Willow Shrub

The Willow Shrub - A Springtime Tradition

In addition to adding a nice touch to a garden, the willow shrub can simplify one of our time honored traditions. It won't be found marked on any calendar, but every year during the month of March, maybe earlier in some locations, thousands of people leave their nice warm houses and venture out into the raw, end-of-winter weather in search of one of the first harbingers of spring, the pussy willow.

Unless there is a special tree that is visited year after year, the hunt for a few pussy willows to collect as indoor decorations can take some time. Not all pussy willows are all that cooperative about placing the branches containing the pussy willows or catkins, within easy reach. If can be quite frustrating to happen upon a nice collection of catkins which have just broken out form their tight bud stage, only to find they are a good 10' out of reach.

This is where a willow shrub cones in handy. Left to their own devices, most willows will grow into trees, some of which can be quite large and showy. All of the native varieties however can be grown as a willow shrub, with the catkins in easy reach, and to gather some you need not have to travel any further than across your yard. With a willow shrub or two in your yard, even more if a screen or hedge is the goal, the fuzzy little catkins will always be in good supply during the late winter or early spring months.

While every variety of willow shrub will have the familiar pussy willow "blooms" or catkins, some are more attractive than others, and the male catkins are more showy than are the female catkins. One of the nicer varieties of willow shrub, and one very likely stocked by a local nursery, is the French Pussy Willow. The well-shaped catkins of this variety are just a bit larger than most any other willow shrub.

A willow shrub is easy to grow and requires little maintenance, though it does need water. The willow is typically a wetland plant, growing along banks of streams in the wild. In rural areas, and at times in urban areas, when you see a large, showy willow tree, it's often growing in a shallow depression where water is apt to be standing at times after a good rain. The willow prefers soil that is definitely moist and doesn't have the aversion to getting its feet wet that many other plants and trees do.

Just Plant and Prune - To have a willow shrub in your yard, all you have to do is plant the willow and keep it pruned back to whatever you consider to be shrub height, anywhere from 2' to 3' or 10' or more. Just don't let those catkins get out of reach, if that's the reason you're planting the willow in the first place. A willow tree can be spectacular in the wintertime on one of these mornings where it's covered with hoarfrost. The willow shrub is no different, it's only a matter of being spectacular on a slightly smaller scale.

A Willow Can Be Invasive - Don't plant the willow too close to your house, or in the middle of a very fine lawn, unless you're dedicated to keeping it shrub-sized. If allowed to grow into a tree, the roots can cause enormous problems. Besides disturbing the looks of a nice lawn, the willow's roots can wreak havoc with septic and sewer lines, and for that matter house foundations. It might be a good idea to plant it in a nice spot in the garden that is a fair distance from the house. Even the willow shrub has roots, but not quite so invasive.

Propagation - Propagating the willow is an easy task. Cut of a shoot, or the end of a branch, and stick it in moist soil, cut end first of course. In a few weeks it will develop roots, and you now have the beginnings of a new willow shrub. The only thing to remember is to use the current year's growth of wood for the cutting, old wood won't work.

Pruning - Pruning is quite easy as well. Just cut above a node when shaping the shrub. Maintaining the right height involves nothing more than cutting back the upward growing branches or shoots, and leaving the lateral branches untouched. Unlike many woody plants, you're not going to destroy next year's growth of buds by cutting back new wood. You'll still get catkins next spring, and will be able to once again enjoy the time-honored tradition of collecting pussy willows, on your own property.



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