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There are hundreds of different species of willow (Salix), deciduous trees that can grow and spread quite rapidly both in natural and cultivated environments. The common willow we see growing in woodlands and roadsides is Salix caprea, known as goat willow or pussy willow. There is an abundance of it growing in the hedgerows where we live. It grows to a height of 6 -10 metres, has broad leaves with soft grey undersides and produces pretty yellow catkins in early spring. I like to cut and dry branches when in flower with catkins to make a long lasting displays in vases for the home.
~ Willow roots ~
All willow thrives best in damp soil conditions. We are advised not to grow willow near old water pipes because the strong roots will seek water and take advantage of any cracks which could lead to clogged pipes. For a similar reason it is best to keep willow at a good distance from septic tanks and open water drainage channels. There is a septic tank and natural soak away at our property, also an old well so when we have planted willow we have made sure it is at a distance of at least 8m away. It is claimed willow roots can be destructive to new pipes and foundations of buildings, I tend to think this is rather over dramatic and fail to see how willow roots could possibly break through concrete or solid sound surfaces. Many people, myself included, have willow growing near buildings and relatively new water pipes without any problems whatsoever.
~ Willow branches ~
Willow branches can be very flexible as well as strong and if coppiced will often grow extremely thin and straight. In ancient times willow rods were harvested for making a wide range of essential and useful things such as baskets, fencing, tools, traps, furniture and toys. Willow is still popular for basket making and wattle fencing. A few years ago I learnt the very basics of basket making and use willow rods from trees growing in my garden. I have produced a selection of very odd shaped baskets whilst practising the technique but I find weaving with willow very therapeutic, the pliable thin rods are smooth, shiny and have a fresh green aroma.
~ Propagating and planting willow ~
For a fast growing hedge or summer screen willows are ideal and the fastest growing willow used for this is Salix Viminalis. When I decided to create a windbreak along the front edge of our garden I chose willow and cut branches from Salix Viminalis in the Autumn. I made stakes of approximately 40cm with a slanted cut at one end, these I then pushed into the ground with the slated end down at 45cm intervals and watered in well. In the spring buds appeared on the stakes and new growth begun. In the first year growth was slow whilst the stakes established a root system but in the second year the line of willows grew rapidly and now three years later we already have a willow screen 4 metres in height. It will need trimming this Autumn to prevent it becoming too tall and to encourage it to thicken further at the base. In my view this must be the one of the quickest and easiest ways to establish a living screen.
Ornamental varieties of Willow can be bought in large tubs or bare rooted from local nurseries, garden centres or specialist online suppliers. Willow stakes for planting can be obtained online from
JPR Environmental or MammothWillow.co.uk and for basket making from Somerset Willow Growers Ltd.
Thank you for reading x
© Lunaria 2012