It's easy to see what people like about willows. They're fast growing and tolerate just about any type of soil. They're also the easiest of trees and shrubs to propagate: Just take cuttings at any time of year and stick them into moist soil. On the other hand, they are weak-wooded, short-lived trees, and their shallow, greedy roots make them hard to garden under and can invade water lines. Most are attacked by a host of pests (tent caterpillars, aphids, borers, spider mites) and diseases. Weeping willows do best near lakes and streams, although they can, with training, make satisfactory shade trees. Shrubby willows are grown chiefly for their showy catkins (this group is known as pussy willows) or colorful twigs, or to control erosion on riverbanks. Branches of pussy willows can be cut in bud in late winter and brought indoors to bloom. Willow species hybridize freely, resulting in much confusion of names in the nursery trade.
- Native to Europe, North Africa.
- Upright to 75100 feet tall, 50100 feet wide.
- Yellowish brown bark.
- Narrow, 112- to 4 inches., bright green leaves are silvery beneath, may turn golden in fall.
- The following forms are valued for colorful twigs.
- GOLDEN WEEPING WILLOW.
- Pendulous form, to 5070 feet tall and wide (or wider).
- Young stems are bright yellow.
- Among the most attractive of weeping willows; may be sold as Salix alba 'Niobe', Salix babylonica 'Aurea', or Salix vitellina 'Pendula'.
- Upright, with brilliant yellow twigs in winter.
- Can grow to tree size, but cutting back gives best color display: Lop to 1 feet high yearly, just before spring growth begins.
- Stems may grow 8 feet in a season.
- Britzensis and 'Yelverton' have red or orange-red winter stems.
- From China.
- To 3050 feet tall and wide (or wider).
- Longer (3- to 6 inches.) leaves, more pronounced weeping habit than Salix a.
- Greenish or brown branchlets.
- This is a popular lawn tree, but keep its size in mind; planting anywhere near the house or a driveway, walk, or patio is usually a mistake.
- Be sure to give it moist soil, as it quickly becomes disconsolate and ratty looking in dry soil.
- Crispa ('Annularis'), ringleaf or cork-screw willow, has leaves curled into rings or circles; it is somewhat narrower than the species.
goat willow, florist willow
- Shrub or tree.
- Native from Europe to northeastern Asia.
- Grows to 1525 feet tall, 1215 feet wide.
- Broad, 3- to 6 inches-long leaves are dark green above, gray and hairy beneath.
- Before leaf-out, male plants produce fat, woolly, pinkish gray catkins about 1 inches long.
- Can be kept to shrub size by cutting to ground every few years.
- Kilmarnock (a male plant) and 'Weeping Sally' (its female counterpart) are two selections that will naturally sprawl on the ground; they are more effective grafted or staked to form small weeping trees 68 feet tall, 6 feet wide.
- Shrub or tree.
- Native to eastern U.S.; an old favorite in the South.
- To 1525 feet tall, 1215 feet wide.
- Slender, red-brown stems; bright green, 2- to 4 inches leaves with bluish undersides.
- Catkins of male plants are main drawsoft, silky, pearl gray, to 112 inches long.
rose-gold pussy willow
- Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7.
- To 610 feet tall, 12 feet wide.
- Narrowly oval, 2- to 4 inches-long leaves are gray-green above, bluish green beneath.
- Male plants produce plump, gray, furry, 112 inches-long catkins with numerous stamens sporting rose-and-gold anthers.
- Cut branches for arrangements to curb plant's size.
- Every three or four years, cut plant back to short stubs; you'll get very vigorous shoots with large catkins.
- Melanostachys has black catkins with red anthers.
salix matsudana(Salix babylonica pekinensis)
- Upright, pyramidal growth to 4050 feet tall, 3040 feet wide.
- Bright green, narrow, 2- to 4 inches-long leaves.
- Can thrive on less water than most willows.
globe navajo willow
- Large, spreading, round-topped tree to 70 feet tall and wide.
- To 30 feet tall, 20 feet wide; branches fantastically twisted into upright, spiraling patterns.
- Valued for winter silhouette and cut branches for arrangements.
- To 35 feet high and wide.
- Umbrella-shaped crown with upright branches, drooping branchlets.
- Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9.
- Native to central and eastern North America, where it is common along streamsides and riverbanks.
- To 3060 feet tall, 30 feet wide.
- Narrow, finely toothed leaves to 7 inches long are shiny dark green above, light green beneath.
- Tree bark is scaly, furrowed, and dark brown to black.
- The soft wood is used for making baskets and wicker furniture.
- Tolerates flooding; often used for wetland reclamation.
- Will take full sun but does best in partial shade.