Bluestem Nurseryhardy field grown plants

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S. (Willow) Stems at Bluestem Nursery

Salix (Willow)

Willows for Screening

these 5 month old willows started life as
cuttings that were simply inserted into the ground
in the spring

Due to the rapid growth rate of certain willows, they can make excellent screens or hedges. There are 3 main ways that this can be done:

This page will deal with the last suggestion. We now have a webpage that gives the growth rate of most of our willows, which should be helpful in determining their screening abilities.

No matter which technique you choose, if you are planting willows for their screening effect, then you should coppice them at the beginning of their second season. This will result in more branches growing up from the base of the plant, hence a denser screen.

Technique #1 - Coppicing alternate plants

Year 1 - Plant a row of willows 2' apart (for a dense screen, or further apart for a slightly looser one). Some varieties will grow 5-7' the first year.

Year 2 - Jim recommends that you cut them all down to ground level (this is called coppicing). This results in a fuller screen the first year. However it is not required that you cut them all down.

For the coppiced plants, I suggest you take note of how quickly they take to regain a height suitable for screening. This will help you to make decisions regarding the future cutting back of the plants. If they grow back really quickly, then you might want to coppice them all every year.

Year 3 - cut every other plant down to ground level. This leaves half of the plants to continue the screening effect, while the other half grow. The coppiced plants will provide you with the colourful stems for the winter, while the older ones will only have color on their new growth. The older plants may be pruned to whatever height you wish.

Year 4 - coppice the 2 year old plants

If you coppice every spring, it is unlikely that any further pruning will need to be done. If you leave some for 2 years, then you may have to prune them to keep them the size you want.

You might want to plant in 2 staggered rows for additional screening and/or winter color (see #6).


  • you have a screening effect all year


  • screening in early spring will not be as dense as in #6

Suitable willows:

Technique #2 - Coppiced

Plant willows a minimum of 2' apart (for a dense screen, or further apart for a slightly looser one). Coppice (cut to the ground) all the willow plants every spring/late winter. See our page on Pruning Willows for Ornamental Effect for more information.

Cut all willows to the ground every spring.


  • the resulting new growth, particularly on some of the varieties, is colorful and will provide you with great winter interest.
  • the resulting screen is quite narrow


  • there will be no screening effect for a few weeks while the willow stumps grow rods again

Suitable willows:

  • same list as in Technique #1 above


One of our customers has observed that half of her S. koriyanagi 'Rubikins', which was coppiced very early in the season was much taller than the other half, which she coppiced a few weeks later, even though both cuttings were done while the plant was dormant. So we therefore suggest that for early and maximum height, that the plants be coppiced as early at it is practical to do so.

Technique #3 - Sheared

Plant willows no more than 2' apart (for a dense screen, or further apart for a slightly looser one).

Prune or shear the plants as you would a hedge.


  • can be kept narrow


  • more labor is involved

Suitable willows:

Technique #4 - Partial pruning

Plant willows 3' apart (for a dense screen, or further apart for a slightly looser one).

This technique will allow you to have a screen from the time the leaves come out in the spring until they fall in the winter. Try cutting back to the ground only one-third to one half of the stems each year, removing the oldest, and thickest ones each spring. Leave the others unpruned. These are the ones that will give you screening until the new rods grow tall in a couple of months.

Pruning all the branches to the ground will give you lots of strong, vividly coloured stems, especially in some willows. However catkins are produced on the branches of the previous season's growth so if you cut the the branches to the ground each year you won't get any. To have the best of both worlds, follow the pruning technique mentioned in the above paragraph.


  • you will have a year-round screen. You won't have to wait for the plant to re-grow its branches and leaves each spring.
  • less pruning in the spring
  • you will have nice catkins from some of the willows (see our list of willows with nice catkins on this page)
  • the older branches will provide a taller screen


  • there will not be as much winter colour because it is the annual growth that is colorful

Suitable willows:

  • same list as listed for Technique #1 above.

Technique #5 - Willows are left unpruned

Plant willows about 5' apart, though it depends on the expected height of the willow.

Choose one of the shorter shrub willows to grow as a screen. Prune if you find they are growing too tall. If a branch get out of line width-wise, just cut it back, however cutting back to the main stem is recommended. The plant will regrow quickly to fill in the bare area.


  • the hedge has a loose informal look and will be enjoyed by birds
  • can be useful as a snowfence or windbreak
  • will take a little longer to produce an effective screen


  • it is quite wide/deep

Suitable willows:

Technique #6 - A double row of willows

This makes the densest screen. Plant willows 2-3' apart in each row.

Plant two rows of willows (staggered) and coppice one row to the ground at the end of the winter. Coppice the other row the next winter. Plant basketry willows for the narrowest row.


  • you will have a screen year-round
  • you will have catkins on the older row, as long as you leave it unpruned until they are finished blooming
  • one row will have the beautiful annual stem colour on those that display it


  • you need room for 2 rows

Suitable willows: