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Past Articles Library | Trees | How to Propagate and Care for a Weeping Willow

Believe it or not, there are over 400 different species of weeping willow.  Some grow as trees that can reach 40 feet or higher in height while other grow as shrubs.  This later normally occurs in areas where the weather stunts plant growth and plants have adapted to new varieties. 

The history of the weeping willow is very interest but very common when it comes to plant propagation.  The general story of this plant starts in 1748 when Mr. Vernon at Twickennem Park planted a few green twigs that were found in a box of figs form the Middle East.  As these growing twigs began to root and display their beauty, many people became interested in this mysterious plant.  Then, a German nursery in 1900 acquired some of their own green twigs and began to sell them.  They also started crossing Salix babylonica and Salix alba, which produced many of the willow varieties we see now.

While the weeping willow tree has many marketable uses, one of the first was as a pain reliever.  From ancient times, willow plants were chewed on to reduce fevers, headaches, and inflammation.  Then, in 1763 Dr. Felix Hoffman decided to isolate the chemical in the tree that provide pain relief.  While he was able to do this, it was found that the chemical (salicyclic acid) was too hard on the stomach.  From this research, a synthetic version was made, which was kinder to the stomach.

The weeping willow also became the symbol of sorrow and death.  In Victorian times, death painting would include a picture of a weeping willow.  This fact is used today to figure out why a painting was commissioned.  Also, artist from numerous ages have valued weeping willow charcoal as a medium for their charcoal drawings.

Literature has also given the weeping willow its do.  Shakespeare used the willow in many of his stories.  In modern times, the Harry Potter book series has a willow as a character. 

As flexible as the weeping willow has been in the past, the environmental requirements of this plant are just as flexible.  The perfect location for this tree is in an area that stays moist but it can tolerate some dryness.  As far as soil, the weeping willow is not picky and can pretty much tolerate any type of soil. 

While you can order weeping willows, a better and less expensive approach is to find a gardening friend that already has one and get a start.  Weeping willows are easy to start even for a brown thumb gardener.  To begin the process, one will need to study the tree and ask a few questions, which includes the age of the tree.  Once you have the answer, the next step is to look for branches you can reach.  What you are really looking for is a branch that is low enough that you can reach and that is one to six feet long and one to two inches in diameter at the location you would like to cut.  The last question you will want to ask is if it is ok to take the cutting.

Well, as we know, gardeners are givers and in doing so the answer to the later questions will probably be yes.  When it comes to taking the cutting, make sure that you first clean your knife.  To do this, one can either soak the knife in water with a capful of bleach or wipe down the blade and handle with rubbing alcohol.  Once either approach has been done, you are ready to take your cutting.  When you go to make the cut, make sure that the branch meets the dimensions listed earlier.  Once that has been determined, take a cut at an angle.  While you can take a cut anytime, it is better to do this while the tree is still dormant, which is between February and March.   

Once you have your cutting(s), place it in a bucket of water until you are ready to plant.  Prior to planting though, one must prepare the garden space.  The first step in this process is to choose the correct location.  This means an area that receives direct sunlight to partial shade.  Also, you do not want it too close to a house or any underground piping.  Being too close to either one of these factors can cause you to have to remove your weeping willow.  In doing so, plan carefully before you place your cutting in the ground.

After you have selected a proper location, dig a hole that is 18 inches in diameter and as deep as the length of the cutting.  If the soil is high in clay, scrape the sides of the hole with a rake.  This will prevent the sides of the hole from glazing, which will prevent the roots of the weeping willow from growing outward.  Now, take the removed soil and mix it with some all-purpose potting soil and a balanced fertilizer.  The amount can be found on the package.

Next, take the cutting and make a new cut at an angle.  Place the cutting in the center of the hole so that two-thirds of it will be in the ground.  Once that is done, fill in the hole with soil and water in.  Add additional soil as needed. 

Add a layer of mulch that is three to four inches deep and radiates out from the cutting three inches.  Monitor the soil moisture often and water as needed to keep the soil evenly moist. Continue with this monitoring for the first year. 

After the first year, you can do a little pruning but do this with caution.  The attraction of the weeping willow is its weeping nature, which some gardeners remove through drastic pruning.  The best approach is to remove any side branches that are forming along the trunk up to six feet.  This clearance is typically fine for the average adult.  While, I do not suggest that you do any drastic pruning, it is fine to remove any diseased or dead branches during this process. 

While this tree does start out small, it will grow a six to eight feet in the first year.  Once it has reached about 10 feet, it will begin to grow more of its characteristic “weeping” branches.

Besides being grown for its wonderful growth habit and shade, the weeping willow provides a fine texture of slender green leaves in the spring and summer.  Whilst it is a deciduous tree, there is very little leaf litter left for the gardener in the fall. 

So now that you have your weeping willow, what else can you add to the garden space to enhance its beauty?   The weeping willow itself creates several different planting zones that a clever gardener can take advantage of.  Directly underneath a weeping willow is extremely shady and in doing so welcomes shade loving plants.  A great example of this would be the bridal veil, which adds interest when it produces its small, white blooms. 

Another microenvironment that the weeping willow creates is right outside its canopy.  In this sun to partial shade location, several different plants can thrive.  This includes vinca and ajuga. 

Regardless of how you decide to finish off your weeping willow planting, always use herbaceous, perennial groundcoverings.   Doing this will aid in moisture retention while adding interest to the landscaped area during the fall and winter months when the skeleton of the weeping willow is only present.

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