The variegated willow, also known as the dappled willow or hakuru-nishiki, is grown primarily for its beautiful colors. It has lovely yellow catkins that appear in early April before its leaves, which are pink when they first begin to come out, dappled green and white all summer, and run yellow with red stems in the fall. The stems remain red throughout the winter.
The variegated willow is a dwarf willow tree that reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet at maturity. It can also be grown as a tree, by grafting variegated willow branches to an ordinary willow base, but this will entail a significant amount of pruning of the base tree. Any shoots and branches from the main trunk will need to be prune as soon as they are noticed, or they may overtake and choke out the grafted branches. Trees will reach 10 feet in height.
Though hardy to zone 4, the variegated willow is happiest in zone 7. It prefers moist, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.6 and 7.8. It will adapt to overly wet or overly dry conditions, as long as it is well watered in its first year, but excessive heat or extremely heavy clay will be detrimental. In hotter climates, the variegated willow needs to be planted in partial shade, as it will not tolerate too much heat. However, it has more interesting color the more sun it gets, so grow in full sun in locations where summers are not too hot. It’s best to plant in early spring or in mid to late autumn.
Regardless of whether it is grown as a tree or as a shrub, the variegated willow needs to be pruned every few years to maintain a comely shape and to encourage the beautiful coloring. Prune while the tree is dormant in late winter or early spring before the first catkins appear.