How To Grow And Care For Weeping Willows

Weeping willows are undeniable beauties, but they need ample space to grow.

The weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is a polarizing plant. While some adore this unique-looking tree for its droopy charm, others believe that enjoying the sight of a weeping willow in your yard will never be worth the hassle. Outside of China, where it originates, the weeping willow has not had much success with being cultivated, aside from certain hybrid derivatives. The tree is easy to grow and fast to take root—able to propagate in many types of soil—but it is hard to keep alive.

In the photo above, you are looking at the best kind of place to plant weeping willow: on the banks of a pond or lake with nothing else around. The owner's house, driveway, sidewalk, pool, water lines, septic tank, and all the neighbor's houses very far away—50 feet or more. To plant a weeping willow anywhere closer is to court disaster.

If you have an expansive property on which to grow a weeping willow, here's how to care for this beautiful tree.

Plant Attributes
Common Name  Weeping willow, Babylon willow
Botanical Name Salix babylonica
Family Salicaceae
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 30-40 ft. tall, 30-40 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Moist clay, loamy, or sandy soil
Soil ph Acidic to slightly alkaline (5.5-8.0)
Hardiness Zones 6-8 (USDA)
Native Area Asia

Weeping Willow Care

Weeping willows grow very fast, often more than 3 feet per year. They need lots of water, which is why they look their best when planted near a body of freshwater (and why they don't belong near sewer lines and septic tanks). They can tolerate almost any kind of soil, as long as it is moist, and have naturalized around lakes and ponds in the South. Weeping willows are short-lived trees, lasting 30 years or as many as 50 with proper care and luck.

Weeping Willow Tree

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S. babylonica prefers to be planted in full sun where it can receive at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. The tree can tolerate some light shade.


Your weeping willow will do well in clay, loamy, or sandy soil, as long as it is moist. These trees prefer acidic soil, but can handle neutral and slightly alkaline soils too. They have moderate salt tolerance and can be planted in coastal areas.


Plant this thirsty tree near a water source to keep it healthy and free from disease. Occasional flooding will not harm a weeping willow, but frequent standing water can affect its health. The water-seeking roots are very aggressive, so don't plant it near your home, sidewalks, water lines, or septic tanks. Give the roots space to grow three times as wide as the tree's canopy when it is mature. If you plant your tree in an open area that stays dry, expect to water it regularly to prevent the leaves from dropping, especially during a drought.

Temperature And Humidity

Weeping willows do well in a humid climate. As one of the first trees to leaf out in spring, S. babylonica is not especially winter hardy, but it can be grown in Zone 6 in the Upper South. Some report success with growing this tree in Zone 9A in the Coastal South. Plant your tree in the fall so the roots can get established before the heat of summer.


Fertilizing can help promote the growth and health of a young weeping willow tree and potentially prolong its life. Feed your tree once a year in spring just before new growth appears. Use a slow-release fertilizer to reduce the likelihood of runoff contaminating your pond or lake. Find a fertilizer formulated for trees and apply following the package instructions.

Types Of Weeping Willows

While all weeping willows have a softly cascading, graceful form, there are a number of cultivars with unusual bark, growth patterns, and leaves. Hybrids may be sold under different species names or just as "Salix," as the lineage of these plants isn't always clear.

  • 'Babylon': The traditional weeping willow, with a broad umbrella shape and long tendrils that drape to the ground. Light green leaves turn yellow in the fall.
  • 'Crispa': The willowy leaves curl into an unusual ram's horn shape on this tree. This cultivar grows upright before the branches begin to bend down.
  • 'Golden Curls' and 'Scarlet Curls': These hybrids have gnarled and twisted branches that add winter interest. When covered with leaves, which also have a slight curl, the trees appear rounded and weep slightly with branches that stop above the ground.


Weeping willows are messy and weak-wooded trees that are susceptible to breakage. Train the tree when it is young so it can develop a strong structure. Tie the central leader of the tree to a stake to help it develop an upright trunk. Your sapling may come already pruned, or you may need to remove lower branches to promote more height and open up space under the canopy.

If you need to thin an overly dense and tangled tree, do it in winter or early spring while the tree is dormant and you can see its structure. Remove crossing branches, choosing smaller branches and branches with a narrow V-shaped crotch first. Keep stronger, horizontal branches intact as much as possible. Sometimes larger branches on a mature tree become too heavy and begin to weaken, in which case they should be removed as well. Make certain that the crown is balanced on each side and remove additional growth on one side if needed. Broken, dead, or diseased branches with cankers should always be removed. Also, remove any suckers that sprout up from the ground.

Propagating Weeping Willows

Willow trees are male or female, and only the female catkins develop seeds. Don't worry, you won't need them to propagate this plant. Weeping willows are famously easy to propagate from cuttings. Many experts say the cuttings can root with little trouble throughout the year, but the best time may be late winter (though not while the ground is frozen) or early spring. Here's how to do it:

  1. Identify a new home for your tree first, preferably in a spot that stays moist. This will be the tree's final home, so choose the location carefully. Loosen the soil to about 18 inches wide and deep.
  2. Select a stem that is the width of a pencil and cut a length 12-18 inches long. Plant the bottom end of the cutting 6-8 inches deep.
  3. Firm the soil around your cutting, water, and keep moist. The cutting should begin to leaf out within a few weeks in spring.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The list is a long one, but here are just a few of the things a weeping willow can be home to: spongy (formerly gypsy) moths, sawflies, beetles, lace bugs, Lymantria dispar, aphids, spider mites, and carpenter worms. Some of the diseases to look out for are willow scab, black canker, leaf spot, various foliar diseases, crown gall, and willow gall. The tree also attracts grazers like rabbits, beavers, and deer. On the other hand, willows are an important larval host plant for butterflies and support many specialized bees. Here's what to watch out for with your tree:

  • Crown gall: A bacterial disease that causes tumor-like growths on the trunk or sometimes branches. Removing infected branches can help prolong the life of a large tree (make sure to sterilize your pruners or saw between cuts). In general, infected plants should be removed so the disease doesn't spread to other trees. Don't plant another willow in the same area for at least two years.
  • Willow scab: A fungus that kills young shoots, causes cankers, and creates green spore masses on leaves. Prune out infected branches.
  • Willow blight: A tree that is simultaneously infected with scab and another fungus, black canker, is said to have willow blight. Black canker causes dark lesions on leaves and sunken black spots where leaf twigs join stems. Prune out infected branches. Talk with a professional about whether fungicide treatments could help. If the trunk becomes infected, the tree may die.
  • Leaf spots: Various fungi cause spots on willow leaves, but infections usually don't become serious. Rake up and dispose of fallen leaves to reduce spreading.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the disadvantages of a weeping willow tree?

    While weeping willows may look beautiful with their ornamental, swinging branches, these trees have invasive root systems and short lifespans. Additionally, weeping willows are prone to diseases and pest infestations. Some common conditions include willow anthracnose, willow scab, and willow black canker.

  • Where is the native region for the Weeping Willow?

    The Weeping Willow is native to tropical Asia. This species (Salix Babylonica) is a deciduous perennial tree that thrives in full sun. This tree is also known for its association with funerals and grief.

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