How to Grow Willow From Cuttings
Wonderful World of Willow!
Willow, osiers and sallow are groups of several hundred species of deciduous trees and shrubs from the genus salix. Because they are fast growing, flexible and easy to propagate, they have been used since ancient times for construction and crafts.
What Is Willow Used For?
Willow grows very fast. In countries which have a mild, damp climate (e.g Ireland where I live), willow shoots grow about 12 feet per year.
So what is willow used for?
- Bamboos are one of the fastest growing group of plants on planet Earth and have been widely used in the Orient for construction, scaffolding and weaving. Similarly in more temperate climates, willow has been used for crafts and construction since ancient times. Because willow rods are so flexible, they are ideal for basketry (known as "wickerwork") and construction of wattle fences and walls, in thatching of roofs, and cricket bats.
- The bark of willow trees has been used for millenia for medicinal purposes. It contains salicin, a compound which is metabolized to salicylic acid in the body. This acts as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller, and salicylic acid is the same compound produced when aspirin is broken down in the body.
- Willow grows fast so it is an excellent energy or biomass crop. It is carbon neutral and unlike the burning of fossil fuels, doesn't produce new carbon dioxide, (only what it fixed from the atmosphere) which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Willow is harvested, chipped and can be used in home heating systems or for generating electricity in thermal power stations.
- Willow can be used to make a "living fence" and structures in the garden (e.g. huts). A screen made from willow, sprouts in summer, and the leaves on fences provide partial shade and privacy while allowing sunlight to penetrate
How to Grow Cuttings of Willow
- You can buy cuttings in a store, online or get them from a friend. Alternatively in spring, harvest shoots from a mature willow tree. Every time a tree is pruned, it will become more vigorous and start to produce more and more shoots every year
- Willow propagates readily and is eager to grow. So shoots will easily produce roots in a bucket of water. Since roots require oxygen, my theory is that it's a good idea to change the water regularly before it becomes stagnant, otherwise the roots could drown and die back. I changed the water every week, but maybe it isn't necessary to do this (experiment required!)
- Once roots become a couple of inches long, dig v-profile slots in the ground, about 10 inches deep. Insert the cuttings into the slots, spacing them about 1 1/2 feet apart and backfill with sand, taking care not to damage the delicate roots. Firm the sand around the cuttings (If you have a several cuttings, you can dig a v-shaped trench). Water regularly to prevent dry out, especially in dry weather.
- Transplant the new saplings to their final location in autumn when they have dropped their leaves.
- An alternative way of propagating is to take cuttings and plant them between November and early April. The soil needs to be reasonably soft and cultivated for this method to work. Push a metal rod, roughly the diameter of the cutting into the soil to a depth of about 10 inches to make a hole. Next push the cuttings down into the ground, leaving at least 3 buds above the surface.
The advantage of rooting in water is that you can be sure that the cutting has developed roots before planting. Sometimes a cutting will fail to root, and if a row of cuttings has been planted as a screen, it will be too late in the season to replace the dead rods, resulting in gaps in your "fence"
In both cases if the intention is to use the cuttings as a source of further cuttings in following years, the new saplings can be cut back to about a foot above ground level in the following spring (i.e. a year since they were harvested). The saplings will then start to produce their own shoots which can be harvested the following year.
Growing Willow - Soil and Location
Willow thrives in open, sunny conditions and loves damp, but well drained soil. The roots will seek out water, so trees should be kept well away from drains and septic tanks. Like all trees, willow should be kept at a distance from buildings, walls and other structures since roots can cause subsidence as they absorb moisture from the ground. If the plants are only used to produce willow rods however, this isn't as serious an issue. In the first few years after planting, grass and weeds should be removed from the base of plants by hoeing or mulching. Cuttings can be spaced about 1 1/2 feet apart.
What About Weeping Willow?
Weeping willow is a cross bred ornamental willow often seen in parks and growing close to water. You can grow these from cuttings using the techniques described above.
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© 2015 Eugene Brennan