In the broadest sense, any willow that is flexible
enough to weave could go into the category of "willows for basketry".
Even the tiny Salix repens could be used in small baskets.
|S. triandra 'Black Maul'
|S. alba 'Vitellina'
However, more often the term "basket willow" refers to a
certain group of larger willows that are pruned (coppiced or pollarded)
in such a way that they are stimulated to produce long, straight, flexible
rods. These are harvested annually and have little or no lateral branching.
Historically there were a handful of favorites used by basket makers
but with world travel and exposure to willow weavers of other cultures,
the list has grown considerably.
For centuries willow plantations have not only provided the material
for basket weavers, but also provided one of the most beautiful of all
man-made landscapes. In summer the rows of different species of willows
resemble a huge patchwork quilt of color and form. However nothing compares
to the sight of willow fields during the winter months when thousands
of brightly-colored rods contrast with the snow.
Visit our page which indicates the
rod diameter and length that can be expected from the 2 yr old stool
of a basketry willow.
One technique for producing such a landscape is called coppicing. This
is a simple procedure done by cutting all the top growth to ground level
in late winter. It is also a great way to enjoy them in the home landscape.
- Year 1 - in the spring, plant the dormant willow cuttings
in the soil (simply push them in a few inches), leaving
2 or 3 buds above the level of the soil. Space about 2-3'
apart, in rows about 4-5' apart. Provide ample water throughout
the growing season.
- Year 2 - in late winter prune all the rods back to ground
level. Provide ample water throughout the growing season.
- Year 3 - in late winter, harvest all the rods by cutting
to the ground or leave a few to grow on for using in heavier
baskets or willow furniture. Provide water as needed.
Polling or pollarding is when a tree is pruned to a main trunk at a
height of 1-2 meters. All the branches are annually cut off to leave
just a stub. This method of cutting back growth encourages a close rounded
head of brightly colored branches. Should you live in an area where
deer dine on willows (they often ignore them) pollarding the plants
is very useful for keeping them out of their reach.
|young pollarded willows,
soon to be cut back to a stub
Historically the best willows to pollard have been:
However over time the list of good basket willows has lengthened and
any of these types could successfully be pollarded. Even some of the
smaller species can make striking ornamentals with this method.
For example, S. integra
'Hakuro-nishiki', S. cinerea
'Tricolor' or S. purpurea 'Pendula
can be trained into a small weeping tree.
Pollarded willows are usually planted in rows, evenly spaced so as
not to crowd each other. There are different growth rates between species
and it is not necessary to plant them so far apart that the rods are
barely touching. Yet, planting too close together where they are competing
for water and nutrients is not desirable.
- Year 1: plant a row of cuttings, leaving 2-3 buds above the ground.
Provide ample moisture.
- Year 2: when the plant is dormant - select the strongest rod and
cut the others off at the base. Cut the remaining rod back to 1-3
- Year 3: prune all the rods off at the trunk. Some
of these rods will be suitable for basketry.
- Year 4: annual harvesting of the willow rods continues for years
- after the pollarded willows are established, some growers will wait
a second or third year before harvesting. This will produce the heavier
rods for large baskets or furniture.
First season's growth of S.
triandra 'Black Maul'. This stand is 7-8' tall. In the
spring they were mere cuttings planted approximately 12"
apart in all directions. By the way, do as we say, not as we do
- a spacing of at least 2-3' is recommended.
If left unpruned 'Black Maul' will become a large shrub. It makes
a great windbreak. If the rods are harvested they are suitable
for twig furniture, basketry, wattle fencing, willow
weaving and living
willow structures. It also has nice catkins.
Instructors in Willow Crafting (basketry,
twig furniture, etc)
Carolyn Rallison, Bluffton,
Alberta (nr Rocky Mountain House and Red Deer)
basketmaking experience: 18 yrs
will travel to teach?: I prefer
to teach at my home in a very rustic and cozy craft
If you would like to be included in this list,
please contact me.
Books Using Willows
Rustic Furniture: The Tradition, Spirit, and Technique with Dozens
of Project Ideas, by Mack
Rush and Willow Weaving with Natural Materials, Cameron
Making Twig Garden Furniture, by Ruoff
Rustic Furniture Workshop, by Mack
A Bend in the Willows: The Art of Making Rustic Furniture, by Dolphin
Bentwood Trellises, Arbors, Gates & Fences, by Jim Long
Baskets and furniture by