White Willow Care: Learn How To Grow A White Willow
By: Teo Spengler
The white willow (Salix alba) is a majestic tree with leaves that have a magic of their own. Read on for more white willow information, including tips on how to grow a white willow and white willow care.
What is a White Willow Tree?
White willows are lovely, fast-growing trees that can shoot up to 70 feet (21 m.) in your garden. White willows are not native to this country. They grow wild in Europe, central Asia, and northern Africa. White willow cultivation began in the United States in the 1700’s. Over the years, the tree has naturalized in many parts of the country.
Once you read up on white willow information, you’ll know why the tree has many fans. It not only leafs early, but it holds onto its leaves late into autumn. This tree is one of the first to leaf in the spring and one of the last to drop its leaves in the fall. The bark is furrowed and the branches droop gracefully, though not as much as a weeping willow. In spring, attractive catkins appear on the trees. The seeds ripen in June.
White Willow Cultivation
These trees thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8 and generally do not require much care. If you want to grow a white willow, plant it in moist loam. The ideal pH range for white willow cultivation is between 5.5 and 8.0. Choose a sunny spot or at least one with partial sun, since white willows don’t do well in deep shade.
These willows attract wildlife. Many different animals use the spreading branches for cover. They also provide food for caterpillars of different moth species including the puss moth, willow ermine, and red underwing. The catkins provide bees and other insects early spring nectar and pollen.
On the other hand, before you jump into white willow cultivation, you’ll want to note the downsides. These include weak wood, a marked susceptibility to pests and disease, and shallow, moisture-seeking roots.
White Willow Care
For white willow care, irrigation is important–more rather than less. White willows can survive severe flooding but don’t do well with drought. On the other hand, they tolerate sea spray and urban pollution.
Like many willow species, white willows love wetlands. For ideal cultivation, plant your trees around ponds or rivers. This reduces white willow care, since the tree roots have a source of water.
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12 Common Species of Willow Trees and Shrubs
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida
Willows include more than 400 trees and shrubs from the Salix genus—a group of moisture-loving plants that are native to temperate and cold regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Depending on the species, willows range in size from low-ground-hugging shrubs to towering giants of 90 feet or more. All willows are moisture-loving plants that will do well in wet, boggy conditions, and some are adaptable enough to also do well in dry soils. Most species of Salix have lance-shaped leaves, although some species have narrower leaves (these species are known as osiers), while others have rounder leaves (most of these species are known as sallows). The wood of willow trees tends to be brittle, so ornamental landscape use is limited to a relatively few species.
In landscapes, willows are often planted alongside streams where the interlacing roots will hold back soil and prevent erosion. Willows can also be used to create living fences or even sculptures, and the branches are commonly used in basketry and weaving since the wood is flexible enough to be bent once it has been soaked in water.
Be cautious about planting willows near sewer lines or water pipes, because their roots will naturally gravitate to them. Most, if not all, willow species are moisture-loving plants that will seek out underground pipes carrying water. If willow roots penetrate a water main or sewer line, you could face thousands of dollars in repair and replacement cost.
Here are 12 water-loving willow trees and shrubs to consider.
WEEPING WILLOW - SALIX ALBA
Common Name: weeping willow, white willow
Hardiness Zone: 2 to 8
Height: 50 to 100 ft
Width: 40 to 70 ft
Common characteristics :
White willow can grow to be 80-100 feet tall in good conditions. It grows at a fast rate new growth can be upwards of 24" per year. It has yellowish-brown bark and loose, drooping branches holding narrow, finely-toothed leaves. This is a dioecious species, with flowering catkins appearing on separate male and female trees. Male catkins are 2” long somewhat showy, having tiny flowers with yellowish anthers and two stamens. Female catkins are smaller and non-showy, with greenish flowers. Narrow, lanceolate, finely-toothed leaves are 4” long are gray-green above and white-silky beneath. Fall color is generally a pale yellow, but this species is most well-known for it's "weeping" form and bright red winter twigs.
Where it grows :
The white willow can thrive in a range of soil pH conditions from acidic to alkaline, and it does well in varying moisture conditions. It will grow especially well near a consistent water source. This tree will grow a large round-shaped spreading canopy when in the open.
How it’s used :
White willow is generally not recommended as a residential landscape tree. White willow may be an acceptable tree for areas with moist soils along streams, ponds, or in low spots in the landscape where other shrubs or small trees may falter. Not recommended as a shade tree or street tree because of weak wood, insect/disease susceptibility, moisture-seeking roots, and litter potential. (Missouri Botanical Garden)
Ecosystem services :
The white willow provides a food source for rabbits, beaver, and larger game species such as deer. It can also serve as a nesting place for small birds or mammals.
Where it is native to :
The weeping willow is not native to North America, it has been on the continent since the 1700s though, and has become a recognizable species for having a beautiful, broad, and loose crown. It was originally native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Central Asia until it was moved across seas by colonizers. It quickly spread and naturalized in much of North America.
Susceptible to numerous disease problems including blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots, and cankers. The white willow can also be host to many insect pests including aphids, scale, borers, lacebugs, and caterpillars. The wood of this tree is weak and prone to cracking or breaking, its branches may be damaged by ice and snow build-up. The willow has shallow and aggressive roots that may clog sewers or drains and make gardening underneath trees difficult.
Known Varieties and Their Traits :
Golden Weeping Willow (Salix alba 'Tristis'): A large weeping tree reaching 75-80 feet high and wide. In spring the bright yellow twigs and graceful form are quite showy. One of the first trees to leaf out in the spring. Prone to storm damage. (The Morton Arboretum)
Golden Willow (Salix alba 'Vitellina'): This cultivar produces bright yellow stems. (The Morton Arboretum)
There are several varieties of willow hybrids. They can be naturally occurring hybrids or man-made hybrids formed in cultivation. The popular Weeping Willow is a hybrid, which occurred by crossing the white willow (Salix alba) with the Peking willow (Salix babylonica). Other varieties of willow that are produced via hybrids include:
Japanese Dappled Willow-Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’
This willow is notable for its variegated foliage. The leaves emerge in the spring in a pretty pink color, and as they mature, they can take on hues of green or cream. In the fall, the leaves become yellow before dropping to the ground. This compact shrub or small tree will often have several different colors of foliage on it at once, as they all progress into various colors at slightly different stages. The branches of the plant are orange-red, which gives further interest to the landscape when the tree is bare through winter.
Golden Curls Willow-Salix x sepulcralis ‘Erythroflexuosa’
This tree is a result of crossing the Golden Weeping Willow (Salix alba ‘Tristis’) with the Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’). It can be grown as a large shrub or small tree and produces tendril-like branches that twist and curve in a gentle downward direction. It has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society for its ornamental quality and ease of growth. It suits sunny sites best, with soil that is consistently moist.
Uses of white willow
Traditionally, willows were used to relieve pain associated with a headache and toothache. The painkiller Aspirin is derived from salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species. In medieval times, in many parts of Europe, the bark was chewed to release the salicin for pain relief.
The bark was also boiled in water and the liquor drunk to relieve diarrhoea, help reduce joint inflammation in arthritis and as a gargle for sore throats. The liquor was also used to stop bleeding, clean wounds and to treat general aches and pains.
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Varieties of Weeping Willow
Although Salix babylonica is the most common weeping willow used in home landscapes, there are some related species to consider:
- Golden weeping willow (S. alba "Tristis") has golden twigs. It grows in zones 3 through 10 to a height of 50 to 70 feet tall and wide. Its green leaves turn golden in fall, adding autumn interest.
- Wisconsin weeping willow (S. babylonica x S. pentachdra) grows quickly to 30 to 40 feet tall and wide. For a weeping willow with even longer pendulous branches, try the cultivar "Elegantissima." Both types grow in zones 4 through 9.
5. Arctic Willow (Salix arctica)
The Arctic willow is a tiny shrub, and its height does not exceed six inches. It is adapted to survive in cold, arctic conditions hence, its name. It is also the northernmost woody plant in the world.
The plant has round glossy leaves of around an inch in size, with silky grey hairs. The catkins differ between male and female plants. To be specific, the male plants have yellow catkins, and the female plants have red catkins.
Surprisingly for its size, the arctic willow has a long lifespan of over 200 years. Some of its parts are edible, sweet-tasting, and high vitamin C. Because of this, the Inuit and the Gwich’in people have used it as a food source.
Dwarf weeping willow ‘Kilmarnock’
Related to the ‘Pendula Waterfall’ is the small ‘Kilmarnock’ weeping willow. This dwarf weeping willow is a deciduous tree that grows to between 4 and 8 ft. (1.2 – 2.4 m) and has a distinct umbrella shape. The arching cascading branches form a canopy and the branches don’t reach the ground.
To care for the dwarf weeping willow ‘Kilmarnock’ grow it in full sun or partially shady locations. To promote new growth, lightly prune the dwarf willow tree in the winter every 3-5 years. It is recommend to water it once a week or more frequently in very hot climate.