Everything You Need to Know About Willow Trees & Shrubs!

Everything You Need to Know About Willow Trees & Shrubs!

willow tree header

Fine-textured, flowing, and airy, the graceful Willow is a landscape icon! 

These fast-growing deciduous plants carry a motion, airy texture, and romance unique to the plant world, swaying or flowing in the breeze, shining in the sun, and casting light shade over your garden.

Of the 300 shrubs and 40 tree native species, many hybrids, and cultivars of Willow (Salix) trees and shrubs worldwide, Nature Hills has 10 of the most popular varieties available for you to choose from!

Willows have long been used for medicinal purposes, as the inner bark contains the rudimentary ingredients of aspirin to help you feel better from headaches. The wood has also been used for carvings, creating Willow figurines. You’ll find Willow wood used for making trapping triggers, bows, arrow shafts, and basket making. Willow withes have been harvested by humanity for millennia.

Read on to learn more about how to grow these incredible trees!

Caring For Willow Plants!

From the classic Weeping and Niobe Willows to the contorted Corkscrew and Scarlet Curls Willows, the wide adaptability and versatility of these plants that gardeners throughout USDA planting zones 3 to 10 can enjoy! 

Caring for willow plants

The pollinator-friendly catkins and foliage, and bird-friendly branches play the part of shade tree, lawn tree, and wildlife tree simultaneously! Beautiful landmarks in parks, commercial sites, and landscapes of all sizes, Willow plants bring motion and gentle "susurrus" sounds that capture the breeze, creating delightful experiences!

Fast-growing with very supple, strong wood, these are unique trees! Anyone who has seen a mature tree swaying in a strong storm, bending and not breaking, can testify to their hardiness.

So how do you keep your Willow growing happy and healthy?


1. Sun Requirements

Willows prefer a full sun location to do their very best but several varieties equally act as understory trees, basking in the partial shade setting. That means Willow are incredible lawn trees, but also wistfully blend into the dappled canopy of a mixed tree and shrub hedge.


2. Soil Type & Moisture

Willows can tolerate almost any soil, including soils that can occasionally be wet or soggy but will grow very slowly if they get too dry. Super plants for water's edge or edge of a wetland area, or for creating scale behind a pond or inlet.

If you have a yard that’s prone to flooding or a low-lying area that collects water, the Weeping Willow is well-known as a thirsty tree and will eagerly soak up as much excess water as you can give them!

If your property is near a river, stream, or lake, its root system can help prevent soil from eroding during heavy rainfall or flooding.

Established Willows can handle some drought once established as well!


3. Planting Willow Trees & Shrubs

Plant Willow Trees and Shrubs as you would any other kind of deciduous plant.

  • Dig a hole as deep as needed, and twice as wide as the container or bareroot.
  • Backfill to ensure the soil surface or former soil level on the stem matches its new setting. Planting too deep can kill any plant.
  • Water in very well, ensuring to saturate the entirety of the root system as deep as possible.
  • Top off with mulch, not covering or mounding mulch onto the trunk or crown.
  • Continue to water using the Finger Test checking daily and adding water when needed so your plant roots do not dry out their first year.

If you suspect poor drainage or heavy clay, plant in a raised berm situation instead.

Use Nature Hills Root Booster when planting to give your plants lifelong beneficial fungal support that helps roots recover from transplant shock quickly, helps nutrients break down, and helps the feeder roots take up moisture easily.


4. Pruning Willows

pruning willow

Willows are deciduous trees and shrubs and do best being pruned when they are dormant in the late winter or very early spring. Remove crossing branches and weak notched branching, encouraging the shape and feel of plants while they are young so they become their best mature form.

All Willow shrubs tolerate pruning beautifully, and it's quite easy. Simply prune out about one-third of the oldest branches back to the ground in spring. Repeating this process for three years will nearly create a new shrub every year!

The trimmings can become baskets and weaving, wattle fencing, greenery, and architectural interest in bouquets and vase arrangements, and even easily rooted and made into fast fencing!

The Weeping Willows can be limbed up so you can walk underneath them. You’ll want to include a hammock or chaise underneath, so you can read and relax nearby. What a cool outdoor experience to gift yourself and the people you love!


5. Willow Tree Maintenance

All plants appreciate a 3-4 inch deep layer of mulch over the entire root system to protect the root system, insulate the roots, and keep moisture in the soil consistently.

Protect your young trees and trunks from deer if you are in a high browse area by spraying with deer repellant or setting up a cage if deer pressure is high. Usually outgrowing anything they nibble at, mature trees will have few lasting effects.

Using Willow In The Landscape

For a prominent front yard or lawn tree, the Willow is a fantastic addition and significantly bumps up the curb appeal! The swaying and white noise these trees create as the long, slender foliage rustles in the breeze.

willow landscape

There’s no worry about lawn trees shading out your lawn or plants that grow beneath these trees if you shorten up the weeping branches allowing light beneath. Just plant larger trees about 30 feet away from any underground items such as water or septic systems, away from foundations and basements, pipes, and away from your driveway and sidewalks. Contact your local diggers hotline in your area to ensure there are no surprises down the road. This is by no means saying Willow roots are invasive, larger growing Willow species will have large spreading roots growing to wherever they find food and water. Smaller shrub species will stay much more confined.

In the backyard setting, a mature Willow tree will create beautiful memories! Add a bistro table or lawn chair and relax in the cooling shade! They look right at home, sitting by a water feature or shading a patio! A Willow swaying in the breeze on a hot summer day brings a sense of calm and peace, settling the mind and easing away a stressful day!

Hotter, more arid climates can enjoy a Navajo Globe Willow Tree or the Missouri Willow which bring their native hardiness to the garden!

The ultra-fast-growing Hybrid Willow or Austree is ideal for hedges and privacy! In ideal settings growing 6 to 10 feet a year! You’ll quickly create a sound and privacy barrier that holds back soil erosion, and slows wind and drifting snow while hiding an eyesore without the wait! That goes for a neighbor's third or fourth-story window looking right into your home or yard - because the Austree can grow up to 60 or 70 feet tall eventually!

For smaller focal points and accent plants, the fluffy catkins of the Pussy Willow, or the vibrant red stems of the Flame Willow are sure to catch the eye all year round! Create a unique accent plating with a weeping French Pussy Willow Tree Topiary.

For low hedges and airy backdrops, facer plants, and lighter screening, the silvery foliage of the Iceberg Alley® Sageleaf Willow shrub or the Dwarf Blue Leaf Arctic Willow creates structure without stiff formality.

Have fun planting the Dappled Willow shrub with its pretty light and dark foliage with the Dappled Willow Tree Form for a high and low feature planting on a berm!

Medicinal and Utilitarian Willow Trees

willow foliage

Some people do those funky pollard pruning cuts by cutting off all the branches at the same level. This is an ancient woodland management technique that was critical to help grow and gather firewood for cold winters. It was used in Europe and by the early American settlers.

Willows grow so fast; the new growth will hide any evidence of pruning by year’s end. If you are homesteading, consider using Willow trees as a readily available source of renewable energy.

The wood has also been used for carvings, creating Willow figurines. You’ll find Willow wood used for making trapping triggers, bows, arrow shafts, and basket-making for a long time.

Willow bark contains a chemical called salicin, which is where the pain-relieving compounds in today’s aspirin first originated. People commonly use Willow bark for back pain, to reduce inflammation, osteoarthritis, fever, flu, muscle pain, and many other conditions!

Go With The Flow With Willows at Nature Hills!

Fantasy, romance, serenity, and magical - the Willow inspires the imagination! The symbol of survivors and rebirth, all types of Willows are quite adaptable, transplant readily, are easy to care for, and offer rewarding results - especially for the beginner gardener!

Even if you have tricky wet soil to poor soil conditions, erosion, and especially pampered garden settings! Check out all the pretty Willow trees and Willow shrubs available for you to adorn your landscape with the help of Nature Hills Nursery today!

Happy Planting!

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