In a wide lawn or near a lake, weeping willows make a picturesque addition to the landscape.
Unfortunately, they have several liabilities that may make them unsuitable for most homeowners.
If, however, you have the right conditions, weeping willows can become an elegant addition to your garden.
Weeping willows (Salix babylonica) are native to China and central Asia. They grow throughout the U.S Hardy zones 2 through 9. The trees were used by Native Americans to relieve headaches and soreness.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to grow these stunning trees.
How Fast Does a Weeping Willow Tree Grow?
Willow leaves are lance-shaped and turn yellow in the fall before dropping. They grow to be three to six inches long and the tree’s bark is gray and rough, with deep, long ridges.
The tree blooms in late winter or spring and flowers known as catkins appear.
A weeping willow tree can grow to be 50 feet tall and wide, with long, pendulous branches.
Weeping willows have a fast growth rate and can grow more than 24 inches in one year. They have a short lifespan of 30 years (on average). They may live up to 50 years if taken care of well.
In a fertilized lawn, weeping willows usually don’t need additional fertilizer. You can add fertilizer in the spring only if the growth seems slow or the leaves are pale.
Provide ½ cup (with a 10-10-10 formula) fertilizer spread on the lawn under the canopy of the tree. The fertilizer should balance an equal ratio of phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen.
- Phosphorus assists in the growth of stems, roots, and flowers.
- Potassium is an all-rounded health booster.
- Nitrogen contributes to the growth of the foliage on the tree’s famed weeping branches.
If you prefer to use something organic, steer manure will work for you. It contains all the main nutrients mentioned above.
A weeping willow plant can grow in full sun to partial shade. 4 hours of direct and unfiltered sunlight every day is best for the growing tree.
If you’d like to grow this beautiful tree, make sure you:
- Set the tree in the hole and make sure it’s straight.
- Do not add compost, manure, or fertilizer to the hole. This will only encourage the roots to circle, rather than spread out.
- Fill the hole half full with soil. Add two gallons of water and fill the hole with the remaining soil, tamping it down firmly.
- Create a 3-foot circle that will prevent weeds from growing. You can do this by adding mulch to the base of the tree.
- Use 2 to 3 inches of bark for mulch and also stake the sapling to create a straight tree if need be.
When it comes to the propagation of the Salix babylonica, it is done through stem cuttings. The cuttings should be at least two feet long. When the mature willowing tree is dormant, cut from the base, and take from it.
Take cuttings from the tree when temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit at night. You can also do this when the leaves have fallen in autumn.
You may place the cuttings into the soil in early spring or late winter. Ensure the soil is moist during the entire growing season. This allows the cuttings to develop healthy roots.
If you want your tree to have more vigor, you can prune it in February or March by snipping all its branches. This triggers new ones to sprout.
You may also want to prune while the tree is young. This will see to it that there is only one central leader.
Train the tree to have wide branch crotches as this prevents breakage. Willows are susceptible to wind damage as the tree is somewhat brittle.
You can watch how to grow a weeping willow tree here:
Weeping willows can tolerate most soil types including:
- Compact soil
You must ensure the soil has good drainage. When dealing with willows, trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic and moist. If the soil in your area is too alkaline, you can add some organic matter. This will help lower the pH.
Water the tree weekly during the first year after planting. Once established, a willow plant can tolerate some dryness, although they may drop leaves. They grow best with regular moisture.
If your tree is planted in an irrigated lawn, it should get plenty of water. This is why they are often planted near streams, lakes, or ponds.
They like standing water and the far-reaching root systems are useful in clearing up a puddle. If there is a section of your garden that is prone to floods, willows can help clear this up.
Where Do Weeping Willow Trees Grow Best?
The weeping willow tree needs a wide area to grow.
These trees need a yard or wide swath of lawn to stretch into because they can reach 50 feet in height and width.
The roots can stretch wider than the tree. They are drawn towards the nearest abundant source of water. The roots are also attracted to nutrients around a septic system in the soil.
They grow well near water but have some drought tolerance. This means you don’t worry about having to plant them right near a pond. They can handle the cold winter and also tolerate the heat in summer. As long as you water them often.
Weeping Willow Pests and Problems
Weeping willows are afflicted by pests, including the gypsy moth, aphids, and borers. These insects are difficult to control, especially on large trees.
Try spraying a program designed for the specific pest that afflicts your tree.
You should place a collar around young trees. Willow plants can also tempt rabbits, deer, and elk.
They also suffer from several diseases including:
- Willow scab
- Willow blight
- Crown gall
- Root rot
- Leaf spots
- Black canker
- Tar spot
- Powdery mildew
These diseases can cause branch or twig dieback, defoliation, and in some cases tree death.
Plant disease-resistant trees and provide adequate water to keep the tree healthy.
Rake up and remove leaf litter promptly. This will help control the spread of diseases in your garden.
Weeping willows have invasive, shallow roots. They can stretch up to three times the length from the trunk to the canopy of the tree.
These roots often lie near the surface and can cause bumps in the lawn. They can even crack cement sidewalks and patios. The roots can also damage underground sewer and plumbing lines.
Leaf Litter and Low Lying Branches
Like most fast-growing trees, willows have brittle wood that’s prone to breakage, especially if you live in an area with harsh winters, ice storms, and high winds.
Prune the tree annually to remove dead or damaged wood. Also, remove suckers and branches that grow vertically. The long whip-like branches break easily in the wind and can create a lot of leaf litter.
Should I Plant a Weeping Willow Tree?
Who doesn’t love the weeping willow with its graceful, ground sweeping branches?
They are a great addition to the scenery in any landscape. You only need to be cautious of where you plant them. They aren’t great near the pool or next to the house.
They need a wide area to grow and should be planted where the twigs won’t interfere with
children’s play or pedestrian travel. Keep them away from your pool so that you don’t have to be clearing leaf litter often.
Because the configuration of willow branches make them easy to climb, children love to do so. The fantasy-like, enclosed space off the ground is a fun place to play. Be cautious, you don’t want them falling off the brittle branches.
Although the Salix babylonica is the most popular in landscapes, there are some related species worth your attention.
The Wisconsin weeping willow (Salix babylonica x Salix pentachdra) is a good tree for wet sites and open areas. It can grow to be 30 to 40 feet tall and wide.
You can also try the cultivar “Elegentissima”. This variation has even longer branches. Both of these types can be grown in zones 4 through 9.
What about a willow with brazen, golden twigs? The Golden weeping willow (Salix alba “Tristis”) grows in zones 3 through 10. It can grow to a height of 50 to 70 feet tall and wide. In the fall its green leaves turn golden which adds to the ornamental interest.
If you are looking for a tree that is both magical and practical, a weeping willow is your answer. Their plenteous foliage and large size make them glorious sheltering trees.
They are a great source of shade, comfort, and refuge. Their grace and allure evokes a sense of wonder and delights the senses.
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