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Salix (Willow) Stems at Bluestem Nursery

Salix (Willow)

Willows for Basketry & Twig Furniture

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.

Salix triandra 'Black Maul'
S. triandra 'Black Maul'
Salix . alba 'Vitellina'
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.


Coppicing Willows

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.

How to:

  • 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.


Pollarding Willows


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.

Salix triandra 'Black Maul'
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.

How To:

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 m (3-10').
  • 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 to come.

Suggestion

  • 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.

 

Salix triandra 'Black Maul'

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)

e-mail: lastwest@xplornet.com
phone: 403-843-6703
basketmaking experience: 18 yrs
will travel to teach?: I prefer to teach at my home in a very rustic and cozy craft barn

 

If you would like to be included in this list, please contact me.

 




Baskets and furniture by
Carolyn Rallison