By Julie Christensen
If you love willows, you just might want to try a corkscrew willow tree (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 and deal with resulting dead branches. Regardless of where you live, avoid planting corkscrew willows near the house or over the driveway or street where falling branches of the willow tree can cause damage.
Another challenge with corkscrew willow trees 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, a corkscrew willow tree with its twisted branches makes a beautiful specimen. 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.
Corkscrew Willow Care
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 corkscrew willow 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 of Corkscrew Willow Trees
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 for corkscrew willow tree (salix matsudana). 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 the corkscrew willow 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 willow tree is 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.
Paul Arndt says
I grow a garden in the sandy soil of Ridge Spring, SC & I have noticed a small black beetle eating the roots of squash & similar plants. What can I do to defeat this root eating critter?
I have tried Neem oil on the plants & soil plus 7 dust but nothing seems to work, yet. Please help!!!
Doc Bev says
I am a Ph.D. for corkscrew willows and yes: they need attention now ! They are hardy.
Keep-up with the neem Oil it does work . About every other day , spray until the solution runs off on to the ground.
It doesn’t hurt the tree, limbs or ground. All will benefit. The next week, twice in the week. Then once. By that time you should see results. just don’t spray in the heat of the day. Root fertilize before you start this process. Then at the end use a light one.
Your climate is similar to ours . This works on the root eating vermin as well . you can poke holes in the ground and pour 1, Oz. to the gallon . Water / Neem oil. in the holes.
keep up with it .They can out last you. If you have them others do as well. They have to come from some where. And leave the same. Beverly PH.D
Carol Jensen says
I just planted a curly willow and I guess maybe I didn’t give it enough water to start with. This was about 4 days ago. Now leaves are turning yellow and dropping off. I’m giving it lots of water now and am adding mulch to retain moisture, leaving about 3 inches mulch-free around the trunk. Will my lovely tree recover? I feel really bad For it.
Carol J. says
The same thing happened to me with my willow. I think it’s transplant shock. I watered and mulched like you did and it has recovered nicely. I gave it a really good watering (I count to 100) every other day and allowed the water to puddle around it. My tree looks gorgeous now. I planted my tree about the same tine you did. How is yours doing now?
Nicole Joy says
I have raised planters, and stuck a few sprigs of -what turned out-to be corkscrew willow cuttings, they have grown quite a bit in one year and are so pretty, but I am wondering how long I have to transplant them before the root system gets out of control/ becomes troublesome beyond the box. Any advice?
Can a corkscrew willow be grown in a larg pot and be pruned to keep about five-feet high?
I have had many corkscrew Willow in pots all my adult life, having got the original from my mom many years ago. They do really really well and pots especially if you can keep the pot itself from getting too much Sun exposure by planting other plants around the pot. In the summer they require very frequent watering when they are in pots.
I hope this helped… enjoy 🙂
Gail Wiss says
I got a sprig from my neighbor. I was so excited when it grew, but now I have a monster tree that needs trimmed every other month in spring/summer. Don’t get me wrong I love it but it scares me.
My sister was given some flowers at work ,in there was some twisted willow .she stuck it in the mud near our garrage .7 year later it was 35 to 40 ft high .i looked out 1 morning ,7 goldfinchs get sticks for thier nests as small birds can snap twigs off of this tree .
I also received a flower arrangement and planted the branches, it lasted a year. He only grew 4 feet.
Deb Gaines says
In one of the live plant arrangements from my mom’s funeral was a dried twig of curly willow. I was greatly amazed & comforted when leaves appeared on it.
It had been in a large pot but the leaves were becoming a little yellow, so I decided to plant it outside in a sunny location. I hope it does better.
Guill Gjertson says
I bought a Golden Curly Willow from Home Depot. I followed instructions to the letter. It was doing very well until Hot weather . It now looks like a Golden Weeping Curly Willow. Is there such a thing? I am watering most everyday but the hotter the weather the more it Weeps. What am I doing wrong? The tree appears healthy, no Aphids, Mold, yellowing of leaves. It is Beautiful just not what I expected. Help!!
Haley Perry says
I have a juvenile twisted willow tree that I started from a friend’s. And it was doing great until a couple weeks ago when the leaves started taking on brown spots and looking dry. Now some are starting to fall off all together.
I backed off on watering. I’ve only been doing that every couple days. For fear of root rot. I also sprayed with a 3 in 1 pesticide for bugs and disease that is safe for trees and plants (purchased at Lowe’s).
Not quite sure what’s up with my little dude, but I’d sure appreciate any helpful tips. I’m hoping I can raise him up into all his beautiful twisted glory.
I noticed you mentioned “league spots and powdery mildew” how to I take care of this? If this is what I’m dealing with?
I am in Redding CT. I have a corkscrew will that we planted by the wetlands of our property. It is growing really well and is about 5 feet tall now from a tiny new plant.
However, it needs to be transplanted in same area, but about 10 feet from where it is now, for aesthetics.
When is the best time to transplant??
Priscila Siesser says
We planted a scarlet curls willow tree about 17 feet way from the house. After reading about it online, we are afraid that we had planted it too close to the house. We can not find details on a safe distance from the house to plant this specific willow variety. We would appreciate any comments.
Colin Allen says
Reckon on 50 foot for any willow as the’re root hungry !
My husband has planted a tortured willow about 5 better from some your fruit trees – will this cause our fruit trees problems in the years to come?
Sorry 5 metres
Cathy H says
I have alot of broken limbs on my corkscrew willow from an ice storm. I have cut them off so now my tree looks bare. Will the limbs grow back or should I cut the whole tree down? It’s approx 20-25 feet tall
I have a curly willow 35 to 40 feet tall, it was on the property when moved here three years ago. It as the only tree to survive the Joplin Missouri tornado ten years ago. It has no leaves , one side had some buds early spring but then we had a hard freeze two nights in a row. Looks dead. Any hope?
anna maria puig molina says
We have in our garden a salix matsudana golden curl (i.e. scarlet curly willow).
The problem is that it is planted at 2 m from our house and roots as thick as 10-15cm and at about 50 cm deep into the ground got as close as 0.5 m from the concrete base of our house.
The tree is about 4m tall (we cut the top branches last year) and might be 6-10 years old. It is a wonderful tree full of energy and beauty.
My question is:
Is there something we can do to avoid the roots to damage our house or our only option is to cut down the tree?
It is such a wonderful tree that it hurts to think that we might have to kill it…
Janis Standarski says
We have planted several rows of curly willows for our wholesale florist business. However, many of them have something chewing or breaking off the tips so they have lost their length. The leaves look healthy but the stems look like they were cut off on the tops. We sprayed them with 7 but it doesn’t seem like it helped. Any idea of what could be causing this and what to do?
Could be lantern flies. If you spray with neem oil (check amazon), that seems to do the trick.
I have been having an awful time with the black spots on the leaves and some of the smaller branches turning black and falling off. Not sure what can be done about this. Anyone have any experience with this? I have pretty sandy soil and water twice a week in the NJ summer. Is that enough or too much? Thanks!