Willows are majestic, moisture-loving trees and shrubs with a variety of uses including willow bark for pain relief, willow branches for basketmaking and weaving, and willow boughs for carving and walking sticks.
Willows come in different shapes, colors, and sizes, making them a popular choice for planting. These tough trees, many of which are native to the U.S., are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate male and female trees. Rather than showy flowers like many plants, willows have catkins. Like many other trees, willows rely on wind pollination, so these blooms are specialized to produce large amounts of pollen and have many exposed pollen receptive parts. These flowering catkins show up around April or May, just before they bloom, and can be quite attractive. The leaves on a willow are narrow, lance-shape, finely toothed, and are most often light green on top with a gray-green underside. However, there are quite a few species that have even more attractive foliage, like the dappled willow with pink and white splashed leaves, and others showing silvery gray foliage. During the fall, willows usually have a greenish yellow color. In winter, the thin stems and smooth bark offer winter landscape interest. The stems on corkscrew varieties make an ideal choice for use in winter arrangements or look great covered in frost and snow in the garden.
Willow Care Must-Knows
Willows are best grown in or around streams, ponds, and other bodies of water, so their roots have easy access to water. They should be planted with care, as their roots will grow and damage water and sewer lines if planted in the wrong location. They do very well in medium-to-wet well-drained soil, and because of their love of water, are often not drought tolerant. In extremely dry situations, willows will tend to be stunted and very slow-growing. In their prime location, willows grow quite fast. For the toughest plants with the best color, plant willows in full sun.
Willows may be susceptible to a few problems such as blight, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and cankers. They may also face some pest problems like aphids, scale, borers, lacebugs, and caterpillars. Because these trees grow rather fast, the wood is often weak and tends to crack. It often sustains damage in storms or when burdened by winter ice and snow. The leaf litter and scattered branches after windy weather are also potential problems. Gardening underneath the trees can be difficult.
More Varieties Of Willow
American pussy willow
Salix discolor is an American native pussy willow. This variety can be quite large, up to 20 feet tall depending on the variety, and is grown for its fuzzy silver catkins in spring. Zones 4-8
Black pussy willow
Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys' is noted for its deep purple-black catkins in spring that make excellent cut flowers and look stunning on the 6- to 10-foot shrub. Zones 5-7
Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki' is one of the boldest shrubby willows, offering strongly pink- and white-variegated new growth. It's a vigorous grower that can reach 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-7.
Dwarf arctic willow
Salix purpurea 'Nana' offers delightful blue-green foliage and a compact habit that makes it ideal for use as a low hedge. It grows 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide, though it is sometimes grafted onto a standard as a small tree. Zones 4-7.
Japanese creeping willow
Salix reticulata is an unusual groundcover shrub offering dark green leaves that are silver and fuzzy on the bottoms. It grows 3 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Zones 2-6