How to Grow and Care for Weeping Willows
By Anna Graizbord
, last updated January 15, 2012
Weeping Willows are a beautiful feature for any property, and if you'd like to grow one, you may want to learn a bit about care and maintenance first. Weeping Willow trees, with their distinctive and dramatic drooping branches of foliage, tend to be a dominant fixture in the natural landscape within many areas of the American South. Largely used as an ornamental tree, Weeping Willows can not only add an element of distinction and elegance to a landscape, but are great for providing shade during the summer. Though they do best in areas near to bodies of water, Weeping Willows have a surprising amount of flexibility for thriving in other sorts of areas.
Growing a Weeping Willow
Weeping Willows are best grown from 1 to 2 foot straight 1-inch thick sections of newly grown Weeping Willow cuttings. The best time to plant these trees is in the spring, so if you acquire the cuttings before this time, you can store them in vases or buckets with potting soil and a root hormone and place them in your refrigerator (or a cold, dark basement) until spring. However, if it’s a particularly hot spring, wait until the heat-wave passes. Either way, you’ll want to root your cuttings as fast as possible.
Find a planting spot for your tree with full sun or only partial shade. As with most vegetation, planting your tree in a well-drained soil area is best because Weeping Willows are invasive plants with sprawling and large roots. In fact, they can reach up to three times the circumference of their own canopy! Make sure you are not planting anywhere near septic tanks, building foundations, sewer lines, sidewalks, driveways, other concrete areas, or any underground utilities. It is okay, however, because the roots tend to grow towards bodies of water, so plant near ponds, streams, lakes, or areas that don’t have potential clogging issues to contend with.
Before you dig your hole, make sure your soil is turned over to a depth of 12 inches, mixing it with compost and making sure it’s fairly loose. Dig your hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the cutting's root ball. Insert your plant vertically in the hole, and cover the ball completely with soil patting it down to ensure that there are no air pockets, which cause root dehydration. Mulch and/or fertilize (try organic fertilizer high in nitrogen, 10-10-10 or 20-20-20) right on top of your soil within three feet from the base. Using about two to three inches of mulch (straw, wood or cardboard) and as much fertilizer as whichever kind you use instructs. If you have a deer problem in your area, sprinkle a little deer repellant on top of your soil, mulch, and fertilizer. If you have any concerns about the tree growing straight, now is the time to attach a stake to your plant. Make sure there are no weeds around your planting area. These are easiest to take care of by pulling right before you start to mulch.
Maintaining a Weeping Willow
If you’re nervous about your abilities in planting your tree and subsequent health of your tree shortly after you’ve planted it, there is a simple test you can perform to check if it’s still well. Scrape a small layer of bark off your plant and turn it over to observe. If it is green or white, you’re plant is still alive, but if it is black or brown, your plant has died.
Water the soil around the tree regularly, but don’t aim for the base of the tree directly at first because in its early stages, and Weeping Willows are particularly susceptible to root and trunk rot. In general, especially if you plant your Weeping Willow near a body of water, avoid over-watering it. In general, you’ll want to wait until the top two to three inches of soil are dry before you water your tree again. Sometimes, when soil conditions are very dry, it may not absorb your first attempt at watering. In this case, you’ll need to follow up with another watering about an hour after your first try. For the first year, you’ll want to water your tree regularly, and in each subsequent year, you’ll only want to worry about watering during dry spells.
It’s best to start pruning before the buds of their small, yellow flowers start to open in the late winter or early spring. Pruning away smaller trunks that grow towards the ground is important for cultivating the strength of the central trunk, especially in the first year, because Weeping Willow wood is not generally strong. Make sure also to prune the lower branches in order to create room underneath the tree itself. Clear all weeds (hand pull, do not use artificial weed killers) around the tree in its initial year, and use mulch liberally on the base of the tree. Once your Weeping Willow has passed the two to three year mark, maintenance should be pretty minimal.
Weeping Willow Facts & Tips
• Though most often associated with the American South, the first Weeping Willow cultivar originated from a crossbreeding between Chinese and European types of willows.
• Salix × sepulcralis 'Chrysocoma,' also known as the Golden Weeping Willow, is the most commonly planted cultivar of the Weeping Willow tree.
• Weeping Willows don’t tend to live long in comparison to other trees, and some are unable to thrive past 30 years.
• Weeping Willows can grow as tall as 30 feet.
• Weeping Willow trees grow relatively fast, an average of ten feet per year, once your plant has been established.
• Willows not only prefer bodies of water, but can actually act to clear up problem areas prone to flooding and other standing pools of water.
• Weeping Willow foliage colors range from light yellow-green to blue, and they lose their leaves in the fall.
• Though a Weeping Willow is great at providing shade, its wood is especially brittle at its twig joints, and will break easily in high winds, which is not ideal for creating permanent picnic areas.
• Your tree will go dormant once the late fall and winter hits after its leaves fall off and stem turns a darker shade of brown. Even though it will look like nothing is happening above ground, its roots will still be thriving beneath the soil.
• Weeping Willows are prone to pests like aphids and tent caterpillars, and conditions like powdery mildew, crown gall and canker.