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S. (Willow) Stems at Bluestem Nursery

Salix (Willow)

What Can Willows be Used For? More Willow Uses

Willows have a huge number of uses.

Please note: this list is for your interest. We are not experts on these uses and we cannot supply you with further information. Please follow the links we have supplied below, or use a search engine.

  • landscaping - see our Landscape Uses for Willows webpage
  • hedges and screening - see webpage
  • chairs, tables and other furniture - see basketry webpage
  • baskets, wastebaskets, lampshades, bicycle baskets - see basketry webpage
  • living willow structures - see our webpage
  • sculpture - see webpage
  • cricket bats
  • coffins for natural burials
  • wattle fences, hurdles
  • plant supports such as an obelisk, hoops, cage
  • slope and streambank stabilization (bioengineering) - see webpage
  • windbreaks and shelterbelts
  • snow fencing
  • wildlife habitat
  • fish and waterfowl protection
  • fuel
  • wood chips
  • fodder
  • catkins
  • artists charcoal
  • medicinal uses; pain-killer was originally made from Salix alba
  • salmon, eel, lobster traps
  • boats (the Welsh coracle was made of willow)
  • noise barriers
  • bees love the pollen
  • flute
  • biofiltration and wastewater treatment
  • tool handles
  • paper
  • land reclamation and soil improvement
  • constructed wetland
  • phytoremediation (de-polluting contaminated soil)
  • agroforestry
  • biomass energy (bioenergy)
  • wands and brooms
  • sweat lodges
  • poles
  • veneer
  • fiber plants
  • flutes
  • wattle and daub (used in building construction)
  • education of school children
  • and last, but not least:
    • want to know if you will be married? On New Year's Eve, throw your shoe into a willow. If it doesn't catch in the branches the first time, try eight more times. If successful, you will soon be wed.

Brief discussion of items on the list above:

Windbreaks and shelterbelts - When planted in a row formation, willows provide an effective windbreak to protect crops and livestock. This can extend the growing season and improve animal and plant growth. It can also provide a buffer strip protecting sensitive areas from agricultural run-off or silt deposition.

Because willows grow so fast, and are so tough, they make excellent windbreaks even in extreme environments. They are tolerant of exposed sites, coastal areas, and poor soil. Under good conditions they should grow 2-3 meters (6-12') in the first year from cuttings, and can grow up to 5m (16'+) by the third year. Plant in double, triple or quadruple rows and staggered to significantly reduce wind speeds, even in winter. Later they may be thinned to provide materials for a variety of purposes, as mentioned above.

It is recommended that windbreaks and hedges can be coppiced (cut to approximately 50cm - 20" - or less above ground) at the start of the second season. This will encourage thicker growth lower down. Windbreaks will need no further attention, though the plants may be trimmed as any other garden hedge to maintain the size and shape desired.

Riverbank and slope stabilization - on river banks the spreading mass of roots inhibits erosion. See our webpage on Stabilization for further info.

Fisheries - willows alongside pond or stream provide shade and shelter for fish and water fowl

Wattle fences - make a woven dense or open fence by weaving willow rods. Instructions can be found:

Wood chips - a mulch for playgrounds, paths, animal bedding, soil conditioning, composting, weed suppression, etc.

Goat fodder - harvest rods annually for nutritious fodder for goats:

Willow catkins - some willows produce huge numbers of catkins in early spring, which attract pollinating insects when few other flowers have emerged. They are therefore useful planted in orchards. These catkins are also beautiful when cut and brought indoors, where they will last for years if left undisturbed. See our list of willows with particularly nice catkins on our Willow Landscape Uses page.

Game cover - willow groves provide shelter and protect birds and other wildlife

Artists' charcoal - today the finest artists' charcoal is made from willow

Medicinal uses - willow leaf tea can be used to help ease rheumatism and treat nervous insomnia

Plant supports - willow rods are also useful for supporting perennial plants. Try making a geometric mesh out of bent over rods to support plants such as delphiniums. Live willow rods will root, so you may want to dry them first.

Noise barriers - Living 'willow-walls' alongside freeways as noise barriers. They also help to control dust and exhaust fumes. Willow-walls are very durable, virtually vandal-proof and easy to maintain. They are constructed by making a thick wall consisting of parallel willow logs with a central core of soil. Green willow rods are used to weave the sides and the rods root into the earth core.

Here is webpage with instructions about a project alongside a freeway in Quebec, and here are pictures on The Living Wall website.

In the UK, many acoustical barriers have been created: Green Barrier Projects.

Snow fence - Willow Living Snow Fence along highway in NY State. With much more info plus pictures (a rather large file): Capturing the Snow with Fast Growing Living Willow Snowfences (there are 10 in NY and there is a map with their locations).

Living willow structures
An exciting and creative use of willows is to make living willow structures out of live willow rods (6-7') that are put into the ground and woven together to make fedges, domes, tunnels, tipis, garden arbours, mazes, and other shapes. The rods root and leaf out, making a living structure. See our webpage called Living Willow Structures.

Education - many school projects can be devised, eg. children plant the cuttings, and later harvest for living willow structures, basketry and or charcoal for art projects.

Waste management - Willows are proving to be a biological solution in the field of waste management. They are used as a biological filtration systems to absorb effuent.

Willows break down and purify a variety of effluents such as animal wastes from farming, human sewage and certain industrial wastes. The effluent that is treated is not only detoxified but also actually converted into valuable plant material. For example, sewage is converted into willow, which is then made into baskets, used as fuel, etc. Such a simple solution!

Fast growing varieties such as S. viminalis, are usually preferred as they have a greater capacity to absorb and process the effluent being treated.

The second half of the movie mentioned under Noise Barriers above, shows willows being used for waste management. Read about research being done in Whitecourt, Alberta.

Terms to research in search engines:

  • biofiltration willows
  • biological filtration willows
  • waste management willows

Land Reclamation and Soil Improvement - the root action and abundant leaf litter of willows make them very effective pioneers in improving the physical structure and nutrient levels in the poorest of soils. Often they are used in the first stage of rehabilitation, ultimately improving conditions to allow a wider range of plants to flourish.

Willow for Fuel / Biomass Production

Biomass is the total amount of living matter produced in a given area. Fast growing willows cut on a regular basis produce more biomass than most other crops in the British climate, providing an abundant source of fuel. Yields can be as high as 20-30 tonnes of fresh material (or 10-15 dry tonnes when dried) per hectare per year.

For fuel production the willows are cut every 3 to 5 years, producing logs several inches in diameter suitable for wood stoves. For willow logs cut on a 4-5 year cycle, plant with 1 per sq meter/yard or 10,000 plants per hectare. Plant several rows over consecutive years so they can be harvested in rotation.

Suitable species/varieties:


For Producing Ethanol

The sugars in willow can be extracted to produce ethanol. Gasoline is currently 15% ethanol. Engines are being developed which run on 85% ethanol. Willows are the ideal plant to produce the ethanol. Watch a nice little video on willows being grown at Syracuse University in New York state for this very purpose.