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S. (Willow) Stems at Bluestem Nursery

Salix (Willow)


For many people, using willows in a landscape design is difficult to imagine. However, not long ago the same was said of ornamental grasses, a group of plants with which willows have much in common. Now though, grasses have become extremely popular and large clumps of Miscanthus or Calamagrostis are ubiquitous in landscape design. Willows and grasses share many of the same attributes, such as:

Salix udensis 'Sekka'
leaves of S. udensis 'Sekka'
  • low-maintenance
  • affordable
  • easily propagated
  • incredible growth rates
  • stunning aesthetics
  • require only moderate watering
  • require little or no fertilizer
  • have four seasons interest
  • come from large diverse plant groups

Combining these in a landscape ensures that a design remains within budget and gains an established look in a short period.

The attraction to willows at Bluestem Nursery began with an appreciation of the many types of baskets into which they are made. Some are robust and sturdy, while others are fine and delicate. This difference arises from the dioecious nature of the willows, male and female flowers occur on different plants. Male clones tend to be more delicate than their female counterparts, a distinction basket makers often take into account.

One of the current trends in home and garden decor is rustic (twig) furniture, bent willow chairs, and garden structures such as trellises, gates, arbors and fences. Due to their long branches that bend so easily, willows are ideally suited for such uses. See our Willow Uses page for a list of willows used for furniture and baskets.

Salix babylonica pekinensis
S. babylonica var pekinensis
(Contorted willow) in winter

Aside from baskets and furniture, growing willows for stem color (view a comparison of stem colors) is an ideal way to enjoy their beauty and to control the size of the large and medium types. This method involves cutting the willows to ground level (coppice) or cutting to a height of 1-2 meters (pollard). Pruning is done in late winter when the willows are still dormant. The many rods that develop vary in length from 1-3 meters (3-10') depending on the species and the availability of water. Since the brightest stem colours come from the new growth, growing willows by this method provides maximum interest in the winter landscape.

Willows have some other unique and interesting uses. Ilene Sternberg has written an excellent article called Willow Magic, which she has generously allowed us to post on this site.

Want to build a wattle edging for your garden? Lots of pictures of beautiful wattle fences here and some instructions here.

As with all types of trees and shrubs, common sense should prevail in the growing of willows. There are however, several things to consider. First, regard the natural habitat of the plant. Willows that grow along stream banks can withstand periodic floods and generally require a lot of water. Willows that grow in alpine regions do well in a rock garden. It is important to keep the larger willows away from foundations and drainage fields (read further info regarding Willow Invasiveness), but these same willows, with annual pruning, can be a dramatic focal point in a smaller garden (read further info regarding Pruning Willows).

Definitive Book on Willows

I am sad to say that the publisher has stopped publishing this book. Please contact Timber Press with a suggestion to reprint it. There are still some copies available at Amazon:

Willows: The Genus Salix by Christopher Newsholme, Timber Press.

The first three chapters deal with every aspect of the genus, from the origin to the wide degree of uses, as well as how they are classified and practical information on propagation and Ideal conditions. The last four chapters describe hundreds of willows, divided according to size. There are very few questions on the topic that connot be answered by this book.