A diverse group of deciduous trees and shrubs. Usually grown for their colourful bark and decorative winter catkins, which appear before the foliage. A number of colourful shrubs and smaller trees are suitable for the garden. Larger trees such as the Salix x chrysocoma (weeping willow) are best left to parks and riverside reserves.
Botanical Name: Salix
Common Names: Willow, osier
Foliage: Deciduous. Long, narrow, grey-blue or glossy green, leaves. Often with a much lighter underside.
Catkins: The large male catkins have silky yellow hair, the female catkins are thin gray.
Flowering Period: Spring
Soil: Moist soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.
Conditions: Full sun, any aspect, exposed or sheltered.
Habit: Spreading, branched or weeping
(depending on species).
Type: Shrub or medium to large tree.
Origin: Temperate regions of Europe and Asia.
Hardiness: Fully hardy in the UK.
Grow in a sunny position in a deep, humus-rich moist loam. Near a stream or pond is ideal.
Plant bare root trees in open-ground in November-March. Container-grown plants can be planted at any reasonable time. Water well until established.
Large trees are not suitable for small or even medium sized gardens. Do not plant anywhere near a wall or building as the roots take up a lot of moisture and may cause subsidence.
Water willows copiously when there is little or no rainfall. Fertilize in late winter or spring with a balanced fertilizer. Watch out for and treat the numerous grubs, caterpillars and mites that can feed on the foliage.
Plants grown for their coloured shoots should be cut down to within one or two buds of old wood, just before the buds open in spring. Unwanted growth of other forms can be trimmed back in winter.
Susceptible to attack by a wide range of pests, including: aphids, caterpillars, gall mites and willow scale.
Can be affected by canker, gall, rust and silver leaf.
Strikes very easily from hardwood cuttings. Plant 1ft (30cm) leafless hardwood cuttings, outdoors from November to March.
A wide variety of species are available, ranging from dwarf alpines to tall specimen trees. Many are large trees but there are several small enough for the domestic garden.
Salix alba (white willow, coral bark willow) makes a large riverside tree with ascending colourful branches. Catkins appear before the long narrow grey-blue leaves in May. Many good cultivars are available and several with colourful young stems. Often pollarded or coppiced to renew the coloured stems. Height to 80ft (25m), spread 50ft (15m).
Salix caprea (goat willow, pussy willow) is a large shrub or small tree with stiff pendulous branches and silky catkins in early spring. Several good dwarf weeping (pendula) forms are available. Height to 10ft (3m), spread to 8ft (2.5m). Effective hedging plant. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Salix x chrysocoma (weeping willow) is very large spreading tree with slender yellow branches, that hang almost to the ground. Catkins appear in March-April. Height to 50ft (15m), spread to 66ft (20m) or more. One of the most popular forms is Salix x sepulcralis chrysocoma (golden weeping willow). A vigorous form with graceful arching branches that end in golden-yellow branchlets.
Salix dapbnoides (violet willow) is an open, spreading tree, with reddish arching branches, and purple young shoots. The long dark green leaves are bluish underneath. Fluffy catkins in March. Height and spread to 33ft (10m).
Salix elaeagnos (hoary willow) is a shorter form, that produces a dense bushy shrub, with very narrow green leaves (white underside). Catkins in April. Height to 10ft (3m), spread to 15ft (4.5m).
Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki' (flamingo willow) is a colourful showy willow with marbled pink, green and white leaves. Height to 6ft (2m). Popular as a small specimen tree. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Salix lanata (woolly willow) is a compact, slow growing, shrub with rounded broad leaves. Native to Iceland. Catkins in May. Height to 3ft (1m).
Salix matsudana (Peking willow)
grows into an elegant tree with narrow, slender pointed
leaves. Green yellow
catkins in April. Height to 50ft (15m), spread to 33ft (10m). An interesting cultivar is Salix matsudana 'Tortuosa' (Dragon’s Claw Willow), which has twisted and contorted branches. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Salix purpurea (purple osier) is an attractive shrub or small tree with arching, purplish shoots (when young). Ideal for drier situations. Height up to 16ft (5m), spread to 20ft (6m). Popular cultivars include: 'Gracilis' a dwarf form and 'Pendula' a weeping form, both good for small gardens.
Salix repens (creeping willow) is a low growing spreading shrub, from 2ft (60m) to 6ft (1.8m) high, with small rounded leaves. Silver-grey catkins in spring.
Salix viminalis (common osier) is a fast growing shrub or small tree, with whippy stems, and long narrow dark green leaves that have a white hairy underside. Height and spread to 20ft (6m). Its flexible stems are perfect for basket weaving or for making garden structures such as arbours, fences and windbreaks.
Salix triandra, Salix viminalis, Salix purpurea (and their cultivars) are traditionally coppiced for willow withies or 'osier' rods. Take care when pushing fresh withies into the ground to make arbours or fences as they can easily take root, regrow and spread. However, if your purpose is to create quick hedge they can be ideal.