pruning willow, and the best salix varieties

pruning willow, and the best salix varieties

Salix chaenomeloides 'Mt. Aso' flowering

Salix chaenomeloides‘Mt. Aso’ is a selection of the Asian species Salix chaenolmeloides, the giant pussy willow (photo just above), “which itself is just unbelieveable,” he adds, “and also has a lot of flowers–plus this species did well despite our dry year last year.” These start blooming in February, even in Michael’s northern Vermont location.

  • Best for winter interest: For offseason color, you can’t beat the red of ‘Britzensis,’ he recommends (the twigs are even red in summer, photo below). Unfortunately, it’s mixed up in the nursery trade with the warm gold-stemmed variety ‘Chermesina’—another beauty, but not fiery red.
  • Best deer-resistant willows, for fencing and hedging (a.k.a. fedges) or otherwise: “This is important to tell gardeners about,” says Michael. “The purpurea willows are deer-resistant. So for a fedge or fence it’s really great–and even gracilis or nana makes a dense bush, 4 by 4 feet, that they won’t jump over.”
  • Great foliage (and gold fall color):Salix acutifolia ‘Blue Streak’ is just so handsome,” says Michael about a variety that’s too often overlooked. “It flowers quite freely, and has long, droopy foliage an inch wide, and 6 inches long that turns yellow in fall.” [Note from Margaret: I love the long, narrow, silvery-blue foliage of the rosemary willow, Salix elaeagnos, which also goes gold in fall. Michael sells it here.]
  • Best for bees to make honey from: Vermont Willow Nursery has a whole list of the willows best-suited to the task.
  • Salix 'Britzensis' from Vermont Willow NurseryWillow cuttings ready to ship at Vermont Willowa preposterous number of varieties. The hardest part with this ultra-easy plants: figuring out which one to buy. (Hopefully Michael’s recommendations above are a help.)

    The nursery sells 8-10 inch dormant, unrooted cuttings in bundles of five; you simply insert most of the twig when it arrives in the ground (like all but the top couple of inches).

    They also sell long rods (again, unrooted cuttings) for making living fences, or   domes and tunnels in either 7- or 9-foot lengths (depending whether you’ll be shipping Fedex or UPS, respectively). Those get inserted a foot into the ground upon arrival, spaced a couple of feet apart.

    One year I ordered two bundles of shorter cuttings, stuck them in a corner of one raised bed in my vegetable garden, and now I have 10 rooted young shrubs ready to transplant into their permanent positions. Easy! How to order. (Cuttings and ‘Britzensis’ willow photos courtesy of Vermont Willow.)

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