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living willow structures

Weeping Willow - Planting & Maintenance

Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) and golden weeping willow (Salix alba x Salix babylonica) are the most common large weeping willows to be planted in the UK. Weeping willows can grow up to 50ft in height and develop a wide spreading head of pendulous branches carrying long, narrow pale to mid-green leaves.  They are not for the small garden - there are a number of cultivated pendulous varieties that are more suitable when space is limited, the most popular of these is Kilmarnock willow (Salix caprea pendula)  


Weeping willows have a long history in Britain - one story is that the first one was planted in 1748 by a Mr. Vernon at Twickenham Park, who found some green twigs in a delivery of figs from the Middle East and decided to see if they would grow if put into the ground!  Their popularity increased however when a German nursery in c.1900 produced a cross between Salix alba and Salix babylonica - it is these (and their offshoots) that are now the most widely planted.

Planting weeping willow

The best way to propagate weeping willows is first to find a mature tree that you like the look of and then go and ask the owner if you could take a small branch from it in the winter (most are happy to oblige and will tell you about their tree in great detail!).

Once a source has been identified then look to prepare the ground.  Make sure that the site is not near the house and not near any old water pipes etc - it would be a shame to have to cut it down just when it's getting a good size. A site near water is good, willows like moist soil but do not do well in soil that is waterlogged for long periods.   Dig a square pit say 18 inches wide and deep.  Break up the soil and add some compost if the soil structure needs it.

Now is the time to take a cutting.  The best time of year is whenever the leaves are off the tree with the optimum being Feb/early March - so long as there is not a hard frost on the ground.  The branch should be between 1 and 2 inches at the base and not more than 6 ft tall.  Plant it in the hole that you've made, firming up the soil so that you can't pull the branch out.  If you are in a windy site it may be worth staking the tree and a rabbit guard will protect it from grazing in the first year or so.


In the first year you will get best results if you water your tree but only when there is a long dry period (especially early on in the season).  If there has not been any rain then once a week or so give the site a watering can full of water. Keep the area around the base weed free with a mulch or by chopping back any weeds that come up.   Do not mow around the base - mown grass uses up more water than long grass and the tree can get easily damaged.

At the end of the first year carefully remove any side branches that have appeared to half way up the stem - the aim is to have a clean trunk up to 6 feet (unless you want to use it for climbing in which case you could leave one lower down).  From then on it should be able to look after itself - the only pruning I recommend is cutting off dead or diseased branches.


Don't would be my advice - the shape is never quite the same afterwards.  The only exception would be to cut off dead or damaged branches.  If you need to cut off more then really it's in the wrong place and I would think about replacing it with something more suitable - you could always take a cutting and plant another one somewhere else!   For major pruning consult a professional who will be able give you advice specific to your tree.


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