue again. The old has been remembered and now is revisited in such offerings as “Black Cat” and “French Pink” willows. The names reveal the color of the "pussy" buds appearing on the willows.
Pussy willows bloom in the early spring. Fall is a typical time to plant for spring blooms, however, willows, from my past experience, will grow anytime they are planted, meaning any time the soil is not frozen. Willow limbs green up in the early spring. This is also a good time to start willows, as their hormones are high. Plus they have all summer to grow, before frost comes.
All willows that offer sculptural form and an eye-catching leaf shape are now in the landscape view. Think of the huge weeping willows that make you stop and pause over the grace and beauty of their undulating, slinky, leaf-covered limbs that only needed a slight breeze to make you sigh. So beautiful.
Or perhaps you drive the same way to work nearly every day and one winter's day you notice a gorgeous creation all twisted and turned and holding a slight dusting of snow. You wonder, when was that planted there? And what is it?
It is nature's designer creation, the corkscrew willow. Though you may not notice it in summer, in winter it becomes the star of the landscape. In summer the tree partially disguises its limbs with curly leaves.
My hubby recently received a gift of a corkscrew willow limb, for the purpose of making a cane out of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet the criteria to make a cane. But, it did meet the criteria to start new willows. Hubby and I started taking small pieces from the main branch with a sharp knife, at an angle, and placing them in small water-filled containers. When we had the main limb left, about 4-1/2 inches in diameter and 6 feet tall, I suggested we plant the whole limb in the soil close to the ditch. We dug a deep, narrow hole, put the branch in, staked it and watered it. Now we wait.
I recall that in the past when a new willow was wanted, we always cut off a small limb, placed it in soil and watered it. Before the end of summer the small limb had turned into a sturdy start, well on its way to growing tall. I also remember willow trees growing up from willow logs used as fence posts. The trees made a nice fence line, as the posts had been evenly spaced when they were put in. If the willows had been cut lower before they got tall, the fence would have been very dense, as willows will bush out low if cut on top.
The corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana Tortuosa) has twisted limbs and leaves. These are very distinct, making the willow easy to identify. Even though they are deciduous they are beautiful even in winter. Willows grow in zones 4 to 8, in nearly any soil, with full sun and adequate moisture. They are fast growers, usually 1 to 2 feet a year. In order to keep the willow growing in good health, keep the center open by pruning and snip off dead branches where you find them. Wind and bugs are the two main enemies of willows.
Watch where you plant these willows. They grow tall and throw a fair amount of shade when fully grown. Don’t plant over septic lines or near dug water wells. Willow roots grow within a few inches of the top of the soil and spread out wide.
When a weeping willow is mature and trimmed so you can walk under it, that makes a good outside eating area or a natural patio. Picnic tables or regular patio furniture may be placed under the tree canopy and the area used like a deck or a patio. Imagine no maintenance, that is, no yearly deck staining or wood railing repair needed. Some table and chair legs may need coasters under the feet in order not to punch into the ground. These are reasonably priced and available at any hardware store.
Any child will love these trees. All their imagination will come to life under the willow.
Willows don’t last forever, but you can always start another one, or two. These trees are meant to be enjoyed. Be sure to consider new and old favorites in a new light of cost-effective applications and beauty for your soul.
Master gardener Fredi Stangland resides in Medina.