Willow trees readily grow from 1-1.5m willow cuttings. They are easy to plant, being thin and initially without roots, and can be simply pushed into holes made by a plugging implement. They should be protected from rabbits using tree guards.
Live willow cuttings are taken from December to March and for best results the time between cutting and planting should be kept to a minimum. Because willow grows rapidly it is particularly useful when creating fencing or windbreaks at the borders of gardens.
Success in growing trees from willow cuttings depends on good site preparation, careful planning and a long term plan for weeds.
Preparing the site depends very much on the scale of planting being carried out. Whatever the size good weed control in the first 2 or 3 years is very important to enable cuttings to establish effectively.
On a large scale planting, the most usual practice is to spray the site in the late summer with a broad-spectrum contact herbicide, plough to 300mm/12 inches depth and power harrow in the spring. This provides a good weed free tilth and aids future weed control measures.
On a smaller scale, cultivate the soil to a depth of 300mm/12 inches to produce a fine tilth. An alternative to using sprays for smaller areas is to use either a plastic sheet or a water permeable woven polythene sheet. The cuttings are planted through the sheet which increases soil temperature in the spring and retains water during the summer months. The thinnest sheets will only last a year and are the cheapest option but in our opinion using a sheet which will last at least 3 years is well worth the investment.
If just planting a few trees, dig a square pit c.12 inches all around to break up the soil, mix in some compost or rotted leaves and leave to one side.
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The ideal time for planting willow cuttings is from mid January to the end of March. Planting in the autumn risks the cuttings rotting off and later in the spring risks damaging the root nodules that will have started to sprout.
Stem cuttings supplied will be between 1-1.5m in length. The cuttings should be planted as soon as possible after receipt or if this is not possible then store them in a fridge until the planting can be carried out, though remember the sooner the better.
The cutting is pushed vertically into the soil to a depth of 12-18 inches . If the soil is such that you are having to force the cutting in then make a hole in the soil with a metal rod, basically you are trying not to damage the bark of the cutting when planting. Firm up the soil around the cutting.
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Long term weed control
Weeds in this case are defined as plants which cause either a reduction in the number of shoots from each stool or a reduction in the size of the rods. Plants, such as nettles, that have a rapid spring growth will cause a reduction in the number of shoots that will survive as the willow struggles to reach the light. Other plants which will cause problems in a willow bed include bramble, docks, couch grass and the dreaded bindweed.
In fact having a low growing ground flora may actually be beneficial in encoring insects that feed on aphids and other willow pests.
There are three weed control alternatives:
- Spraying with a foliar acting herbicide. This shouldn't be carried out during the 1st seasons growth. The most appropriate herbicides are only available to licence holders and needs specialist equipment to ensure correct dosage.
- Hand weeding with hoes and hand hooks. This has the advantage of being able to target undesirable species though on large plantings can be somewhat daunting. Regular and often should be the mantra to those using this method - this saves time in the long run.
- Mulching. This can be done with ground sheets (best done before planting), straw, cardboard or other organic material. Remember that adding too much organic matter may cause more problems later on with nettles etc. that invade the rich soil.
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