For many people, using willows in a landscape design is difficult to imagine.
However, not long ago the same was said of ornamental grasses, a group
of plants with which willows have much in common. Now though, grasses
have become extremely popular and large clumps of Miscanthus or Calamagrostis
are ubiquitous in landscape design. Willows and grasses share many
of the same attributes, such as:
|leaves of S. udensis 'Sekka'
- easily propagated
- incredible growth rates
- stunning aesthetics
- require only moderate watering
- require little or no fertilizer
- have four seasons interest
- come from large diverse plant groups
Combining these in a landscape ensures that a design remains within budget and gains an established look in a short period.
The attraction to willows at Bluestem Nursery began with an appreciation of
the many types of baskets into which
they are made. Some are robust and sturdy, while others are fine and
delicate. This difference arises from the dioecious nature of the willows,
male and female flowers occur on different plants. Male clones tend
to be more delicate than their female counterparts, a distinction basket
makers often take into account.
One of the current trends in home and garden decor is rustic (twig)
furniture, bent willow chairs, and garden structures such as trellises,
gates, arbors and fences. Due to their long branches that bend so easily,
willows are ideally suited for such uses. See our Willow
Uses page for a list of willows used for furniture and baskets.
|S. babylonica var pekinensis
(Contorted willow) in winter
Aside from baskets and furniture, growing willows for stem
color (view a comparison
of stem colors) is an ideal way to enjoy their beauty
and to control the size of the large and medium types. This
method involves cutting the willows to ground level (coppice)
or cutting to a height of 1-2 meters (pollard).
Pruning is done in late winter when the willows are still
dormant. The many rods that develop vary in length from
1-3 meters (3-10') depending on the species and the availability
of water. Since the brightest stem colours come from the
new growth, growing willows by this method provides maximum
interest in the winter landscape.
Willows have some other unique and interesting uses. Ilene
Sternberg has written an excellent article called
Willow Magic, which she has generously allowed us to
post on this site.
Want to build a wattle fence? The Chigago Tribune has an
As with all types of trees and shrubs, common sense should
prevail in the growing of willows. There are however, several
things to consider. First, regard the natural habitat of
the plant. Willows that grow along stream banks can withstand
periodic floods and generally require a lot of water. Willows
that grow in alpine regions do well in a rock garden. It
is important to keep the larger willows away from foundations
and drainage fields (read further info regarding Willow
Invasiveness), but these same willows, with annual pruning,
can be a dramatic focal point in a smaller garden (read
further info regarding Pruning
Definitive Book on Willows
I am sad to say that the publisher has stopped publishing
this book. Please contact Timber
Press with a suggestion to reprint it. There are still
some copies available at Amazon:
The Genus Salix by Christopher Newsholme, Timber Press.
The first three chapters deal with every aspect of the
genus, from the origin to the wide degree of uses, as
well as how they are classified and practical information
on propagation and Ideal conditions. The last four chapters
describe hundreds of willows, divided according to size.
There are very few questions on the topic that connot
be answered by this book.
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
Making Bentwood Trellises, Arbors, Gates & Fences, by Jim Long