By Julie Christensen
If you love willows, you just might want to try a corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’). Unlike weeping willows, these trees have an upright form. The branches and twigs initially grow almost vertically before moving to a more horizontal growth. The branches have a twisted appearance and are often used in dried floral displays. In the summer, the branches dance and quiver in the wind. During the winter, their curving shape provides interest in the landscape. Another good thing about corkscrew willow is its fast growth. Like most willows, it grows 24 inches or more in one year, reaching a mature height of 25 to 30 feet with a spread of 15 to 20 feet.
Now for the bad news: like other willows, corkscrew willow is short-lived. Most fast-growing trees have brittle branches and are prone to breakage. Corkscrew willow is no exception. Although corkscrew willow is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, if you live in an area prone to high winds or ice storms, you’re going to constantly battle branch breakage. Regardless of where you live, avoid planting corkscrew willows near the house or over the driveway or street where falling branches can cause damage.
Another challenge with corkscrew willows is their aggressive roots. The tree has shallow, moisture-seeking roots that can wreak havoc in sewer lines and cause damage to patios and sidewalks. Plant them well away from any plumbing lines and hard surfaces and keep the soil slightly moist to discourage the roots from wandering.
In the right location, with the right care, corkscrew willow makes a beautiful specimen tree. Plant it carefully and expect to replace it in about 15 years.
Planting Corkscrew Willow
Corkscrew willows are generally propagated from cuttings. Buying a nursery transplant is the easiest way to get started. Plant your willow tree in an area with full sun to partial shade. While corkscrew willows are adaptable to most soil types, they do best with a slightly moist loam. In sandy soils, the water leaches too quickly and you’ll have to water them frequently. In clay soils that drain poorly, they’re more prone to root rot diseases.
Plant corkscrew willow anytime from early spring through late summer. In mild climates, you may be able to plant corkscrew willow almost year-round. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide and set the tree in the hole. The top of the root ball should sit about 1 inch above the surrounding soil. Fill the hole halfway with soil and then add 2 gallons of water to the hole. Allow it to drain and fill the hole with the remainder of the soil. Tamp it down lightly with your foot.
Leave an area 2 to 3 feet in diameter bare under the tree and mulch it with 2 inches of mulch. Corkscrew willows are very susceptible to damage from lawn mowers and trimmers, which can open the trunk to disease. Keeping an area grass-free eliminates this danger.
Water corkscrew willow at least weekly during the first season so the soil stays consistently moist 1 inch beneath the surface. Thereafter, you can water slightly less often. Unless your soil is very poor, you probably don’t need to fertilize corkscrew willow. If growth is slow and the leaves are pale, fertilize it in the spring with 1 cup 10-10-10 fertilizer spread over the soil under the canopy of the tree. If the tree is planted within a fertilized lawn, it probably gets enough nutrients.
Prune corkscrew willows annually to remove any branches that are diseased or that rub against each other. You can also remove branches to open the tree up to more light. After a storm, remove any broken branches promptly.
Pests and Diseases
A number of pests and diseases plague corkscrew willow, although most of them cause only cosmetic damage. Aphids infest willows by the droves in spring. They suck the juices from the leaves and stems, causing wilting. They also leave a sticky substance called honeydew, which can attract sooty mold – a slightly fuzzy, black growth. Aphids can be treated with a dose of insecticidal oil, although treating large trees is impractical. In most cases, predatory insects will move in and control aphid populations.
Gypsy moths, imported willow beetles and borers can also be a problem. The best defense is a good offense since healthy trees can usually fend off these attackers. Plant the tree in full sun and provide regular watering. Fertilize it if growth is slow.
The most serious disease to afflict corkscrew willows is galls or root rots. You might notice black or brown growths at the foot of the trunk. Over time, these galls can grow and cause tree death. Removal of the tree is usually eventually necessary.
Corkscrew willows are susceptible to leaf spots and powdery mildew. Treatment is rarely necessary.
For more information visit the following link:
Corkscrew Willow from the University of Florida IFAS Extension
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.