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Weeping Willow

June 1, 2022

Tree of the Month

Salix babylonica

A native of China and carried to the west along the silk road, it was first recorded in England around 1730.  It quickly became established in low wet areas and along streambanks.  It freely cross pollinated with other willow species, and these hybrids are some of the more commonly planted trees in the landscape today.

Weeping willow is a fast-growing tree, pushing 3-8’ of growth in a season when the tree is young.  Mature trees achieve 40-80’ in height by 30-50’wide.  While a fast-growing tree, willows tend to try and outgrow their pests instead of fight them off.  They are short lived trees and usually succumb to different pathogens in about 30-60 years.  They will tolerate different soil types, but prefer rich, moist soil and full sun for best growth.  Prolonged drought can open them up to other pathogens and speed up their demise.

The slender pendulous twigs are a shiny, golden color with small shiny yellow buds, spirally arranged and clinging to the twig.  Flowers are a pale-yellow catkin emerging in early spring.  Trees are dioecious with male and female flowers on separate trees.  Leaves are narrow, medium green with a pale green underside.  Growing 3-6” long by ½ “wide with finely serrated edges.  Fall color is a pale yellow, but willows will shed leaves and twigs all season, especially during dry periods.

The bark is a glossy yellow-green when young, becoming gray with thick, deeply ridged, corky bark over time.  Young trees should be protected from rabbits, deer, elk and other wildlife as it is a favorite food source.  Willows are susceptible to numerous insect and disease pests including scale, aphids, borers, willow leaf beetles, leaf spot, rust and cankers.  Willow roots can also be invasive and problematic if planted too close to septic’s or other infrastructure.

Pruning should be done when trees are young to establish a good structure and allow for smaller wounds.  Larger pruning cuts should be avoided as willows are poor at compartmentalizing and wood decay fungi can easily colonize open cuts and spread inward.  Winter pruning is also best to avoid dormant pathogens, and the trees’ structure is more visible.  Fertilization is seldom required for this fast-growing species unless there are poor soil conditions.  Except for the excessive raking of falling debris, willows don’t require a lot of professional care once they are established, and they have adequate space to grow.

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